Travelmind: Finding Adventure in Everyday Activities
By Elizabeth Valente
Septempber 05, 2011
Like many of my generation and background, my ilk, I’ve always listed traveling as one of the “things that I’m into.” If I was graduating from something, you can bet a celebratory trip was planned. After a break up, hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was the perfect salve. At a crossroads? Why not look up flights to India? If a friend was going somewhere, I booked myself a ticket or went along for the cross-country ride.
You get the idea.
But then, also like many women around age 30, I added a new bit to my personal resume: I became a mother. I wholeheartedly enjoyed my pregnancy, and this past year since Evan’s birth has truly been the best adventure of my life, as cliché as it sounds. But with a baby comes less flexibility on all fronts – total shocker, I know! No more living on a shoestring or picking up extra waitressing shifts to compensate for the month in Argentina. Nope, now I’m focused on my little guy and a trusty part-time job.
This stage in my life is exactly where I want to be…except when wanderlust strikes. This ancient desire, this intense impulse, doesn’t just dissolve away like the urge to spend a whole night swilling Red Bull and vodka.
Wanderlust struck most acutely when I learned that my parents, in their sixties and quite fun to travel with, are going to Thailand this year. I was positively itching to go even though Evan’s father Jeff would not be able to make the trip. I looked into airfare (reasonable!), googled around for tips on “long flights with 14 month olds” (keep them entertained or sleeping!), and silently rehearsed the conversation with Jeff (even inside my head it never went well…).
On top of needing a green light from my sweetie for the three week adventure, there was the fact that I once flew cross country with my cat and was in tears of distress and worry almost the entire time. The trip was horrendous, taking 23 hours instead of 10 or so, but that’s the nature of traveling: sometimes the journey from the proverbial point A to point B is executed smoothly; sometimes it’s a story you tell for years afterward. And because of this simple fact, I couldn’t sincerely imagine being halfway around the world – literally – and responsible for myself and the daily needs of my toddler. Things would not go smoothly 100% of the time. Frankly, things do not always go smoothly when we are at our own home. For the first time in my life, I felt daunted by the innumerable unknown variables of a trip; and though a language barrier has never stopped me before, I also would not have been an easy phone call away from our trusted pediatrician. No Thailand for us.
So what’s a mom with a chronic case of wanderlust to do? I will employ “travelmind.” Travelmind, a term I made up, is defined as experiencing everyday life with the same eyes and attitude as used when traveling. For example, when touring about, inconveniences are actually stories-to-be. I enthusiastically ride a city bus or navigate a new subway system, even if I pass my stop and essentially ride in circles. I sip a leisurely coffee at an outdoor cafe and observe my surroundings with fascination. I am flexible when things don’t go as planned and I allow time for spontaneous excursions. I experiment with unfamiliar food, bathing arrangements, even sleeping situations, with aplomb. I smile at everyone and say cheerful (even if poorly pronounced) thank yous. I observe and relish in even the most prosaic aspects of everyday life.
I am not always this easy-going character when I’m at home, but why not try to be, at least some of the time? And as far as viewing the world with fresh eyes? Well, that’s made even easier when your daily companion actually is seeing and experiencing things for the first time; with Evan in the Ergo or the Moby, his expressions of curiosity and gurgles of delight are within inches of my face.
Behold a perfect example of employing travelmindedness: Evan and I went on a hike the other day at a mountain down the road from our house. It wasn’t amazing. The day was chilly and overcast, gloomy really, and we hiked around in the woods and never found the vista I know is there. However, if I’d been in an “exotic” location further than one mile from home I would’ve had a positive experience. So while we were wandering, I kept this notion in my head; Evan was perfectly content and I enjoyed what was there, like the feeling of the trail under my feet and the shade of the trees—not Costa Rican trees, true, but who says Maine trees aren’t as interesting? I’m used to taking what surrounds me for granted, something that travelmind firmly discourages.
There’s another thing I’ve noticed about myself as a traveler: I relax when there’s downtime. I read my novel even if it’s one in the afternoon. I take a stroll without a specific destination in mind. I rest, even nap! Something I’ve noticed about myself in “regular life”: I don’t really embrace downtime – those quiet times when Evan is napping. I always feel like there’s something I should be doing, like laundry, dishes, errands, emails. However, I’m learning those tasks still get done even if I harness the spirit of travelmind and take 20 minutes to read a chapter of my book or scribble in a journal.
I’m not saying I won’t ever list travel as a hobby again. And I’m not saying I won’t miss it. For a gal who boarded seven round-trip flights in 2007 alone, abstinence takes getting used to! But in the meantime I’m taking advantage of what we find close to home, the things I never do because they seem so obvious or touristy. Evan and I are going to be spontaneous, even if it means we dash out the door, leaving the high chair sticky. The next time I stop at a cafe, while Evan happily munches his finger food, I am going to contentedly dunk a biscotti in my latte instead of making a To Do list. And when I do finally find myself with a plane ticket to somewhere in the world again, I look forward to sharing the experience with my two sweetest guys.
ELIZABETH VALENTE has an MFA from University of San Francisco. She currently resides in her home-state of Maine and works on her novel one nap at a time.