Typically, I am more of a homebody, but for certain milestone celebrations, I believe traveling to distant places can provide wonderful and long-lasting memories. For example, last month, upon becoming a sexagenarian (I love that word!), I decided to celebrate my 60th birthday in Tuscany. We rented a villa with my three kids and their significant others to share in the week-long festivities. I guess I have to thank Elizabeth Gilbert for her book Eat, Pray, Love for putting an already spectacular place on the forefront of our radars. It was everything I could have asked for; good company, indulging in good food and laughter, nestled in with our daily excursions to small neighboring villages, were all magical, followed by a week-long car excursion to other parts of Italy.
Looking back on my life, I realize I have been lucky to have taken a number of memorable celebratory trips. Some of the places I've been include, New Orleans, Bali, the Amalfi Coast, Africa, Provence and Hawaii, to name a few. Each time I travel I begin a new journal with the hope of chronicling my escapades, but more often than not, the journal returns home with me barely filled. In fact, I find most of my writing is inspired by the trip, but doesn't necessarily occur during the trip.
One thing I do before traveling is to read some books connected to the place I will be visiting. For example, 11 years ago when my husband and I went to Provence on a bike trip, I bought Travelers' Tales of Provence, a collection of short stories. When off on a family trip to Africa, I really enjoyed reading Whatever You Do, Don't Run by Peter Allison. When traveling to the Amalfi Coast 10 years ago in celebration of my 50th birthday, I picked up a copy of The Art of Travel by Alain deBotton, a wonderful inspiration for any type of travel.
It is always nice to get away, but always good to return home. Some journeys have more impact than others. A few might even leave us feeling indifferent, but there is always something to take away from any experience. I think there is beauty to be gleaned from every place one visits. I recall sitting in Parisian cafes with my grandfather as a teenager and how much just fun it was glancing at the architecture and watching the variety of passersby frequenting the streets as I sipped on my iced coffee. Things as simple as walking down the streets and peeking into the windows of the shopkeepers and the apartment-dwellers above, was always a source of amusement and conversation.
If you have a photographic memory, then these images can live with you forever. If you are good with a camera, you can capture an instant as a future reminder. Just as for the writer, the powers of observation cannot be understated. Although I don't often write volumes when away, I do jot thoughts in my journal, something deBotton calls "word paintings," which he defines as "descriptive passages or words that attempt to identify what moved or impressed you about a place or scene. This is one way to remember or to jog our memories. By writing these descriptions, you give form to an experience; physically, mentally and spiritually. Over time, memory plays tricks on us, so these jottings assist with recall. Also sharing our experience with others, and talking about our journeys and travels can also help memories to become more embedded in our minds.
What's wonderful about travel is that it can be a common denominator in the same way that food is. Just as foodies will trade recipes or share restaurants, those who travel a lot often enjoy talking about where they have been. "Oh yes, I was there." "I loved that place," or "I was there once, but will never go back." Whatever your stance on travel, there is always something to be learned, relished and something to take home. Now, that's a cause for celebration.