Why follow a compass that's lost? The Lost Compass is for people who can't stop travelling, who always seek out the next destination. It's for those who'd rather take a backroad than the Interstate; who wonder what happens when you get off the beaten path and look up an odd nook or cranny. It's about finding the little gems, wherever they may be hidden. It is for those who embrace travel as an experience - not stopping just at a tourist trap, but finding a local cafe, bookstore, or dive bar to stop and talk to the people who make up the town. What happens when the compass' needle spins off you the beaten path? Keep reading to find out.

13 January 2012

A meditation on life well-traveled

I have traveled frequently throughout my life.  My military parents lived in Germany for three years when I grew up; my mom was (and still is) an incredibly wise woman who decided to put me into a German daycare center, where I would have to learn the language quickly!  No English spoken there!  Instead of the standard high school senior trip to Mexico, to get wasted on tequila and make far too many poor decisions, I decided to go with my German class to Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland for two glorious weeks with minimal adult supervision in four amazing countries.  I have spent one semester of college in Vienna, Austria, blessed with a large backpack and a Eurrail pass that allowed me to see eight countries in three months.  I have student-taught in Ansbach, Germany, teaching American military kids during the day and rediscovering the land of my youth at night.  I have been on trips long and short throughout Europe.  I've been to the Middle East for two months, and bounced all over the Caribbean on numerous cruises.  Although I have by NO means explored nearly as much of the world as I would like, I do consider myself pretty well-traveled.  However, I do have to wonder how it has impacted my life and if there is a point where travel becomes too much, when it impacts our life goals in favor of one more masterpiece, one more amazing experience.

An afternoon storm building over the desert
Spencer Spellman recently posted an article on his blog, The Travel Philosopher, called Does Travel Support or Hold Back Our Passions?.  I found this fascinating and hope you can take a minute to peruse it yourself.  In the way of all good philosophers, he doesn't answer the question definitively; instead he lays out arguments before and against, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusion.  During a trip, he felt:" I had come into my own and for the first time in my life, I was comfortable in my own skin. I was innovating and winning in the most important game: my life." Yet when he came home, he realized something else: "[J]ust as much as it supports my passion and purposes, it can also inhibit them. Traveling like that took a lot out of me." Traveling can have a huge cost physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is sometimes difficult to calculate.

I’m in the military and grew up in the military, so I’m used to moving every three years. I actually find that if I stay in one place too long I get antsy. “There’s so much of the world to see that it’s a shame I’m stuck here another year or so” usually starts to hit around 18 months. However, in the last three years I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in San Antonio, TX, for a little under a year; Atlanta, GA, for 4 months; and return to the Yorktown, VA, area for another 4 months. In each of these cases, I could easily move back for another 6-12 months, although I’m not sure about more. So my question becomes when is it travel and when is it home? I have no concept of roots in a physical place – home is literally wherever I lay my head that night, wherever my husband is, or wherever I’ve lived in the past depending on which context I’m speaking.

Jason Cochran recently wrote Sometimes Travel Delays Your Life's True Calling in which he talks about the tipping point between travellust, desire to go and see and do; and the ennui that has you staying in a hotel room burying your nose in a book rather than see one more damn painting or castle or cathedral.  I've definitely been there...  in day 9 of a 12 day trip to Ireland when there's lots more driving on the wrong side of the road, through countryside that's pretty but not spectacular (even though, c'mon, we're in friggin' IRELAND); on day 7 of a 10 day cruise, when all I want to do is jump in the water and stare at the fishies rather than see the old town center and an old sugar plantation. But I find that I burn out so much quicker in the short jaunts, when I try to cram a whole country or whole series of countries into a two week stay.  Doable?  Yes.  Even at a relaxing pace?  Depends on what I'm willing to let go and not see (on the to-do list for our next visit to Ireland?  Hit Cobh for foodie's heaven).  In his article, Jason writes: "I find myself gravitating to places filled with people I care about, or to spots that I know to be my personal lodestones. Having seen nearly 100 countries, I now find myself reinvesting my explorations by learning and loving a few chosen places more deeply."

Personal Lodestones... I love that phrase.  Although I've lived all over the States and overseas, there are definitely a few places that continually call me back.  Through family, friends, or overwhelming beauty, their siren's call stirs my blood and gets my itchy feet moving right back to them.  Don't get me wrong, I still want to see many more countries of the world.  But I find the travels sweeter, richer, and more gratifying when I can link with an old friend I haven't seen in years, or have a family member show me their favorite haunts in a city they love.  Although I have no concept of roots in a place, I think this is where my roots are - in the travels to see all of my family and friends.

Going back to my initial question of when travel becomes too much, I think for me it's learning to strike a balance.  Part of me always wants to go, to see, and to do.  Part of me is just fine curling up beside a fire with a good book on a cold day (or warm day, or rainy day, or sunny day...).  When I yearn to travel, I'll go somewhere for a few weeks.  I've figured out over the years that 2-3 weeks is my tipping point between good enough and too much.  Too little time, and I feel frantic that I must SEE EVERYTHING and wear myself out running frantically hither and yon.  Too much time, and I start to take the amazing experience for granted (Oh, another gorgeous ruin of a castle posing in the sunset just for me...  *yawn*).  The constant moves help a lot, as well.  It helps me get to know an area, its people and attitudes, its tourist traps and true pleasures to see or experience.  By the time I start getting fidgety and ready to move on, there's another opportunity coming around the bend, another move to a different state or different country.  This gives me an excuse to travel as much as possible within the state or area while I'm there, to get out the door to see and do, since I won't be there forever.  I come away filled with great memories of places I discovered, whether intentionally or not; people I met; and another great place I've called home.  Is it time for an assignment to Europe yet?

1 comment:

  1. Traveling the world only makes you smarter! I think that you would agree.


Please, feel free to leave me your own two cents! I adore feedback! However, anything spam, inflammatory, or ignorant will be deleted. Those of us from the USA had to take English from the time we were kids, so please don't slaughter it too badly!