My first experience with travel magic was probably in Ft. Myers Beach, Florida, where we visited my grandmother every winter break. We took two days driving and the minute I stepped foot on her gravel driveway I remember getting hit with the strong brine scent wafting off the shrimp boats and barnacle covered piers. Creeping along her modest clapboard home and postage stamp yard, I was looking for chameleons. They were so foreign and exotic to my Midwestern self. My grandmother lived along a murky channel where dolphins sometimes splashed around and ospreys preened on the decaying wooden pylons. If you took a boat out into the bay you could find a number of half submerged boats among the mangroves.
Then again, it could have been on a lake in Michigan, where we spent our summers in a rustic cabin with cinderblock walls. Nearby there was a general store run by a white haired woman, accompanied by her docile collie. Alongside the cash register she hung up sheets of bubble wrap for children to pop while their parents set craft beers, used books covered in a fine silt, and cans of Campbell's Chunky soup--just a few of the unique items this dark wood building housed. If you weren't popping bubble wrap your eyes grew big at the sight of jewel toned Ring Pops, plastic parachute men, chalky boxes of Lucky Brand candy cigarettes, and golden packages of Rolos. This place, which remained exactly the same until nearly 2011 when the owner passed away, was the embodiment of magic.
Most of my travels until my late twenties were fairly pedestrian, trips back to Bloomington, Indiana to visit good friends still living in my old college town, and ramblings through Michigan or my husband's home state of Arkansas. I was always, unknowingly, experiencing travel magic. It dawned on me during a recent trip abroad that I am subconsciously looking for travel magic whenever I travel now, and almost disappointed when I don't find it. I've had the fortune to live abroad and do more traveling than I ever imagined, but foreign travel is costly, and without getting a dose of travel magic it's hardly worth the price. And the fact is, you can find travel magic a few hours from home.
The first time I really noticed travel magic was at Chitwan National Forest in Nepal. We took a bike tour into the jungle just before dusk on rusted, creaking mountain bikes too large or small for each passenger. The jungle tour was resplendent with animals and I felt sweaty and alive bulleting down the narrow dirt trails. On the way home the sun bled orange and pink all over the sky, and soon we were on the village road, not a street light to be seen, the sky mixed brilliant orange with midnight blue, stars and moon lighting our way. Single motorcycle lights whizzed by dramatically close, casting silhouettes and catching swirls of kicked up dust in their beam. It was just a bit terrifying enough to become exhilarating and strikingly beautiful.
Travel magic doesn't necessarily last very long, it could be a few minutes. It also doesn't necessarily cost all that much, the bike ride was the cheapest thing on the trip, just a few dollars. Travel magic is simply a brief moment where everything comes together to create a profound experience that your heart is fully open to. Traveling can be exhausting, frustrating, and even boring at times. Not every moment will dazzle you, but you travel for those ephemeral moments that are.
What I realized about travel magic, is that it is not exclusive to travel, but being away from our day to day makes it so much easer to recognize and appreciate enchanting moments. The perfunctory routines, domestic stress, work frustrations, and endless to do lists tend to have us looking straight ahead so we can do what needs to get done. This robs us from fully immersing ourselves in the world around us, but travel disrupts our day to day, and forces us to engage. This isn't a lecture about living in the "now" and being more present. Isn't that just another form of pressure that we put on ourselves? And besides, I don't think magic would be so magical if it happened all the time.
But I do think that whether you travel to a quaint B&B in a neighboring town or take a round the world trip, you should be looking for your travel magic. Don't worry about how long it lasts. Don't fret about what form it comes in. Just know it's waiting and when it hits, you should be prepared.