It is the eve of the last month of the year. December is a month I seldom travel. It is a month designated for family time. Each weekend seems to spur an event or occasion. It is also the final chapter of the year, a time for reflection.
And on the eve of the last month of 2011, I couldn’t help but think back on my travels for the year, as many of us do throughout this time of ending and beginning. What I have concluded about my travels this year is that I learned something about travel I didn’t realize before. The realization comes after travel, when you are home reflecting on experiences. Travel should make you wonder how you did this, how you got through that. It is almost mystical in a sense, a hazy memory in the past. Questioning its reality only makes it that much more special.
Last Minute Travel
When an opportunity presents itself, especially in regards to travel, I have learned you have to seize it. Invited on a press trip to Mexico, really by chance and not so much by choice, I found myself jetting off to Ixtapa without knowing what I was doing here. As the snow fell in Colorado, I dug out all of my summer clothes and headed south of the border. I watchedcoconut candy the color of a highlighter set being made in a modest village. I wandered through markets in Zihuatanejo and observed the close proximity of freshly cut meat to children’s toys. I arrived at the miraculous in Petatlán, a statue to Jesus adorned in lime green.
Before this year, I had never taken such a chance on travel in such short notice. I know many would not turn down this opportunity unless they had a commitment they couldn’t get out of or an obligation to meet. Luckily for me, my office can move with me. Mexico opened my eyes to the brightest of colors and the remarkable sheen to traveling last minute. You don’t have time to think about what you are doing, if it’s right or wrong. In essence, travel worry time is eliminated. You go into the experience wide eyed and leave that way. There is no time to prepare for what you will see and that might be travel’s best gift. A lack of preparation gives you the rawest view of your destination, the most unaltered and unbiased perspective.
After braving it in Mexico for several days, without knowing a soul, I think I was even more prepared to head to Ireland all by my lonesome. As I have mentioned before, I was a bit of a solo travel fraud. I had made the occasional trip by myself, but I had never set out to do something completely alone, without visitors or friends joining me along the way. In March, I left for Ireland to drive on the wrong side of the road and discover what it means to travel solo. I talked to strangers and sheep, on more occasions than I anticipated. I discovered Irish humility with every turn of the bend. I was robbed for the first time abroad.
I can’t say solo travel is for everyone and I can’t say it is completely for me. However until you take one trip alone, no matter how big or small, you can’t completely know yourself. At least that’s what I learned. A few week’s ago I said to a friend, “I can’t believe I did that, drive around Ireland for a month all alone.” It is the unbelievability of travel I don’t think I had seen before. Solo travel is a great way to bring this about in yourself. You are forced to recognize yourself with a new-found confidence. It becomes unbelievable once you return home and all the more powerful you came, you saw and you conquered, solo.
Travel In One’s Own Country
This year, I traveled my country. So often you hear Americans don’t travel, they lack passports and culture. What is seldom brought up in those articles is that the United States is massive. This year, I found myself nearly traveling from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic. A wedding out in California spurred a road trip across Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California. I found the loneliest highway in America and appreciated the lack of activity. Loneliness can be good for you. I returned home, only to plot another road trip, this time across America’s South. Beginning in Arkansas, I made my way across Tennessee, North Carolina, down through South Carolina and Georgia and up through Alabama and Mississippi. I spent a weekend in New York City, revisiting a city so unique and overwhelming.
The two road trips were different, but their meanings were the same. I set out to get to know parts of my own country I traveled mostly on family road trips as a terrible toddler. I wanted to get to know where I am from on levels many don’t deem worthy these days. Glamorous and fulfilling travel doesn’t have to be off in Moscow or on the streets of Paris. It can be in one’s own country, a notion I picked up this year.
Next year no doubt will bring new realizations, new appreciations of why I travel. I don’t know where I am going, how I am getting there or whom I will go with, but I know I will go.
What have your learned about travel in 2011?