Saturday, April 25, 2015

Wondrous travel

Extraordinary travel produces childlike wonder

Not all travel inspires awe.

But if you've done a bit of travel and aren't having any genuine "wow" moments . . . you're doing it wrong.

Whether it's a majestic landscape, a Michelangelo sculpture, or a glorious cathedral, something should've made you exclaim, "Whoa!" Maybe it was climbing the Great Wall in China, watching a lion prowl in the Serengeti, or catching your first foggy glimpse of Machu Picchu. Maybe you saw the eerie glow of the aurora borealis, the moon rise behind the Taj Mahal, or the sun set off the Thai coast.

Whatever your moment — and hopefully lots of moments — causing that tingle down your spine, it's an experience which will last a lifetime.

If you haven't had some "wows," it's your fault.

Some of us have "wows" all the time. I can feel a wow while peering at the brushstrokes of a Rembrandt. A tingle from glimpsing the Duomo rising above the Florentine skyline. A pinch-me moment helping an old woman plant rice in a paddy. The kid in me feels a rush any time I approach a crumbled ruin or a prehistoric stone circle. Scenic hikes across dramatic landscapes can leave me euphoric.

You should feel the same. Not at my moments, necessarily. But at whatever lights your fire. If you're not finding those moments when you're traveling, it's your fault.

Nativity facade of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain
The Nativity Facade of Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain.
Let me repeat that: it's your fault.

Either the fault lies within you, or you're picking the wrong places to travel.

Perhaps you're not opening yourself to the moment. You're too cool. You're too preoccupied with getting to the next place on your itinerary. You saw it once on television and it looks a little smaller in real life than you anticipated. Are you paying enough attention? Study the details. Ask the guides. Step into the experience.

Maybe you don't know enough of the history. You've traveled all that way yet remain ignorant or oblivious of the wondrous place you're visiting. Travel means a whole lot more when you've done a bit of legwork to appreciate it. Stop being a dullard.

On the other hand, perhaps the fault isn't in your soul. Maybe you're just not going to the right places. Your husband drags you to museums but you want to sail the Mediterranean. It's cheaper to fly to Mexico but you long to go on safari in Africa. You lack the courage to venture into southeast Asia. You don't have the chutzpah to take a long rail journey by yourself. Your cojones need to grow before you take that trek in the Amazon.

Screw up your courage and take the journey you've dreamed about. You know the one: the journey you've wanted to go on since you were a kid. The town your grandad told you about. The gauzy picture in the magazine. The gorgeous ice cave in the movie. The maybe-someday-I'll-get-to-go-there journey. That one.

If you find yourself taking the same kind of trip over and over, or to the same region of the world, perhaps it has gone stale for you. Change up your game plan. Another fancy capital city? Try an island in the South Pacific. Another long weekend away? Bank some vacation time and immerse yourself in a culture for three weeks. Another family gathering during the holidays? Skip them this year and rent a Swiss mountain chalet.

Great Wall of China
Atop the Great Wall of China.
Now is the time. Make the memories, drag the kids, take plenty of photos.

A traveler lacking some "wows" is a fixable problem. It ain't rocket surgery. It simply requires the will to make yourself available.

Go find your "wows." Head for the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro; behold the Hagia Sophia; scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef; plunge into those Egyptian tombs; geek out on the Harry Potter film locations; ride San Francisco's cable cars; glory in an evening with the Berlin Philharmonic; feel the squeeze at the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo; brave the cold of Antarctica.

The world is full of extraordinary places and people.

Wherever it is, go find your sense of wonder.

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