Why do you travel?

I dabble in the world of travel, and out of both personal and professional interest I read a lot of travel advice columns, travel blogs, travel memoirs, travel reflections (this is spelled correctly, but WordPress is confused about the word reflect). It’s always interesting that what seems to be missing is the why. People expound their motivations for wanting to travel: their dissatisfaction at their job, their desire for adventure, to see the world (so obvious, is this really necessary to add? Don’t you have eyes and are always seeing? You can see the world from your TV, your computer. What do you mean by see.)

Travel alone blogs encourage women. See the world websites proclaim. “But why?” I ask. Why are you telling me this. My friends and younger cousin travel and they talk about the places they’ve been but they never say why they did it. I feel like there’s this emptiness, this vacuum around travel as a claim of yet another experience without anything attached to it. There’s no travel emotional/mental baggage. Why not? Even my own family, when I tell them of my travel plans, doesn’t ask why. They’re quick to say why not, but not to ask me, “seriously, why?”

I travel to remember the other selves in the world. That sounds philosophical and lofty, but it’s true. I travel to learn the perspective that exists beyond myself; to practice my empathy; to question what I value as normal; to question what I deem regular; to shake the structures of what I’ve been taught and what I take for granted.

The only way I know how to see myself as another is to walk their sidewalks and eat at their cafes and travel on their buses. I breathe in their pollution and drink their cold water and feel their air on my skin.

It is strange to relate this point back to something…so close to home, to put it literally, but I struggle with the viral-ness of Making a Murderer. Yes, I do live in Green Bay, I tell strangers. Yes, Manitowoc, Wisconsin is 40 miles from my home. Yes, I am familiar with the Wisconsin accents and the snow-covered grain bins and barns and wavy stretches of land are the picturesque views I take for granted every day. But it’s more than that. At least once a month I drive the stretch of interstate from Manitowoc to Green Bay that the Avery family has surely driven hundreds, thousands of times. I know the order of the green road signs as surely as they know them. I know the color and the shape of the prison, fondly known as GBCI in town– that marker of home, that all familiar site as I pull off the interstate and turn in the direction of De Pere. I know the smell of the beaches which drifts over into Manitowoc on summer days. I know the tone of voice people use when they claim to know the family, either family, portrayed on the show. People I see every day at work claim Manitowoc as home. Claim this story as something from their own life.

So I struggle a bit with the memes and the social media fodder and the jokes– the jokes told at these peoples’ expense. Because I’ve traveled their travels and I can imagine their thoughts as they drive the same roads and see the same sites I see. The dark strip of interstate upon entering Brown County with no street lights and no signs and for a moment a feeling of utter desolation. The sections of road that the snow plows and salt trucks seem to miss every time. I can imagine their reactions. I can map their feelings to these places. So it’s hard to keep chuckling with everyone else. It’s hard to keep scrutinizing with strangers at parties. It’s hard to hear judgments passed. You don’t know what happened and I don’t know what happened and maybe we’ll never know what happened. But I can understand what’s happening.

That is why I travel. To see the present as it is. To place the present in context. To be present. To understand that my presence is not your presence, but I have a choice to bridge that gap or to leave it gaping and open and untraveled.

 

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