Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Come, and trip it, as ye go/ On the light fantastick toe"

Despite how it may seem, the decision to travel wasn’t made on a whim. I’ve been knocking around the idea of an extended trip (in various fashions) for a couple of years; although in earlier days the logistics were different (i.e. I’d be taking a 3-month leave of absence from my work and maybe renting out my house; not quitting altogether and selling my abode). Recently I’d been thinking about what would make a meaningful 40th birthday present to myself, and it always came back to travel.

Wanderlust has gripped me for quite some time. I may have even been born with it; the offspring of a father who, at 21, hopped on a ship in Austria and sailed to Canada in search of a new life. I have pictures of him on long motorcycle trips in the ‘50s through unrecognizable mountain ranges with unknown comrades. I have his worn passport, stamped with exotic destinations. He took me on my first international trip (to visit family in Austria) in 1975, when I was five. Were he here to witness this today, he would be cheering me on all the way.

My own adult relationship with travel began in Europe in 2001. The moment I first set foot in Florence, I wanted to live there. I had it all figured out. I would teach English and double as a tour guide around the Duomo on the weekends and live in a tiny flat on the other side of the Arno and have just enough money for bread and wine. Despite various (admittedly rather feeble) efforts, I never did make that happen.

But as far as travel was concerned I was bitten; and since then, the lure of travel has pulled me into all sorts of adventures. On that first trip to Italy, I wound up a passenger in a convertible Porsche as it glided through the picture-perfect hills of Tuscany. On the return trip a few months later, I perched shivering on a small balcony in the heart of Florence, surrounded by my raucous Italian friends, watching New Year’s Eve fireworks displays exploding across the city skyline at midnight. The third trip had me lounging on the cliffs and terraces of Capri,

defying death on the hairpin curves of the Amalfi Coast Highway and consuming vast amounts of homemade bread, cheese, sausage and wine at an idyllic farmhouse in the countryside. Even if I haven’t yet figured out how to live there, Italy is my dream.

I’ve flown via private jet to Mexico; driven a car on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, where I took myself to celebrate my 38th birthday, and navigated a tiny scooter through the insane traffic of Taiwan
and on to the Oceanside at sunrise.

Fortunate I have been.

My point is this: these were all fantastical, often-unbelievable experiences. I couldn’t ask for more. But they were also all safe, controlled and measured. There was little, if any, risk involved (except maybe for the driving in Paris and Taiwan and Amalfi Coast Highway parts). For each destination I knew where I was going, when I was arriving, where I would sleep each night and precisely what date I would be back home in my own bed. And with the exclusion of the Paris trip, I never went alone.

This is not that.

This is not a 10-day escape from my everyday life, where I view bits of the outside world from the comfort of my perfectly planned itinerary, only to return home to find that not much in my own world has changed except perhaps the tightness in my shoulders for a few days.

This trip is not a vacation.

I don’t really know anything about backpacking. I’ve never even seen the inside of a hostel, let alone slept in one or taken a shower in one of their communal bathrooms or cooked a meal with strangers in their communal kitchen.

I am an almost-40 woman, heading out into the world with a 30-odd-pound backpack as my only companion and a rather loosey-goosey itinerary to follow. I’m taking the same amount of clothing with me for 4-5 months (or longer?) that I would normally pack for 4-5 days. I will wash said clothing in a bathroom sink and hang it between the bunk beds to dry. I will make teenytiny tubes of toothpaste last as long as I possibly can. Don’t even get me started on what I’m going to do about hair products, because I don’t know.

I will fall in and out with others along the route who are embarking on the same adventure, but at half my age (which, I might add, many seem to consider a more “appropriate” age for this type of thing. This mystifies me.)

Bottom line: the logistics of this voyage could not be more foreign to me.

But thanks to my parents I’m a great camper, and am often rather innovative in puzzling situations. I figure this is kind of like camping, except with lots of places that require passports and visas and phrasebooks and bone-jarring 13-hour overland over-air-conditioned bus rides and sleeping with a gaggle of strangers in my tent.

Again: this is not a vacation.

This is a voyage. A journey. An adventure.

“Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will – whatever we may think.”
Lawrence Durrell


lisasub said...

wonderful!! how utterly exciting and scary at the same time!!! Wow - you are going to have the time of your life!

nathalie said...

this is so exciting. i am about to do the same thing -- travel around by myself. first spend some time in north america, then off to south east asia, australia, new zealand and tasmania... by myself. freedom.

Tania said...

enjoy the journey Cara...may you find what you are searching for and breath every minute of it to its fullest.