Friday, July 15, 2011

The Thrill of Travel

Hello all!

I'm writing this from London, where I've been for two weeks. I have another three before I have to go home, and I may need to be dragged kicking and screaming. I love it here, but I love traveling, in general, and I especially love going places by myself.

There's something about arriving in a new place, on your own, that's thrilling. And "thrilling" is the more accurate term, as it's not just fun and exciting. Traveling to new places--especially alone--has a frisson of worry, maybe even fear. And that, I think, is what makes this kind of travel so worthwhile.

Traveling this way isn't easy, and it's not relaxing in the way a beach vacation or a cruise is relaxing. In fact, it's really quite challenging, and I often feel I need a vacation from my vacation when I return home. That said, I also think it's a really rewarding and beneficial thing to do, not least because I've learned as much about myself as I have about the places I've visited.

The biggest lesson I've learned from traveling is to roll with things. I can be super OCD in my everyday life. I like being in control of things, and I've set things up so that I feel in control in my everyday life. Travel, however, throws all illusions of control out the window. Planes will be late; bookings at hotels will be lost; you will meet people for whom you throw all your plans out the window.

Because of this loss of control, travel also makes me laugh at myself. I now relish the moments of cultural awkwardness I get myself into in a new country. Indeed, my very first trip abroad was when I moved to Granada, Spain, for a year. The first thing I said to my cab driver was "soy caliente!" (I'm horny!) rather than "tengo calor" (I'm hot). Sitting in the back of the cab, I kept repeating, "I'm horny! I'm horny! Wow, I'm horny!", quite proud of the five sentences of Spanish I (thought I'd) learned from some language tapes. It was with growing horror that I sat through my first intensive Spanish class, listening to the instructor explain the crucial difference between "soy caliente" and "tengo calor."

Apparently, it's a mistake made by many newcomers to Spanish.

For me, these moments of embarrassment quickly transcended a mere few minutes of blushing. Eventually, I became aware of so many bigger lessons about cultural differences and similarities; about how I grew up one way, but it's neither the only nor necessarily the best way; and how being scared and being lonely can bring out the best in me. I'd never thought of myself as brave until I moved to Spain, knowing no one and only enough of the language to get myself in trouble, and I didn't consider myself brave when I lived there. But when I got back, and I thought about the thrills I'd lived through, I suddenly realized I was braver than I gave myself credit for.

I'm now addicted to travel, and some of my best memories consist of me doing quite silly things, such as continually getting lost in Istanbul and being walked home by little old trash collectors who clearly thought I was completely insane. But I'll never forget the smell of those dusty streets, the tiny figures of the little old men in their uniforms, and the one who knew English as he'd lived in America briefly, telling me stories about New York in the sixties. His memories and his own love of his life abroad were as alive with history as the Haga Sophia, and as beautiful.

So if you can, travel. There's so much to see in this world, and there's no thrill as great as meeting an entirely new you in a place you never thought to find yourself.


Juliet Blackwell said...

Yes yes yes! I feel exactly the same way about travel, and am always surprised when I meet people who haven't tried it. Don't they realize what they're missing??? It really is a confidence booster, realizing exactly how much one accomplish without a) language b) a clue and c) any fucking idea what's going on. And I *love* that it renews my faith in the kindness of strangers.
Of course, there are always those *other* (negative) stories...but then again, those nasty scenarios just prove how brave we are, right???

Unknown said...

I've been feeling an incredible amount of wanderlust of late...and you aren't helping! :) Great post--takes me back to my free wheeling drop-everything-and-go days

Anonymous said...

I graduate from nursing school next spring, need 1 yr experience and I will be taking up the Flag of Travel Nursing ! I can't wait ! Your post is exciting.

Cara the Globetrotter said...

I am currently on my way home from Peru and off to Europe in two days...couldn't agree more! I've lived abroad in Spain, New Zealand, and Mexico, and will be hitting 6 new contrite this summer! Preach it, Ms. Peeler, I couldn't have said it better.

Sophie Littlefield said...

you're brave, NP! I really hope i get to travel with you someday. that sounds amazing. i'm surprisingly abashed and timid when overseas. probably because i've hardly ever done it. something to overcome!

Unknown said...

I *love* to travel. Love it. My goal, once my kids are raised, is to travel a lot of the time. I've already got it figured out. I'm going to buy a condo in SF and then join a house swap place and live in new cities/countries about half the year. I'd like to try 2 or 3 a year. We'll see how it goes.

All the Pens are welcome to visit too!!

L.G.C. Smith said...

Mmmmm. Travel. That's one thrill that never gets old for me. I usually travel with family, but I always have to go off on excursions by myself. More magic there. Every time.

Rachael Herron said...

I like how Cara says she will be hitting six new contrite on her way home -- that's, indeed, the way I usually travel. When alone in a new country, I make myself learn "I'm SO sorry" first, because I always have great need to use it.

SpazP said...

*giggle* soy caliente!
I love this post. I grew up with adventurous parents who traveled with me any way they could from the time I was 8 months old. My Mom worked for an airline and my Dad was a Professor, and we'd take off all summer long every year. It makes me sad that so many of the places we visited I was too young to really remember, places like South Africa, Liechtenstein, Isreal, you name it, we went there, and we did it on a dime, too! It's a no-duh that I'd not be the same person if I hadn't been exposed to all those completely different ways of life than my own. I definitely wish I traveled more now in my 30s, and I am a FIRM believer in challenging yourself by removing yourself from your comfort zones on a regular basis. Although I don't travel nearly as often as we were able to do when I was a kid, this is a principle I try to follow any way I can. You really do have to dig deep inside and find strength in yourself to be in a completely foreign land with foreign customs and language. And once you realize just how brave you can be, it gets addictive!

Nicole Peeler said...

Juliet: Yes! I agree about the kindness of strangers thing. And it's funny how, at least for me, I rarely remember the bad times a few weeks after they pass, but the good are seared into the brainpan. Well, more honestly, the bad become hilarious memories, somehow, rather than remaining bad memories... Anyway, it's a magical transmutation. ;-)

Lela: I love the wanderlust! ;-) hope you get a chance to indulge soon.

Cara: Yay for globetrotting! LOL

Sophie: Let's do it! Pens on (international) Parade!

Lisa: That's a great idea, the house swap thing. I would LOVE to do that, but I've only lived in places no one would EVER want to visit the past few years. LOL

Lynn: I think that's a good way to do it, really. Be WITH people for when you want to be with them, but be able to get away when you need that, too. A perfect compromise!

Rachael: "I'm sorry" and "I'm horny": the vocab of the great traveler. ;-)

Pamela: What a great childhood! That must have been so much fun. And I hope your toe is better.;-)