“The first rule of travel is that you should always go with someone you love, which is why I travel alone.” Andrew O’Hagan
When I first read this line, I thought, “What?!” Then I read it again, and an all-knowing smirk slowly creeped up my cheeks. I knew exactly what Andrew O’Hagan was talking about. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I travel alone. People often ask me if I get lonely. Oh my goodness no! I love my own company. Traveling alone forces me to put myself out there and connect. So even though I am traveling alone, I am only alone when I choose to be. Asking directions, chatting with the barista, smiling at a stranger having a similar experience in front of a painting in an art museum. Connections I might not make if I were with a companion.
Taking that love-of-travel-alone one step further: Pico Iyer said, “Travel is like love: it cracks you open, and so pushes you over all the walls and low horizons that habits and defensiveness set up.” An interesting twist on the concept. Travel is like love. He also said, “That is why, the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” A love affair may end with fighting, crushed hearts, bruised egos, loneliness. Not so, a good trip. I wallow in the pleasure of a good trip. The voluptuousness of waking in a strange room, with a different feel to the air, different noises, an open day ahead for brand new discoveries. It is just like being in love, only somehow safer, brighter, better.
Preparing to leave for a trip, there is a tingle in my fingertips and quaking in my diaphragm. The unknown lies ahead: what gifts and surprises will be bestowed on me? Only the universe knows; I can’t even imagine! When I step on the escalator of my departing airport, I am in a heightened state of awareness. I am open to transformation in whatever form it comes to me. I welcome the new day, the new world, with open arms in a full embrace. I feel bigger, braver, more beautiful.
Then, stepping out of an airport into a new place, a place not home, that exhilarating tingle in the chest again. Unbidden, a smile so big my teeth show, and when I catch someone’s eye, they smile back. My first exchange in that new place. I realize I feel like a blank page, ready to be written on in some strange and wonderful calligraphy. New smells assault me and I have to close my eyes for a moment. Colors seen at a different longitude are stunning, taking my breath away. And the sounds: language not mine – fast and fluid, different traffic noises, loudspeaker announcements that roll over me with no need or ability for me to understand.
Taking a trip is like falling in love all over again. My personal perception and my imagination meet each other and tangle in a lover’s embrace, and I am changed. Off a new path, a road unknown, full of wonder and momentary angst, but primarily enthusiasm for more. That feeling, that excitement at the beginning of a relationship when anything is possible. My adrenals are taxed, but then they rebound with pumped up energy. The neurotransmitters in high drive.
Albert Camus said, “For what gives travel value, is fear. It breaks down a kind of inner structure we have. One can no longer cheat – hide behind the hours spent at the office or at the plants (those hours we protest so loudly) which protect us so well from the pain of being alone.” So, it isn’t only that jolting, stomach squeezing feeling of love, it is also fear. That incredible rush when jumping off of a cliff. That addictive rush that I love to hate. Or hate to love.
I went to an astrologist once. With just my birth date, time and location, she charted the stars. Without ever speaking to me, without knowing me, she said on this early spring day, that “June will be a great time to travel, and you will not run into any snags”. (I didn’t.) Then I asked her if that perfect man was in my stars for the near future. She said, “They have all been perfect men. You have loved, and learned, and when you had learned all there was, it was time for you to move on. That is why you are still on friendly terms with those men from your past. It really wasn’t about them; it was about you.” She also told me there would be more partners with whom I would enjoy my time, before it was once again the moment to move on. I have never kept a lover for very long. Marriages just didn’t last, until I finally realized I shouldn’t bother getting married; it would only grow old and molder. It didn’t ever have anything to do with the disintegration of the relationship with a man, it had to do with the need to move on. To move
Always that movement.
When I am at home for any length of time, I am still moving. I take my book to the lakefront to read. I get on my bike and ride and ride and then turn around and ride home again. If I stay in the house for a full day, without leaving, I feel funny; odd. Like something is off-kilter. Something is missing. Like I forgot to drink coffee in the morning.
I do often travel to the same place, over and over. London for my birthday every year. But although I have been there before, the act of transporting myself there, to a place not home, still gives me that buzz. In this same way I will visit old lovers. We will run across each other in a coffee shop. We will make a date, and I will go. We have dinner, or a drink. But when he asks me out again, and I say no, he doesn’t understand. He only sees our compatibility. He doesn’t understand I don’t want to live in London, I just want to visit.
“Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.’” – Lisa St. Aubin de Teran