Why We Travel: Three Essays Show Why
Snake Charmer in Morocco. Photo by Janis Turk
New York Travel Fest 2013
Travel Writing Contest Winners
How Travel Inspires Me
By GoNOMAD Editorial Staff
In March 2013, in Manhattan, the New York Travel Fest delighted travel aficionados with seminars, guest speakers, city tours, and more. There they also announced the winners of the NY Travel Fest travel writing contest for which travelers across the globe wrote stories about how travel inspires them.
The Grand Prize? Two airline tickets to the Czech Republic (a gift of Delta Air Lines, whose new NYC-Prague route is coming May 24th), and a two-night stay at the five-star Kempinski Hybernská Prague, along with a one-day private tour of Prague and two tickets to the Image Theatre Prague.
The trip was provided by Czech Tourism, Delta Air Lines, Kempinski Hybernská Prague, and Image Theatre Prague.
Judges for the contest were actor, award-winning travel writer, and editor-at-large for National Geographic Traveler, Andrew McCarthy; Best American Travel Writing writer and contributing editor for AFAR, David Farley; and executive editor at National Geographic Traveler, Norie Quintos.
GoNOMAD was inspired by the winning stories—and, OK, one of our staff was among the winners—so we decided to share the best of the New York Travel Fest stories with our readers so they might be inspired by travel, too.
First Place Winner
At Home on an Island
By Candace Rose Rardon
The first time I meet Rai is at the morning market in Sampalan, the largest town on the Indonesian island of Nusa Penida.
She says hello to me from behind mounds of mangos and bright green chilies, manning the produce stall she runs daily with her mother. Despite the heat, she wears a purple hoodie zipped up to the neck. We chat for a while, her brown eyes glowing and dark hair pulled back from her face.
I see her again the next night, at a dance lesson in her village. After the lesson finishes, she asks, “You come to my home?”
And because I have no other plans on this Saturday night, I say, “Why not?”
Rai sits behind me on my motorbike and directs me down an unlit gravel lane. The farther in we press, the more the road disintegrates beneath my wheels. I apologize each time we hit a bump.
“Candace,” she chides, “every day I am taking these roads.”
When we reach her house, her family is seated on their concrete front porch. I’m told to call her fisherman father Bapa, and her mother Meme. Her brother Putu and sister-in-law Kadek are also there. Putu is 21, his wife 20; already, Rai tells me, they have lost two children. One died “in belly,” another at 13 days old.
When I try to find the words to say I’m sorry, Kadek smiles an impossible smile and says, “No problem. It’s okay.”
“Tomorrow you can help me selling in the market?” Rai asks.
Again I say, “Why not?”
“And tonight, you sleep at my home?”
For a moment, I mumble something about my homestay in Sampalan. And then it hits me: that I couldn’t recognize an actual homestay when presented with one.
Rai goes to take a shower, and afterwards asks if I’d like to take one, too. But Bapa warns me – it’s only a “manual shower.” Furthermore, the bathroom is outdoors, open for all to see, its walls barely reaching up to my chest.
But it’s far enough from the house – and lit only by the glow of Rai’s flashlight – that I soon let go of modesty and strip down, dipping a plastic tumbler into a bucket and feeling the water cool my sticky skin. I tilt my head back, take in the incandescent sky above me, and thank the universe for this moment.
Because that’s the first gift of inspiration that travel gives me – the gift of discovery, and the thrill of encountering a world so completely different to your own.
With alarms set for 4 a.m., morning will come early. I lie beside Rai on a foam mat on the floor. Her parents will sleep in the living room. After they turn off the TV, the only sounds remaining are the occasional calls of a gecko and the ticking of a heart-shaped clock on the cinderblock wall – and Rai’s quiet breathing next to me.
I glance to my side and see the frangipani blossom she’d picked earlier is still tucked behind her ear. I am slow to fall asleep, kept awake by gratitude and wonder at finding myself so at home here.
Because that’s the second gift that travel gives me – the gift of belonging, and the thrill of journeying so far from home only to find a home in such an unfamiliar place.
The following morning, with the chickens still asleep in the trees, we arrive at the market, and yet we’re far from the first ones there. Women are setting up their stalls with flashlights held between their ears and shoulders like telephones. They roll back the sheets of blue plastic that covered their tables overnight. Rai complains of moths eating her tomatoes.
Like a pot coming to boil, the market slowly heats up. Sandals begin to slap against the dusty paths, plastic bags rustling as they’re filled with corn and cassava and grapes the size of golf balls. While Rai sells produce – carrots and chilies, garlic and red pearl onions – I stand next to her, helping where and when I can. I return each morning to hang out, until the day comes for me to say goodbye and depart from Nusa Penida.
I’m still in touch with Rai – through Facebook, of course – and every now and then I’ll get a message from her, asking how I am. I smile each time, remembering the market and the manual shower and how it felt to fall asleep in the damp darkness of her home. Because that’s the third gift that travel gives me, and the reason I’ll never stop traveling – the gift of connection, and the thrill of weaving an invisible web around us as we move through the world, and the world moves through us.
The connections that keep each journey alive forever.
For more information about Candace Rose Rardon, visit her website at www.candaceroserardon.com Follow Rardon on Twitter @candacerardon
Second Place Winner
Feeling Up the Map
By Janis Turk
When Bob Scott kissed me with gum in his mouth, it occurred to me that he clearly wasn’t into relationships. It was during freshman orientation when Bob, a senior, asked if I wanted to see his Stevie Wonder monkey
I said OK.
When we got to his dorm, there was a stuffed animal on his bed: a Curious George doll missing the buttons that had once been his eyes.
And so he leaned in.
Slobbering greedily with his spearmint gum fumbling around on our tongues, we kissed like kids do for a while before his hands started to move up my sweater. It was then I noticed notches on his headboard. Bob was into monkey business, all right.
I quickly mumbled my exit lines and left—no great loss on his part or mine. He went on to find a sorority girl who wanted to see his monkey.
I get Bob now, and I tell this story because it illustrates how, in a way, I am like him these days—only I’m greedy for cities, not sex.
I use maps like Bob used women. I seek new cities, countries, continents to feed my urge to go, and then I go on to the next one.
To me, each stamp in my passport is like another notch in a headboard. I daydream about travel. I scheme, plot and plan for it. I impulsively spring it on strangers—do you want to go with me? I say yes to it instinctively, indiscriminately, without ever thinking whether this trip is practical or I can afford it, or if it’s even safe. I go where I shouldn’t. I’ve gone where people said I couldn’t. I’ve been places that were dangerous. I simply don’t care.
I talk incessantly about travel, look at magazine pictures of it, cruise the Internet for it, fantasize about it, and boast about it like guys brag to their buddies about sex. I bore people with it. I make them look at my photos—and I’ve got thousands of photos. I arrogantly assume people are envious of my pilgrim prowess, when the fact is they’re probably rolling their eyes.
Travel often ruins my finances, damages my relationships and makes me feel guilty about what I should be doing and where I’m supposed to be. Still, I can’t get enough.
I don’t fall in love with one place; I love all of them. Sure, I sometimes find myself accidentally getting a severe crush on some other city—like Cape Town or Havana—but, while I may keep these on the back roads of my mind and revisit them whenever I can, there’s always another place I need to go.
Still, when I arrive, there is no gum in my mouth.
For my part, travel isn’t really about my greedy wanderlust or taking something. It’s about giving everything; opening oneself wholly, quietly—forging oneness with otherness, accepting, honoring, understanding. It’s not about me. It’s about them. It’s about there. It’s about inhaling spirit, exhaling joy.
Travel is communion, and it’s this promise of pure intense connection that compels me to always keep a suitcase packed.
OK. Yes, I admit it. I receive something, too—the hit, the rush, the passion I get from the word “go.” I crave travel as some people crave sex—chasing the thrill, blindly going all the way. And, like Bob’s blind monkey on the bed, I don’t see what may happen and I don’t care.
I’m a Curious George by nature, too, and like Bob, I tend to let things take their course and lead me where they will, whether I go it alone or take someone with me.
For I feel most alive in that climactic moment when I am standing in a foreign place, surrounded by the noises of the marketplace, watching chickens get their heads whacked off, live frogs slid into a baggie and put on a scale, boats bobbing on a midnight sea, camels spitting on my shoes, peacocks jumping up on my table at a bar, or rockets firing at dawn as fear and adrenaline pulse through my body before running with the bulls in Pamplona. There is no feeling quite like it.
Robert Louis Stevenson, a traveler soul himself, writes, “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. “
He also writes of living life “imprudent and exaggerated, in swoops and circles.”
And so I go, in swoops and circles, leaning in, fumbling and kissing; turned on by the intimacy of the open road, feeling up the map.
Third Place Winner
By Ben Haley
Nothing reminds me that I am a living, breathing human more than travel, when I can escape the banality of my everyday existence in a fluorescent light bulb-lit office space and wind up in a place that offers only fresh possibilities.
While there are times when I want nothing more than to travel as far as I can from the monotony of my daily life, I know that it does not matter how far you travel, but how receptive you are to growing from your experiences “on the road.”
New experiences enrich our fleeting lives, and the inspiring experience of travel is, for me, the most fulfilling of what the world can offer.
One way travel inspires me is to further my intellectual development and education. Firsthand experiences of new people, environments, cultures, climates, buildings, and foods, among other things, both near and far, have required me to adapt my beliefs, attitudes, and manners. Meeting people is a particular source of inspiration.
There is no apparent connection, for example, between an Indian street urchin, an Argentine petty criminal, and a Scottish duke, except for me: I have met them. Because of those encounters I can envision the world through three different lenses and can understand, to an extent, ways of living far removed from anything I will ever experience myself.
They have educated me, directly or indirectly, about poverty, economic imbalance, crime, wealth, and history. I am richer because of those encounters.
But travel does more for me than inspire personal development. It also inspires a sense of responsibility. In visiting new places we forge connections that last a lifetime, which invests us in their fates. When I return from a place I am driven to learn more about it, to pick up a history book, to talk with someone else who has been there, or to plan a trip back. It becomes a part of my being, of my character.
If something happens to a place I have visited, like a natural disaster, I feel a type of distress that I cannot know for somewhere I have not yet been that suffers something similar. In this way every trip inspires an ever-increasing sense of being part of something greater than a nationality, religion, culture, or ethnic group, and fosters the mentality of being part of a world community.
Platitudinous, But True
It is certainly clichéd to say that travel “breaks down barriers” and “broadens the mind,” but there are reasons these phrases are considered platitudinous: they are, in my and many others’ experiences, true.
Travel also inspires me to be an (unofficial) ambassador for the United States. It is not a role I choose, and I do not flaunt my American citizenship when I am abroad, but the reality is that across the world Americans are a curiosity and, perhaps of all the nations of the earth, America provokes the strongest opinions among foreigners.
I am reminded of a bus journey in India in which a man overheard my girlfriend and me talking about how expensive something was. The man leaned in and said “but all Americans are rich! This costs nothing to you. India is practically free.” He certainly had a point in terms of relative, per capita wealth, but it prompted an interesting discussion about misconceptions.
Another experience in Rome with a couple of New Zealanders allowed me to prove that not all Americans are warmongering Christian zealots. This is part of the responsibility of travel: the aim of a trip might be for personal pleasure, but an inescapable consequence of being abroad is being forced to accept the fact that you are also a representative of a state and that others will have preconceived opinions about that state. So while travel educates the self, it can also be used to educate others, especially to challenge bias.
I chose these examples of inspiration out of many because they are what stick with me most when I reflect back on all the trips I have taken. Travel reminds me that, with a little effort, life can be full of constant discoveries and re-evaluations.
Follow Haley on Twitter @GhastlyFop
Janis Turk is a travel writer, photographer, and author who has appeared in travel segments for CNN’s airport network. Her work appears in magazines and newspapers and popular travel websites. Her most recent book Frommer’s TEXAS (2017) is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.