Saturday, November 15, 2008
There's a peculiar comfort to traveling that comes from knowing that you aren't obligated to do any work at all. I remember it from my youth, when traveling meant a break from practicing the cello and doing homework. It wasn't that I never blew off my obligations while not traveling (quite the opposite), but while traveling there was no sense that I should feel guilty about the time I spent in that back seat reading a good book or toying around on a Gameboy. It wasn't as though I could really be doing anything else. Tetris is still a warm-fuzzy for me.
Traveling alone is rewarding for other reasons as well. Your schedule is broadly your own, particularly on the first day of a two-day trip. How long you drive for and where you stop for the night, these are things you have control over, and no one is on hand to second-guess you. You may pay for it in the morning but the reward can be worth it. In this period of enforced inactivity, you realize what things are really important to you. They are the things (and people) you miss while traveling.
The people you miss might surprise you. I remember trips where I found myself missing people I thought I disliked. I enjoy arguing, perhaps that's why. This trip the list failed to surprise me, however, as I've been missing them for quite some time now. I suppose in a sense I've been traveling for months now.
The things you miss usually don't surprise you... conveniences, things you forgot to bring, games, TV, books. This time I'm missing shampoo, but that's easy enough to fix. The activities you miss tend also to be about what you'd expect.
But the people I missed this time around really got me thinking.
I really do think I'm in a constant state of traveling. Really, the trips of the last few weeks have not come as a terribly great system shock, because in one sense or another I've been living as a guest for months, be it a guest on a sofa or a guest in my own house. I don't mind too terribly much and I don't feel too terribly guilty. After all, this time was given to me as a graduation gift where others received cars or (in a few rare cases) houses or expensive whatsits. I wanted time, and received it.
Economically, it may be an insensible option. I am teaching and writing, yes, but in general I'm racking up a rather large deficit which will eventually need to be handled. I am also, however, learning. I am becoming (through practice) a better writer. I am becoming (through teaching a five-year-old) a better teacher. In writing articles I educate myself more often than I suspect I educate my audience.
Travel time is a miraculous thing.
Really though, I think I'm turning this into an article because I wonder, from a philosophical standpoint, how many people are traveling, even now, without realizing it. How many people are sitting in apartments because buying a house feels like settling down? How many people are living out of suitcases, or breaking up relationships because they're getting too serious? It's an interesting conundrum. What makes a person happy enough that they want to settle down? People settle down because they have to all the time, that's not the same thing. I think people who get settled, rather than settling themselves, are stuck traveling for the rest of their lives. But really settling down, wanting to settle down in a place, I think that's a function of people.
Really, in all this time I've been traveling, I've had all the other comforts of life at hand. I've had the internet, soap, clean water, a bed (albeit a "borrowed" mattress on the floor, it is a rather nice "borrowed" mattress on the floor), clothing and a roof over my head. But people have been scarce. I've traveled literally thousands of miles on wheels in the last couple weeks to see people, and I'll likely travel a few thousand more (on wings) in the coming months to see more.
It really drives home the point, I think, which is that home has nothing to do with a place, or a particular pub, or a particular grove of trees. Home is where your people are.
And sometimes, you have to travel for a good long while to figure out who those people are.