It was the early summer of 2006.
…I descended the stairs of our B&B in Portree on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It could have been my own home the way the light from upstairs illuminated the darkened family room downstairs. There was a downpour outside, and I was fathoms deep in a whisky buzz as I fingerprinted a feeling with a simplistic poem…
…Sarah and I huddled in front of a computer inside a messy internet cafe in Sevilla, Spain. The door hung open and fans blew sun-baked air above our heads. I shifted my feet on the gritty linoleum and looked onto the street where people and dogs drifted through the mid-morning heat, trying to lock a feeling into a prison of words…
…somewhere between Madrid and Barcelona, the AVE train rocketed through the Spanish countryside like a stream of fiber-optic data. I stared out the window at yellow and orange hues consciously aware of a feeling of displacement. I was outside myself looking in and seeing what, after six weeks on the road, I still carried with me…
I recall these short scenes as distinct memories from the six week trip Sarah and I took in 2006. After a two-week shot around western Europe in 2004, we slavered after more and orchestrated a pseudo-leave of absence from work. Though we ratcheted the idea back from three months to eight weeks to six weeks and jettisoned the idea of writing a guidebook (which I’ve mentioned in previous posts), the trip was still magical. But not for the reasons you might guess.
Despite visiting Scotland and Spain for three long weeks each and soaking in one historical site after another, I learned the most about myself on that trip. At the time, six weeks was an unfathomably long vacation. As the trip wore on I could almost feel the worries and fears and mundane things taking up mental space flaking off like old dried paint. In their sudden absence I felt acutely aware of my values. Time and distance had given me perspective. After all those weeks on the road, I wasn’t looking forward to playing Halo or watching 24 or going to the gym (who would?) or any of the simple things we do just to spend time when we returned.
I only thought about my friends and family. I realized how valuable the bonds of family and friendship I had back home were to me, and I only wanted to make them stronger. Perhaps, on the flipside, I had been taking them for granted.
Travel offers a rare crack at a kind of spiritual molting. I’m so bad at focusing on the present; when I take a two week trip I’m already thinking about the return to work after a few days. I need to have the time to comfortably “forget” life back home before I’m able to have these simple but striking realizations. Unfortunately, everyday routines help our minds to operate on autopilot, a kind of half-wakeful state that is blind to these insights. I find it pleasantly ironic that being in distant, exotic lands leads me to new and crucial observations about my life back home.
As I prepare for my upcoming trips around the world without job, spouse, or expectations, I know that what I learned during that trip in 2006 will only be reinforced. To be gone so long but get ever closer to the bone is a miracle. And it’s one of the reasons I love to travel.
Have you found that the longer you’re away from “normal life” the more you learn about yourself? For seasoned travelers, are you still learning things?