If you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do? What’s the one thing you wish you’d done more of, looking back? What do you hope to focus more on as you get older?
For many of us, the immediate answer to these grand questions is: travel.
So, what’s so special about traveling? Sure, it’s fun, but it’s about so much more than taking a break from work and having a good time. What uniquely positions travel as the key to happiness—the source of both our biggest regrets and our greatest dreams?
I know I’m not alone in feeling that it is a transformative experience: one that snaps everything into focus, that realigns our perspective and reorders our priorities. It broadens our horizons both literally and figuratively; it puts the go-go-go of daily life on pause; it shows us how others like us live, and forces us to re-evaluate our own situation. It shows us another way.
For me, it’s something I’ve felt compelled to do ever since I was young. The first time I stepped foot abroad, I felt my soul come alive. Something was activated. I was connecting with a force that transcended time and space, that cut across generations and lifetimes. Ever since that first trip to Italy with my dad, stepmom and sister, the summer before my senior year of high school, travel has made my soul come alive.
I love the cities of the Old World: Rome, Paris, London. Places removed from time and space, and yet where past, present and future connect; places that make you feel so small, a speck on the timeline of human history, eliminating the ego by putting you face-to-face with the grand works that demonstrated the pride of all those powerful ancient rulers. They show you what truly astounding things humanity is capable of through monuments and artworks that represent the meaning and spirit of our species at its finest. The Old World is a place where majestic, ancient structures still stand, rising above the rooftops of office buildings and shopping malls; where you’re surrounded by art so intricate and beautiful that it seems impossible to have been created by mortal hands. It’s a place where the sheer beauty of the stone statues; the marble, sculpture-adorned fountains; the timeless brick and wood and stone facades; the intricate ironwork strewn with ivy; and the sprawling parks and tree-lined streets bring a tear to your eye and a tightness to your throat, so overpowering is the artistry of the everyday here. It’s a place where colors are brighter; sounds are more resonant; food tastes better; drink brings enlightenment; music and lyrical language drifts through the breeze; and emotions soar to their peak.
For me, today, I’ve also realized it’s become a new way of throwing myself outside. OUTSIDE all the trappings of a normal life, the pressures of the job and the obligations of an obscenely busy social calendar. I’ve realized that I’ve packed my life so full, I almost NEED to throw myself out of the continental United States, just to make it all slow down for a minute; to stop the world so I can catch my breath already.
And so maybe travel is also an escape—but it doesn’t have to mean you’re running away.
After all, us creatives are the frequently flummoxed type. Gaughan built a hut in Tahiti. Ernest Hemingway holed up in Paris. All the great impressionists I just drank up on a trip to France did time in Montmartre, until the absinthe-soaked, countercultural craziness of the place forced them to flee for their lives after two short years (let’s call it the Austin of France). Or maybe it’s not that all these greats were flustered and on the run; maybe it’s just that to create something different, you need to change your perspective once in a while. Or maybe, still, it’s that they’re so metaphysically dialed-in that they just need a break; when you’re constantly going out to the 9th layer and back in, it gets exhausting, and they have to do something to quiet all the noise. Monks live in temples and monasteries; yogis live in caves; painters and writers nestle in their own little holes-in-the-wall in squalid apartments, deep in the heart of some foreign metropolis where they can disappear.
Regardless—whether it’s a way of tapping into my full creative potential; a healthy coping mechanism; an escapist compulsion; a form of self-destruction through shock to the senses, sleep-deprivation and disorientation; or all of the above, this summer, I am traversing the Atlantic two times in as many months. I am going to the old world and back. I am throwing myself on planes, trains and automobiles, through the space-time continuum and into the void. It’s a journey that is both unfamiliar and one I've taken many times before.
I am an urban explorer. An intrepid adventurer into parts unknown. A trekker of well-traveled roads, but with a unique perspective, open to listening and receiving, ready for whatever my meanderings may bring.
Lugging around a computer is difficult in the old world, however, so I’m capturing my travels in a number of ways: by taking an obsessive amount of photos; in fits and spurts through Instagram posts; by scrawling in a notebook and putting actual pen and pencil to paper; and, ultimately, through a series of blog posts.
Coming next: Lessons from Paris, part 1.