Traveling is a love/hate thing with me. For years, I waited to travel to more exotic places than going home to Minnesota. Traveling was expensive and I could never decide on one place. The siren call of foreign locales wooed me, whispering to my heart and sense of adventure. But my wallet wouldn’t support those kinds of trips. In the meantime, I read, camped, and moved around a lot.

Then in 2011, I got the chance to go to Thailand for three weeks for a cultural immersion tour with a group of people I was involved with. It set off a taste for experiences beyond home, beyond what is comfortable.

This past May, I took a trip to Northern California, and while not as exotic as Thailand, it was an experience that grew on me even as it emptied my bank account. The place was expensive to visit, but by the end of it I figured a few things out about why these adventures mean so much to me, even when I can’t wait to get home at the end.

What is it? You know? That thing that compels me to pack a bag and hit the road?  It’s a lot like my experience with meditation. Sometimes not much happens or too much happens, and the trick is to stay awake to it, don’t judge it, just be in the moment.

Feel the wind when it hits your cheek as your feet push deep into sand that is warm on top and cold if you keep pushing. Taste the coffee and notice it has a flat nutty flavor, which is strange in a latte. See the old woman in the raspberry beret, and wish you were an artist with a pen and sketch pad.

Life is in the details. Travel is all about details- the things you packed too much of. The nasal strips you have to buy because you’ve caught some freaky cold on the road and can’t breathe as you lie in a strange bed each night.

Details. Watercolor over line drawings. Heart shape in the latte foam. Robust stink of sea lions at the wharf. A hundred cyclists in spandex. The wild-eyed man with matted hair shouting obscenities into the street to nobody in particular.

Minutiae. Intimate details like a plastic sack blowing across a tree-lined street in North Minneapolis. The vibration of energy from the redwood trees, so intense it brings tears. The smell of the open gutter in a  Chang Mai outdoor market, not quite like sewer, but maybe. The pungent sweet tickle of lilacs in late May in the north. Jasmine, something new. Sweet, cloying, decadent. Seagulls crying on the beach at Biloxi. Tasting sugar cane from a yard in New Orleans.

There are things to be noticed, things to be ignored, causes for confusion and bliss. It happens at home, wherever home is for you. If I never go to another place, I’ve got enough details to fill hundreds of books with stories. It takes time and space to process what I experienced after each trip. I don’t know what I’d do if I was ever on the road more than a month because it takes me a long time to unravel and understand. Nothing I do is done lightly, but is wrapped in observation on a really precise yet unconscious level. Then it unfurls inside of me over time, growing, expanding, giving back.

That’s why I write. If I didn’t I’d explode. I’m always trying to sneak in bits of beauty and flavor. It’s up to you what to do with any of it, but it’s up to me to make sure it’s there for you to share it. Travel cuts life open. If we’re lucky or paying attention, we might be awake to capture it.


photo credit: Evening Light via photopin (license)