In two short weeks I zip off on my return to Scotland. This period just before leaving is always full of deep introspection, a concerted effort to maintain mental equilibrium even as the days rotate away. My brain starts to wobble like a spinning top losing its torsion. The moment I stop spinning and clatter down is the moment the world begins spinning away from me, usually that intensely hard kernel of departure, of watching the house disappear in the rearview mirror.
When people ask me if I’m prepared, if I’m ready to go, they’re asking about the logistics of the trip. Do I have my flight booked, my accommodations sorted, my itinerary memorized? The answer is always yes. I nail down the crunchy minutiae of travel months in advance. You can bet if I lived in a hurricane zone I would not be the scoffing, incredulous citizen who believes the storm won’t touch him. My house would be boarded up and buttressed with wind breaks and spattered with hasty goodbyes.
But the answer to their unspoken (and probably unintended) question, is no, I’m not ready. I’m never ready.
Every time I shrug off the creepers and vines of routine I am committing myself to a leap into the unknown, a place where just about anything could happen depending on how the dice fall.
Travel is inherently unsafe. Not in the sense that it puts one in imminent physical danger (of course, depending on where you go, this could be a real concern), but in the sense that it constantly puts one to tests beyond one’s making. Life at home, where routines form the barriers that gird against this storm, is very different. Easy, comfortable, and attractive to our lazier angels.
Travel provides a window into the self, an opportunity to look deep inside and learn more about who you are. To grow, and to change.
If you’re not open to it, or too afraid to glance through the panes, you can duck your head and walk on by. That is a sad darkness.
The Ring of Brodgar. I’ve looked at it so many times and turned my brain to mush pondering the meaning behind these standing stones. It’s therapeutic in a way, but also frustrating because, despite the best effort of my esoteric imagination, I tend to think up the same fantastic reasons over and over again. Then, the other day, I thought, “what if the stones are just the top of something buried deeper, like if only the battlements of castle showed above the earth?”
That kind of thought, that is the first step on the path to mentally preparing for travel. Look deeper, peer inside, change your angle, crack open your self. I’ve written a lot about the practical logistics of travel – the Planning a Trip to Scotland series, the Best Of Scotland series, the Itinerary Ideas series – but there’s not much more I can say about the mental preparations. Don’t let the discrepancy in digital ink fool you though, the mental piece is just as important – more so, in my opinion. You don’t want to just go through the motions of travel, worrying about all the irrelevant logistical details. You want those motions to knock things around inside you.
There’s a lot of mixed metaphors in here, but then my brain is quite mixed up so at least this article captures the true state of the Savage. Please forgive any preachiness – this is me casting light on my internal monologue. Hopefully you find something useful in here. Travel is a crucible for the self. Let it flood you. Cast yourself upon the canvas of wherever you go. See what sticks, and what it looks like.
Spin with it. That’s what I tell myself.