I love the thrill of discovering new places, of seeing ancient castles, of standing where history was made, of being part of the landscape or part of the every day bustle of life in a foreign place, of sitting in coffee shops watching the people chat and laugh, come and go. I feel more alive when I travel, more exhilarated, more aware, more in touch with myself.
My first bit of travel writing was keeping a notebook during my two consecutive summer road trips with my grandparents to Colorado, California, Oregon, and back to Minnesota. The entries were about the funny things my grandparents did and the interesting things we saw. I vaguely recall submitting my best friend at the time to a reading, which no doubt bored her to tears.
As a young teen, my dream was to bike around Europe with a backpack. I wanted to see the countryside, the villages, the famous cities, the sites, the people. That dream kept me going until I got derailed by teenage love, the need for social acceptance, and the external and internal expectation that college needed to come first. My dream was not more powerful than my teenage distractions, and for that, I am regretful. Had I followed through then, Travel writing may have become my life’s pursuit.
Or maybe not…
I was in college, pursuing a business degree after my guidance counselor, Sister Lincoln, told me most writers spend their lives writing obituaries, when I took my first major trip abroad with my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my cousin. We toured London, Paris, Barcelona, and Geneva in one wonderful, whirlwind trip. I was nineteen, and though I remember much of the cities and sites we visited, I didn’t see beyond the surface of it all. I remember the Tower of London, the paintings of the Louvre in Paris with the Eifel Tower in the distance, the dining and beaches in Barcelona, and the opulence of Geneva, but I don’t remember much else. I didn’t get a feel for the culture, the people, the every day life. I didn’t see the finer moments that help define a place and what it means to be part of the social landscape.
Three years later, I moved to Germany with my soon to be husband while he served in the US Army. We spent 16 months living in a little German village six miles from the military base. There were Americans living in all but one of the five units in the same small apartment building, but the majority of the neighborhood was German. I walked, biked, and shopped in the area around our little apartment on Kirschen Strasse. My scant German annoyed the locals more than charmed them, but I didn’t give up. The highlight of the time there was spending many weekends and holidays with a German family whose son had been a high school exchange student with my husband’s family. We experienced the everyday life—albeit of wealthy Germans—the family traditions, the culture, and the nightlife of Frankfurt. The most memorable experience during that time was a weekend trip to eastern Germany a year after the wall came down to stay with a young family. It was, and still is, the greatest culture shock I’ve experienced, but a trip that is vividly stamped on my mind more than twenty-five years later. Laptop computers and blogs were not a thing at that time, so the only writing I did about it was a postcard to my parents.
There have been more trips along the way, lots of notebooks filled with ramblings, two completed but unpublished novels, a third in process, and even this blog while working in a career that I like and do well at, but that doesn’t inspire me the way travel writing does. I often lament the fact that I didn’t push harder to become a writer in college, or at least a literature professor. Books, reading, and writing has been my passion since I learned to read, and looking back it seems so obvious that is what I should have pursued as a career; but, then again, maybe I wasn’t ready….
During those early days of traveling and seeing the world, I lacked in the maturity to dig deep, truly take in my surroundings, and write about the world in any manner other than superficial. Time, experience, and practice brings maturity and depth to writing, and though perhaps I would have gained all of these things much quicker had I started travel writing seriously much earlier, I may have also found myself discouraged and derailed (at least that is what I like to tell myself when I feel myself choking on regret).
For now, I cling to a plan that includes a future of exploring more of the world and devoting my days to writing—a future that exhilarates my dulled senses and calms my restless soul. In the meantime, I just need to keep practicing….