The vineyards of Napa Valley in the fall, when I visited in 2007.
The title is attributed to Susan Sontag, but I’m unable to find a citation so I can’t be sure. In any case, the quotation is in the center of a collage of travel photos I have on a wall in my room.
On Friday, I’ll be traveling to Hong Kong for the beginning of a two week (and change) trip to Asia and SE Asia. I’m flying into Hong Kong, spending a few days there before flying to Taipei, Taiwan. After that, two days in Siem Reap, Cambodia to visit Angkor Wat, and then my last destination: Bangkok, Thailand, before returning to Hong Kong and flying home. It’s a lot for just two weeks, but I want to see as much as possible.
Travel is a passion I never knew I had. Growing up, we never once took a trip that didn’t involve visiting family (and always within driving distance). But I grew up hearing stories of my mother’s travels through Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia, and of course my reading habits gave me a thirst for other places, other people, and other cultures. I first went abroad in high school with a good friend of mine. We spent a week in Bungay, England with a family my friend knew. I remember taking that train through the English countryside feeling both a rush of familiarity (meadows! pastures!) and an eerie isolation.
I went back to England in college on spring break, but my first real travel experience was after college. With my boyfriend and three friends, I backpacked for seven weeks through Europe.
We flew into London (Air India–best airplane food ever), took a bus up to Edinburgh (not a recommended method of travel–longest bus ride of my life), flew to Belfast, took a bus down to Dublin (where a sketchy Russian guy was taken off the bus by immigration), said goodbye to one of our crew, flew to Belgium (but only had time to stay in the train station), and took Eurail to Amsterdam, Paris (with a side trip to Giverny), Interlaken, Nice, Rome, Munich (only for a few hours), Budapest, Vienna, Berlin, Copenhagen (with a side trip to Elsinore), Stockholm, Oslo, and then Cologne (only for a few hours) before flying to London and then back home.
I have many stories from that trip, some funny (a Parisian waiter who mistook our diabetic friend for a drug user, then made us laugh by folding up our check into a paper airplane and throwing it at our table shouting “Pearl Harbor! Pearl Harbor!”*), some unpleasant (getting groped on a public bus in Rome), but most wonderful. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine I ever did those things or went to those places. I look at the photos from time to time and wonder who that person is. We all get so wrapped up in our little lives, our anxieties and our doubts and worries and triumphs. That trip was the first time in my life that I really felt I was living for the moment. We had made a strict schedule of how long to spend in each place and had booked accommodations everywhere, but what we did while there was always on the fly. We’d hop on the Eurail, go through the guide book, and make a list of what to see in the next city–but never much further in advance.
I’m a little more obsessive these days, and now I tend to make very detailed spreadsheets of the things I must see. (I am very, very organized.) In 2009 I went to the Mayan Riviera, visiting Chichen Itza and Tulum. In 2010 I went to France for a friend’s wedding in Beaune and turned the trip into an exploration of classic and medieval France. I visited places with notable Roman ruins (Lyons, Nimes), Carcassonne (how could I resist?), and actually got to spend some time in Paris. (When backpacking, we never spent more than 3 days in any city.)
I’ve been planning this particular trip for some time. It will be the farthest I’ve ever been, and potentially the least familiar. I haven’t even left yet, and I’m already wondering: where do I go next?
* We were horrified at first, but when he realized what it looked like he said “Ben Affleck! Ben Affleck!” and we laughed.