At first glance, Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel by Judith Fein (Spirituality & Health Books, 2010) doesn't appear to be a book about friendship. But once you open up the cover and begin reading about the author's gutsy cross-cultural adventures, you realize that she has honed a unique talent for opening herself to new and potentially life-changing friendships through travel.
When I think about my own travels (which are far more tame and less exotic), significant memories are usually associated with people rather than with the places or things I've seen. The most meaningful travels have a mystical way of enriching and redefining relationships.
I met Judy several years ago at a writer's conference so I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to read her beautifully written, engaging, and wise book. I prevailed upon Judie to talk about Life is a Trip and its relevance to friendship:
Judie, I loved Life is a Trip and found your openness to new experiences inspiring. You seem to make friends wherever you travel despite the differences between you and the other person. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with the curandera you met in Mexico?
A curandera is a traditional healer. We didn't share a language. We didn't share a religion. Yet, she allowed me into her private healing chapel and trained me in the Catholic-Indian tradition of healing. I completely subsumed my will so that I could learn from her. When it came time for me to do my first healing in Mexico, I couldn't do it her way. Trembling, I did it my way, according to my own tradition. And she smiled. It was okay. What made this friendship extraordinary was that there was enough flexibility for each of us to be to herself, fully herself, and it was accepted completely by the other.
In another chapter, you talk about taking a trip with your husband to a Kiwi friend you never met. How did that happen?
She read something I wrote, corresponded with me, and then invited me and my husband to go with her Maori extended family on a roots trip. I would never have gone on such a trip except...I trusted her. I trusted her vision. I was exposed to the tensions in the extended family, and it was sometimes intense indeed. But I learned from my friend and her Maori husband a different way of dealing with family dynamics.
Can you briefly describe the story of your friendship with the friendly innkeeper in Turkey?
Sure. One chapter is about my friend Abe, who runs a small hotel in Istanbul. His way of being a friend is to lay himself out like a Turkish carpet and do anything to please you. I learned from him that this is how he runs his business too. He behaves like a caring friend to his customers. And with all the ritzy, high-profile hotels in dreamy Istanbul, his small hotel is one of the top rated--because of him.
How would you characterize the relationship between travel and making friends in general?
For me, traveling entails making new friends all the time. Allowing intimacy. Learning from each other. Enjoying each others' differences. Sometimes the friendships last a lifetime and sometimes they last as long as my trip to another country, or even a day. And that's okay. Sometimes you need a BFF and sometimes you need to exchange, grow, learn, expand your horizons with new friends. There is an almost instant bonding, and it can be followed up with Facebook, emails, phone calls, or it can just be what it is: a connection with a friend for a short, wonderful, intense period of time.
About the author:
Judie Fein is an award-winning travel journalist, author, filmmaker and speaker who is fascinated by how people all over the world live, eat, love, pray, play, heal, celebrate, interact with their environment and connect communally. She and her photojournalist husband, Paul Ross, hope to inspire others to become real travelers rather than tourists, and to create their own adventures. In Life is a Trip, Judie takes her readers on 14 assignments from North Vietnam to Turkey, Guatemala, Nova Scotia and beyond. Each one offers a glimpse into her relationships.