Reading good travel memoirs is like coming home. My favorite travel stories are those that are a mirror into my own thoughts, because for me, what I experience when traveling can sometimes be difficult to sum up in anything remotely articulate or concise.
These are a few of my favorite stories, both for the images they convey and the experiences that remind me of my own.
“Most tourists are not doing anything adventurous or exciting or romantic; they are passive observers, visiting landmarks, looking at paintings, and are less engaged in life than they are on a typical Monday at home.”
Traveling can be heart-wrenchingly lonely and aimless. Especially in the age of Facebook and Instagram, we always think that we should be having the time of our lives when we step out of our normal routines, but that’s often rarely the case. I have a friend that travels quite a bit by himself, and intimately knows that feeling of loneliness. Rather than denying that feeling, he names it and embraces it, and I have always admired him for this. I think at some level this is what traveling teaches us – the value of loneliness – but I also think that when put in context with the rest of our lives, traveling can be another form of empty consumption. To me, meaning is created when a place gains significance, and that significance occurs through relationships with the people I meet and testing my ability to embrace my loneliness and go beyond it, past my comfort zone.
Traveling can provide an excellent opportunity for both of these things to happen, but traveling needs to be active in order for that significance to form.
“…at that moment the place stops being just the site of your vacation, it becomes the home of your friends. It takes on a significance, and enters your heart.”
” ‘I will never be quite the same after Venice because it has shown me that man can create true beauty and that I believe is Man’s purpose.’ An entry in my journal reads, ‘I made a solemn vow to return to Venice and become a gondolier.’ “
This is such a fun read. It would be easy to say that this story is about a man who finds himself by becoming a gondolier, but that’s not entirely true.
I have never been one to understand or appreciate typical forms of art; I’ve always hated going to museums and looking at paintings or sculptures. I like this story because it encapsulates true beauty into something I can understand – mastering a craft that doesn’t come naturally, and in no way makes sense for him to take on in this modern world.
“Wholly, thrillingly anonymous, a singular cell pulsing through a giant throbbing organism, I was carried along for hours, relieved of individuality. Thoughts slipped past without relevance – my mind rested. Decisions were unnecessary. Life amid so many was cheap.”
This, to me, is the true gift of travel. Anonymity in today’s world is something that I cherish whenever I find it.
“He’d come to relive that feeling of leaving his old self behind. That annual renewal, the reacquaintance with the person he felt himself to be on that island, was something he wanted to organize his life around.”
This is a story about finding the place, your place, the one that you keep coming back to time and time again. In this instance, the author comes back to Guzmán, a tiny town on the Spanish countryside, eventually bringing his family to this same spot year after year. I’ve always loved the allure of having a place like this, not only somewhere else but at home, too – a favorite cafe, bar, or restaurant that enters into my daily routine.
Recently, though, I’ve had to admit that having a place like this just isn’t a part of my personality. I’m always on the move with my feet and in my mind, and because of the reality of the way I choose to live my life I’ve become extremely good at creating safe places like this wherever I go, and for however amount of time I am there. But, I still like reading about places like these because they are so meaningful to someone else.