A Paean to Travel

by Keith Savage · 15 comments

Whale at the Vancouver Convention Centre

The 777 passes to the east. Forty thousand feet over the Canadian plains a turbulent tailwind rocks us all to sleep like babes in an industrial steel cradle. We are helpless as infants for all the power we have over our paths at this moment.

But I can’t sleep.

Choosing to travel is choosing the path of transience, and I’m haunted by the souls who’ve invaded my airspace and gone: with hugs and affirmations; with nothing at all because we didn’t know that was the end; with casual disappearance into the night shadows.

Last night on Robson Street was filled with neon lights and open air bars. The scent of seaweed and colognes, nachos. Our merry band of travelers strung out over blocks and breaking apart in that special kind of fission unique to large groups of people. I kicked through street paper and crinkled a water bottle, afterward, after salutes were traded with bows and backclaps. I packed my bags and looked over Vancouver.

There is a point to enduring these mournful little deaths.

Travel forces an opening up of oneself. Again and again, the advice is to be more outgoing, more loquacious, more smiley. Over time I’ve become pretty good at letting people in. But I can never come to terms with the unspoken half, the fundamental transience of the experience. I am woefully inadequate at letting new friends out, at holding the door open and waving those precious few through with sincerity. Our profession is to disappear, often and often randomly. There is art in letting a thing become complete.

Somehow these little wounds haven’t made me more callous, but rather more tender, more cognizant of the experience. I feel as though I’ve opened a pomegranate and found a hundred glistening, tart rubies.

I spent the last four days at a travel writing conference, and the keynote speech ended with a reminder that travel writers have an impact on readers, that we can change lives by sharing our experiences. I’m reminded, today, of travel’s more immediate effects: that it changes the traveler, hammering me into new shapes and beating me into something perhaps a little brighter, something more beautifully worn.

Is making friends on the road ever harder than not making any at all?

Marshall - wackyadventurerNo Gravatar June 15, 2011 at 11:38 AM

Passionate post! Funny, I cherish all the friends I meet in my travels far more than the “friends” I meet in every day life at home. Strangely, I find travel friends to be more genuine. Maybe because we share the same passion. I miss them dearly when we depart, but I’m thrilled to have enjoyed our brief time together IRL and knowing it will continue online. My motto is “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done, than the things I haven’t done …” and in a roundabout way this applies.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 15, 2011 at 1:09 PM

As far as people being more genuine on your travels, I think it’s because our defenses are down. We’re outside of our routines and seeking connections. So I suppose you’re right, perhaps travelers met on the road are more genuine.

CharuNo Gravatar June 15, 2011 at 11:28 AM

There’s no question on travel writing and the impact. I always feel I am a drop of water in an inexplicably large ocean, but every drop matters. They all add up.

pamNo Gravatar June 15, 2011 at 10:30 AM

I have a very old friend from when I first started traveling in my (ack) early 20s. And every now and then somewhere out in the world, we meet for coffee. The backdrop changes, we get older, but we sit at a cafe table and pick up where we left off. This summer, I’ll see him again, and another old friend who I worked with in Dublin, and a new friend, from the Internets. And last winter when I was traveling, imagine my delight when, while chatting on Facebook with one of my travel pals, he said, “WAIT, WHAT? YOU’RE THERE NOW? I’M GOING THERE TOMORROW!” I deal with the sadness — and really, I had a blast of it the day before yesterday when I realized that my sidekick for the weekend was no longer at my side — by knowing, with absolute certainty, that we will meet again out somewhere in the world, ANYWHERE, and we will pick up where we left off.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 15, 2011 at 1:07 PM

I’m hoping and believing that I’ll be able to do the same thing. New experiences lead to new muscles, and new muscles to new strengths.

MikeachimNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 2:06 PM

There’s a terrible truth that comes home whenever we meet people through travel-blogging. The Internet makes us feel like we’re all together in the same room, in a special way. We’re hanging out. @You: hai!

And then we meet (admittedly, my experience is limited to 1-to-1s here) and we’re *actually* in the same room, and the physicality of these people we’ve only know virtually, it’s a real kick in the pants.

And then they leave, and become virtual again. Their presence diminished. And the world suddenly isn’t quite as small as the Internet would lead us to believe.

Lovely post, Keith. I hear ya.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 15, 2011 at 11:25 AM

It’s as if the illusion of the internet is broken once you’ve met in the flesh. The internet is then much weaker, less likely to suffice, but ultimately even more important.

GrayNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 6:13 AM

This is lovely, Keith. I think for me it’s only really painful when I know it truly is “goodbye” and I’ll never see that person again, rather than “see you later”. With travelers, there’s always a chance we’ll reconnect somewhere in this big world.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 9:58 AM

I’m too pragmatic to really believe in the chance. I tend to assume it really is goodbye. If we reconnect somewhere in the future, it’s a little miracle for me.

Michelle BloreNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 1:44 AM

Our western culture breeds and feeds a desire to possess things – people as well as objects. We are conditioned to value things which last forever; our romantic notions must have durability, relationships must last a lifetime. The nature of work and society relies on this acceptance of repetition, routine and continuation. It’s no wonder so many people can’t figure out what’s missing from their lives, their senses are dulled by the constant throb of the same sensations. Let go and just enjoy the moment. Accept life in all its rich and ever changing variety without gathering the baggage that will ultimately weigh you down.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM

Very interesting point of view, Michelle. It makes a lot of sense to me, treating our ephemeral relationships as if they were possessions in a capitalist society. But what is the code to letting go? It’s not as if people are willfully choosing to NOT “accept life in all its rich and ever changing variety.”

Odysseus DriftsNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 1:24 AM

First, I love your metaphor about the pomegranate. Second, I feel your pain. It’s been so hard as an expat to develop really close bonds with people. My expat friends, who are my second family, have left me, one by one, and soon I’ll be the one leaving my Korean friends to travel to different foreign lands. It’s much harder than I’d ever thought. And here is the sad conclusion I carry: No matter where I’m at in the world, I’ll always be missing someone who’s somewhere else. That’s just the way it goes when you have friends scattered around the globe.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 10:13 AM

That’s exactly how I’m starting to feel. If nothing else, it makes me want to travel more, to see them again.

Dustin Main - Skinny BackpackerNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 12:52 AM

I find that saying goodbye isn’t too difficult, as long as I don’t get too close. That’s probably been the toughest part for me, I’ve stopped myself from getting very close to some amazing people because I knew our time together would be short.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Keith.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 14, 2011 at 10:05 AM

I’m on the opposite side of this binary in that I can’t help but get close to people I meet. I don’t think I’d change it, despite the pain.

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