Now that my children are grown and, for the most part, on autopilot, I have resumed a habit, and a love, that I had placed on hiatus during their formative years: solo travel.
The seed was planted when I was 17 and went on a class trip to Spain. The experience was akin to reading my first book – a revelation. So this is the world, I remember thinking when I separated from the group and roamed the busy streets of Madrid on my own, gawking at the architecture, trying unfamiliar foods, and screwing up the courage to engage the natives with my high school Spanish.
After that adventure I sought every opportunity to explore on my own, because I wanted to move according to my whims and impulses, confining my impressions to my journal.
The recollections erupt in memory yet green: the train trip across what was then East Germany, where a group of Poles in my compartment examined my American passport, handling it with reverence. The family of Roma on a train platform in a bitterly cold Slovenia who kept me warm by huddling around me. The Cubans who befriended me and, despite their great poverty, shared the little they had. The gracious Finns who allowed me to surf their couches as I backpacked through their lovely country. And on and on …
I recall, many years ago, before I became a dad, arranging to work for a summer on an Icelandic farm in exchange for room and board. My directions were to take a bus along the south coast from Reykjavík and get off at a certain crossroads, where the farmer was to pick me up. The driver stopped at the appointed place, but no one was there to meet me. And so I put my backpack down in a sheep pasture, snuggled up against it, and read a book, having long ago convinced myself that when one travels one is never lost. Helping hands are rarely far away. Sure enough, within a reasonable amount of time my host appeared, and I spent a lovely summer haying under the midnight sun with a family in which not a word of English was spoken.
I tell this last story to allay the fears of friends and others who have occasionally raised their hands to their faces upon hearing what I was up to. Some are specialists in outlining for me all the things that can go wrong when one launches oneself into the unknown. But for me, that’s the whole point of travel: to go where I haven’t gone before, to discover friendships waiting to be made, to interface with unfamiliar scents and tastes, to enter a new and, for me, undiscovered environment where being pleasantly surprised is the reward.
A few years back I tackled a trip that had long been on my horizon: Greenland. I spent a week hiking its robust, muscular mountains, sleeping in hostels, interacting with the natives, and sailing the fjords. It was inspiring. I hopped my flight back to Iceland feeling well satisfied. But when I deplaned and saw the line of passengers waiting for their flight to Greenland, all I wanted to do was turn around and join them. Once again it was affirmed for me that I would never get travel out of my system.
And so I have resumed what one of my friends referred to as my “crazy habit,” but one worth grooming and nurturing, if past experience is any guide. It’s a big world, and with due frequency I find myself champing at the bit to get under way.
They say Trinidad is lovely this time of year.