From There and Back Again

I was late in life getting a passport. For decades, I had no interest in international travel. Zip. I’d toured the United States, but had never been abroad. When conversations about travel rolled around, I’d go silent. I hadn’t been anywhere. I didn’t see the point.

If I had any extra money, I preferred buying something tangible: a Mixmaster for the kitchen, a brake job for my used car, a down comforter. I wanted something I could use for years, enjoy over time. Why waste my money on something as fleeting and ephemeral as travel?

Maybe I was following in my mother’s footsteps. She didn’t get her first passport until after she was 40. It wasn’t until my father walked out on her to find himself at the Esalen Institute that she started traveling. She was a school social worker and she had the summers off. So she’d pack up her house at the Jersey shore and rent it out to finance her travels. Her first summer trip was to study theatre in London–she made friends, had a ball, and never looked back. My mom traveled whenever she could, as much as she could–until age finally stopped her.

Once I started traveling, I didn’t want to stop either. Because now I get it. I understand the appeal. And so I keep traveling. I’ve traveled alone, I’ve traveled with my family, I’ve traveled with friends, and with writers eager for a mind-expanding, adventurous creative vacation. I have traveled to teach and to play and to relax and to study.

In all these circumstances, my planning brain, which controls so much of my life, goes on holiday, my habits are interrupted, my awareness expands, and I happily plunge into life outside my comfort zone. I experience delight. Awe. Reverence. Deep resounding happiness. Life coursing through me.

What I love most about travel is that it wakes up a Laura inside me who is adventurous, fun-loving, easy-going, daring, sensual and alive. When I’m in a new place, my senses are on high alert. I am aware of every nuance of sound, delighted by them all whether they are loud, grating, raucous, shrill or enchanting. I see the world differently: I notice juxtapositions and humor and quirkiness everywhere. I people watch. I observe. I notice things I’ve never noticed before and the things I see evoke wonder, compassion, amazement, gratitude. I taste new tastes, break rules I keep at home, exult in joy.

Travel also brings inevitable moments of discomfort, loneliness, uncertainty, and exhaustion, but for me, these are outweighed by the kaleidoscopic vividness of EVERYTHING I experience when traveling. When I’m somewhere else, my curiosity ignites. My writing brain is engaged. I climb out of my head and into my body. I live more passionately than I do at home.

I like the Laura I become when I travel. She is courageous, adventurous, funny, flexible, fun-loving, introspective, grateful and relaxed.

But I also love coming home. Just a few days ago, I staggered through my front door after my very long trip home from Serbia (and Lebanon before that), thrilled to drop my suitcase, dump my bags, revel in the red wall in the dining room, the familiar green silk curtains with pink poofs at the top in the living room. I loved the hug I got from Karyn, our old calico, Tiger, still shedding on the couch, that typical Santa Cruz temperature that felt so familiar–cooling breeze and warmth of sun. Over the next few days, I rediscovered all of my familiars: MY bathtub, MY bed, MY clothes, the ingredients for MY special morning smoothie and all the foods I wanted during the day, the familiar aisles of my grocery store, the brilliant bursting colors of Karyn’s flower garden. My office. My chair. Our grandchildren. The flowers Karyn planted for me for my birthday last year–in an archway just outside my office–red roses climbing up from one side and white from the other. It was the perfect temperature for walking in jeans, a tank top and a sweatshirt. And there was the ocean again. There were my friends. People who’ve known me for more than thirty years. My books, read and unread. A house I can navigate in the darkness with all its familiar creaks and familiar sounds.

There’s no place like home. I feel so grateful to have this wonderful haven to leave from and come back to–and a whole world beyond to explore.

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