O Brave New World! (On travel, imagination, and our unique stories…)

“O Brave New World! That has such people in it” – that Tempest line is one of my favorites and I think about it any time I travel some place new that shakes me out of my comfort zone- whether that be a brand new country, a different city or state, just a new local trail I haven’t explored before.

I love so much about new experiences, but during this phase of my life I have to intentionally seek them out or I can get really set into a routine of the same places and the same ways of doing things week after week year after year. Don’t get me wrong, I THRIVE on routine and I don’t mind it being a large part of my life. I love routine the most though when it can be broken in specific and special ways. Travel opens up my imagination and creates new stories to tell. It makes coming back to the routine that much better. (I am going to quote a musical that if you know you know exactly what I mean and if you don’t please go watch Into the Woods… but I believe the great Stephen Sondheim put it best in his lyric “Just remembering you’ve had an AND when you’re back to OR makes the Or seem more than it did before….”) It creates a chance to discuss things that might not come up in your day to day life, and of course it reminds you to take it all in and make the memories!

The travel experience that deeply changed me happened in college where I had the privilege of traveling to London to rehearse a show that we then took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. I was lucky enough to return to Scotland a year after graduating. Both of these experiences opened up my imagination and made me reassess what I had taken for granted in several ways. It was my first chance to see how other people viewed our country- some with deep admiration and some with sorrow. It was my first chance to see theatre subsidized in a way that actors were paid for shows that were not necessarily the most commercially flashy. It allowed me to find a new rhythm, try new foods, and realize that I truly love that we put ice in our drinks on this side of the pond… This travel experience was unique because unlike all the vacations I’d taken before, it was such an extended period of time that I had the opportunity to do far more than the initial touristy sites. Don’t get me wrong, I will happily talk with you about having high tea in London, about experiencing a show in the Globe and enjoying the tour of the Tower of London, but that trip taught me that when I travel somewhere I want to find some things off the beaten path and that asking locals for their recommendations, while not always a bulls eye, can lead you on some pretty great adventures. I can’t actually recall much detail about the shows I saw at the Globe, but I can still giggle with a friend about how many times we visited Kensington Creperie. I also realize now that some of my favorite memories on those trips had very little to do with most of the iconic landmarks I took al those pictures of… they had much more to do with taking walks in Hyde Park to have a heart to heart, or exploring gardens that were planted hundreds of years ago or just marveling at how long the sky stayed light that far north.

I sometimes wonder, looking back, how I didn’t understand the deep, soul renewing effect that quiet moments with people I love in beautiful places had and continue to have on me. Maybe that’s why this past year of traveling to National Parks has felt like a missing puzzle piece I’ve been quietly longing for. Architecture can be recreated from one city to the next (or maybe that’s completely incorrect and one of my friends who loves architecture the way I love hiking will enlighten me…), not so with something like the Grand Canyon (or the Cliffs of Moher which are absolutely on my bucket list because these stunning sites are certainly not limited to America)

It has been very strange to slowly return to more regular traveling- when we spent a solid year and a half only “traveling” out of state via our imagination with the help of books, theatre, movies, or pictures from the past. When we had an antsy 1st grader sick of staying home with virtual learning, it was telling stories about travel- both of where his dad and I had been and where we hoped to take him in the future- that would help him rally to focus on another day staring at a screen. This kind of imaginative travel still serves us well- but it’s not the same thing as actually experiencing a place and its people. It’s something that all the upcoming alternate reality experiences can’t really replace. Even something as simple as traveling to see friends and experience where they live changes how I can imagine them in future conversations when they talk about projects they are doing on their home or what area of town they are in or where they are doing a training run.

As I get ready to travel to NYC tomorrow, I think about how I have been there before, how I have LIVED there before and yet it is going to feel so different returning there now. The last time I visited I had several more friends in the city who have since moved away. I had only one kid (well, technically I found out I was pregnant with my second while there!), I was not a runner and NYC had never in my lifetime been referred to as the “epicenter” of a novel virus. It will all feel so different now. Travel is as much about where you are in life when you go to a place as it is about the place itself.

So… I guess my question is… which travel experiences resonate with YOU the most? The moments where you experience something you could never experience somewhere else in the world? (A la seeing the actual pyramids in Egypt… there you go architecture friends…. replicas are definitely not the same as that) Or the moments where you experience something you may have readily accessible in your week to week routines, but are suddenly a unique story in that different context (ie pizza in Italy vs from your favorite local place, running the streets of New York with all that crowd support vs running around your neighborhood) I thought I had an answer to that question when I started writing this post, but the truth is, my imagination starts running away wildly in different directions when I think about BOTH options… and I’m not going to reign it in in one direction or another… but I’m also curious if that’s just me…

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