Free advice: if and when you plan a trip around the world, don’t leave the final details until the week before you leave. There are best laid plans and then there is reality. The reality is you might not have time to apply to that publisher you were hoping to apply to; you definitely won’t write that piece for the magazine and you will more than likely have to put all of your writerly activities on hold. You will bow down to the demands of the schedule. Finalizing the itinerary will become all you know, the intense focus on your existence; the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thought jettisoning through your mind before bed. Sleep will be fitful. Exercise will be cut short. Your children’s questions will go unanswered, and they will repeat them ad nauseum until they grow tired and weepy and wander away, mewing like kittens who’ve lost their mother. You won’t really be gone, but you’ll be transformed from a living, breathing person, to a research troll. Your obsession with controlling the trip – before the trip controls you – will be all-consuming in the final days before your flight; it has to. You want to bitch and moan about all the work you have left to do, but hell, who would listen? I wouldn’t listen to me. And who am I kidding? A bit of sweat and tears, the burning sensation in the back of my eyeballs from too much screen time, is a fair exchange for the trip of a lifetime.
What do you mean, trip of a lifetime? You might ask. Where are you going? There are the physical locations themselves, but a trip, a real voyage, is so much more than that. The girls’ music teacher said to me, “you’re going to shed some skins on this trip,” and I told her I liked that, I liked that a lot; that she nailed where we are going right on the head. Traveling is about unravelling other versions of yourself; peeling back, delayering the proverbial skins. Let’s see what we’re really made of.
I’ll give you an example. Surfing. Let’s take surfing as an example. Canadian Adelle, the person typing this post in her usual local café wouldn’t consider surfing as a family activity that her particular family could enjoy. Dan and I knew WE, the adults, wanted to go surfing while in Hawaii, and we included Ariel in that realm of possibility, being the capable, swimmable, eight-year-old that she is. We wrote the other two off…we’d have to do something with them. But travel Adelle, the woman looking ahead, reaches out to her future self and sees that all is possible. She scours websites for information and sees the surfing company, the one with the cool name, North Shore Surf Girls, and the possibility of surfing for children as young as two. As young as two. She writes to said surf establishment in Hawaii and she inquires…are you sure? I have a three-year-old and a six-year-old who can’t swim and my six-year-old has Down syndrome…are you sure? She wakes up to the chipper reply. Yes! But what sealed the deal was the closing line in the email response, “I think it will be super fun.” Super fun? Can I get a HELL, yes! She’s speaking your language.
Suddenly new horizons open up. The impossible becomes…likely. Normal. Travel can broaden that which we didn’t even know was narrowed; can unearth truths buried deep below. I want to hold my children back, but the world calls them forward with open arms, out into un-surfed territory. The pre-planning is about keeping them as safe, comfortable and well fed as possible, to make our trip as enjoyable as possible, but there is so much impossible that becomes possible in the course of a day in another country that maybe it’s best just to let go. Just let go.
Maybe that’s another great reason to travel. To just let everything go. Step outside the relative safety of the everyday, the worn path and to look around the corner, check out what’s over there. I’m one to explore new paths, hike my way through a new forest, perhaps not always in the safest of ways. I’ve read atrocious stories of women walking alone in the woods and the bad things that happen to them or almost happened to them. Little Red Riding Hood for starters, but memoirs, too. A distance runner hiking with her baby when a man with a mental health issue emerges and out of nowhere throws a boulder grazing her ear, narrowly missing her newborn baby’s head in the carrier. Stories of rape, homicide, murder and the occasional animal attack. I should probably carry bear spray when I walk alone, but not because of the bears.
I have read horror stories from travel on the road, too. Whole volumes of them. Travellers who’ve gotten hurt, lost, scared. Who’ve encountered murderers face-to-face and lived to write about it. I’ve read a memoir written by a woman whose fiancé died from a fatal box jellyfish sting in Thailand, as well as a woman who became paralyzed falling off the second story of a building in Thailand because of a loose railing. There are SO MANY factors out of our control to worry about. There are terrible things that happen in my neighbourhood, yours too, stories I try not to think about.
But do you know why I’m not afraid to travel? Why we can’t be afraid to travel? Because as much as bad things can and do happen, more often beautiful, transcendent moments occur out on the road. Moments of hilarity. Moments of solidarity and humanity. I’ve read these stories, too; mostly these are the stories I choose to focus on. There is kindness to experience that goes beyond words. There is nature to encounter that draws the breath away. There are places to explore and people to meet who will open the heart up wide and in exchange there will be pieces of your heart left behind, I am sure of it.
Travel because who can stay still for long? And my biggest because, is because travelling together is a guaranteed way to spend time as a family. Sure, we don’t need to go to Japan to do that, but wouldn’t it be fun? There is a big part of me who knows I am going because I can. Because today is the day. Now is the time to go. Not tomorrow. Not later. This year, right now. Okay, in five days. FIVE DAYS!!!
As if I needed any more reasons to get away, I am reading the British author A.L. Kennedy and her meditation (or is it a witty rant?) called On Writing about the daily act. Her writing packs a punch, but it was this line that spoke to me last night at Ariel’s TKD practice, “Oh, but inside, Dear Reader – the writer is in minds, under skins, on roads untravelled, and anywhere and everywhere and more.”
The writer is under skins, and this trip will nurture my inner writer, fill the well so to speak, in a hundred different ways. The writer in me is giddy AF to soak in the world’s offerings. I’m all eyes and ears. This skill that writers must hone, this paying attention, children do it naturally, so I don’t even have to tell you what my kids will get out of our trip. But my hope for them, if I had to peg one down, is the collective experiences from our travel will shape the rest of their lives and provide the map and compass that will help them find their place in the world. And even if we get lost, we will be lost together, and they will know they are loved indeterminably because time is a great gift of love. Time is all we have, and love is all we need (if that isn’t already a song lyric, it should be).
Travel because, beneath the layers of skin, we are connected to this whole big wide Earth; to the land and the people in it.
Travel for no other reason than to go, to take a look. It’s time. Let’s see what we’re made of.