When it comes to traveling I’ve always believed that you had to have been there. How do feelings and “moveable feasts” become words? Concepts of embodiment and experience are rarely express articulately. That is why I always try to resist the temptation to go on and on about a trip. This is one way, amongst others, that social media has enhanced our lives. On Facebook you can skip through an album at your own pace without having to commit to a lengthy description of each meal or landmark.
I understand why people love to share these images and anecdotes. They want to relive these moments themselves. There are few thrills more satisfying than the start of a journey when you’ve just placed the luggage on the scale, have the ticket in hand and you are off to someplace new. The limitation lies in the fact that you can’t pack your friends or relatives into those duffle bags. Even if you wanted to they probably have other things to do. The best part of traveling draws from the nuances but I think everyone appreciates the bigger picture, the Coles notes versions. Because really, even if you drew them a detailed map of your whole experience it would never capture it or do it justice. And they probably still have those other things to do.
Not many of us can afford to indulge every whim or seat sale. This is when travel accounts can fill that void, can feed that hunger to be someplace else. There are so many books out there that you can pick one for every flight of fancy but they all vary in the quality of writing and how the narrative is presented. But what draws us to them in the first place is the emotional trigger that sets these individuals off on their adventures. Because we’ve probably all felt a familiar pull, many of us just bury it. Traumas often lead us to seek solace where we are unknown and anonymous. You know the Billie Holiday song about “seeing you in all the old familiar places?” This is precisely the type of nightmare you try to avoid. In the midst of a personal crisis, you don’t want to walk down the street past every restaurant or movie theatre that’s hosted your date nights.
There are a couple of travel books that take us on these types of journeys particularly well. One of the most well-known is “Eat, Pray, Love” which is Elizabeth Gilbert’s attempt to come to terms with her divorce and temper her desire to always be in a relationship. In all three sites of Italy, India and Bali she actively uses the surroundings to heal her heart in some shape or form. Nothing is recognizable and so she is able to meditate on these major life changes and strategize where she wants to go from there. My only critique is that ashrams and palm trees can only get you so far. In the end you still have to face yourself in the mirror and be okay with your choices. You need to draw from within, not the external environment. Because you know, beauty can also wound the heart.
“The Lost Girls” by Baggett, Corbett and Pressner details the adventures of three friends quitting their jobs, leaving their significant others and taking off to “grow” as individuals abroad. This is all great and good but somehow I feel that their stories are a bit different. The best part of traveling is being taken out of your comfort zone and having to make new friends. You don’t necessarily have to flex these muscles when you have your best friends right there with you and two other people to be your sounding boards. But I love the intention behind it. The bravest people are those who take those steps that everyone in their social circle deems to be a mistake. It’s not an escape, it’s just a break from your life. Living so that the mundane becomes beautiful again.
The last two books I’ll discuss both take place in Paris and their perspectives of the city differ precisely because of their varying realities and approaches. In “Paris my sweet” by Amy Thomas she literally seems to wish that Paris would fit into her vision of what the city should be. Needless to say she is often disappointed. Places are to be adapted to, not changed. They don’t exist to meet your expectations. Comparatively in “Paris Letters” Janice Macleod wants to make her time there work, in spite of the inconveniences. She also seems to be sassy and recognize that not everyone is inherently nice. I do qualify all this by saying that one found love and the other didn’t. Not that it matters but the author of “Paris my sweet” literally documents her many romantic frustrations so I feel like it plays a role in her perception of the place. Sometimes I wondered, girl, are you eating all of those pastries because you want to or because you are sad? I appreciated this vulnerability because travelling is not one long party. There are instances when you are definitely lonely. Sure, not giving a fuck gives you so much freedom. But in turn no one really has to care about you either. Well at least not at the depth that you’re probably used to.
I always reach my limit on a holiday when I’m tired of looking at beautiful things. I cannot wait to get back to the daily routine when my purpose consisted of more than just enjoyment. This is always my reminder that life is pretty damn good. Because I want to return to it.