Mindful Travel Companions, a Rare Breed: Part II

I have four children and I’m thrilled to say I’ve traveled with all of them to some extent or another, most spectacularly a trip to Panama with all four in tow in which by some strange act of the universe, we weren’t fighting the entire time. Perfection it was not, but given the dynamics between three adult sisters, a tween baby brother and mom…we did pretty good. I’ve gone to Berlin and Lisbon with my eldest daughter (we’ll discuss that in Part III), I’m headed to Mexico City with my youngest daughter this year, and Cam’s request is Scotland–but since he can’t help me pay his way, it’s a bigger stretch for me to finance at the moment and simmering on the back burner.

Our case study will be the trip to Dallas to see The Lumineers with my daughters. We frequently make a concert a focal point of our journeys, and this one did not disappoint. The Episode, however, occurred the day before the concert when we ventured out from our Airbnb to explore. Our intention was to locate a quaint area of shops nearby but somehow we bungled the directions (if we ever had any was never clear to me; since I had no agenda I did not inquire further in that regard). We grabbed latte to go from the coffee shop by our condo and then meandered the surrounding area and ended up in a completely residential area at a dog park. The neighborhood was lovely; we sat and chatted with the owners, watched the puppers, and even helped corral an escapee. I found it completely charming and enjoyable to just relax and soak in the unexpected destination. As we finally got up to leave and keep walking, we debated whether or not to keep searching for the illusive shops or just find a place to have lunch. We settled (or so the majority thought) on trekking to a Spanish bistro a good twenty minute hike away. Now “the majority” became enlightened to reality as my middle daughter flew into a rage that we were not fulfilling our original plan. It was HOT. She was TIRED. The restaurant was TOO FAR. The tirade culminated with her throwing her cup of coffee and stomping off alone in the direction of the condo. She threw coffee.

The remaining travelers looked at each other in momentary stunned silence, shrugged, and set forth on the grueling hike and the eventual reward of AC, sangria, and some of the most divine tapas I’ve ever had. The Episode in now the stuff of family legend.

If you must have a travel companion…choose wisely.

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The Power of No

Sometimes we have to stand firm regarding our plans and our desire for quietude, even if others do not understand that need. I spent about six months from plane ticket purchase to departure on my planning for Málaga, so my friends and family were well aware of my upcoming trip. I was discussing my anticipation with a friend and she burst out, “I’d love to go with you!! What do you think?”

Now, this is a dear friend, a special person who I did not want to hurt in any way. The task though, however difficult, was to say no. I sat silently pondering how to phrase the refusal and somehow I did so quite gently. Still, she was confused and disappointed by my reaction. Swirling in my head, however, was an instant distress at the prospect of how different a trip it would be. We would be talking non-stop as girlfriends do, we would be planning an agenda each day. Of special concern to me was that my friend is quite attractive, tall and platinum blonde, and I knew she would draw attention when I particularly wanted to slip unnoticed through the crowds.  It was a difficult moment, but it crystallized for me just how important it was to me to go it alone and be with my solitude as sole traveling companion.

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Mindful Travel Companions: a rare breed Part I

The first trip where I decided to travel as other than a typical tourist was when I was twenty-three: my best friend Kim and I decided to return to Paris. We had been there three years earlier as the standard young Americans touring Europe. We did have the expected magical time with the exhausting hours in the Louvre, the mad hair-raising dash through traffic to the Arc de Triomphe, the rainy yet stunning side trip to Versailles with our pack of newly met friends. These were all wonderful experiences, but now we wanted to sit. Really. We just wanted to sit. On park benches, at sidewalk cafes, in restaurant windows. To sip coffee and just watch the passersby sounded divine to us.

Now comes the critical error in judgement. I was living in Germany at the time and had met a wonderful woman (also named Michelle) and she expressed an interest in joining us. I enthusiastically and stupidly agreed.

She was diametrically opposite every trait of my best friend and I. Where we were laid back introverts, she was a go-getter. Where we accepted sitting together in companionable silence, she wanted non-stop action and EXPERIENCES. Those descriptors alone will allow your imagination to fill in how the bulk of the trip unfolded.

There were, of course, treasured moments such as waiting for hours picnicking roadside in the mountains to see the Tour de France whiz gloriously by. We did return to the Eiffel Tower and while Michelle hiked exuberantly to the top, Kim and I remained seated at the mid-level and had orgasmic warm chocolate crepes, messy and divine. However, the challenging week was filled with Michelle chomping at the bit and thrashing against our laissez faire mentality while Kim seethed with resentment at the entire premise of our quiet journey being disrupted. The added bonus was that the two women did not previously know each other, which left me spending the tumultuous week in the middle to suffer their incessant complaints, one at each of my ears.

Solo travel is my hearty recommendation for Mindful Travel, but in future posts we will explore strategies to secure personal space and quietude while traveling in company. Let this first story serve as notice to ponder the inherent characteristics of each of your travel companions.

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The Beginning of Solitude: Seattle

Seattle was not my first solo trip, but it was the trip that began my journey. I traveled out with my coworkers from the museum I worked at back then to tour the studio of Dale Chihuly. The art was everything we hoped and my time with the others was enjoyable and full of the love of friendship. What made the trip memorable however was my time in unexpected solitude. At one point, my fellow travelers all had plans with their spouse who was along or with visits to friends and family who lived in the area–I had a few hours foisted upon me that left me solely in the company of myself. I set out walking. As I did, a peculiar joy washed over me: the pleasure of being alone in the world, following only my own curiosity about what lay around the next corner. I was much younger on this trip than I am now and I had never before experienced solitude and self-direction. I had always bent to the wishes of others. My parents, my husband, had directed my footsteps. Walking now alone awakened a spark in my soul that I hadn’t even known existed. I was thrilled with the power of my solitude and the strange invisibility it gave me to observe the city life teeming around me, a stream swirling and parting around a rock. I wandered into a jewelry store that sold estate jewelry. In the case was an opal ring, my birthstone. When I slipped it on my finger, it felt like it belonged there–had always belonged there. I have worn it ever since except in situations where the soft stone is at risk for damage. The ring has become a symbol to me of that day when my soul finally started to grow. The ring is my reminder of personal power, independence, and the dawning realization that it is I alone who direct my path and choose where my footsteps lead me. This was the start of a long and peculiar adventure.opal ring

Solitary Sojourn: Málaga, Spain

And this is why I travel alone: no agenda whatsoever, absolutely no concerns for the wants and needs of others. There will be no whining about hot, hungry, tired. No complaining that we are leaving too early or too late. No passive aggressive darts flying because we have yet to lay eyes on this cathedral or trudge through that museum. I’ve structured my entire life on this now: to simply BE in this present moment without worry about appointments or meetings or agendas. Nothing at all compels me anywhere but where I am, right here, right now. This moment I am living is noisy and full of life and activity. An absolute cacophony of birds is rioting in the canopy of tropical trees over my head. People on park benches nearby are deep in conversations in a variety of languages. This is a city trip so the world is full of the noise of city life: the tourist bus idling at the curb spewing black exhaust, the bustle of citizen traffic rushing about their daily life, the workers busy with their construction banging and pounding away. It can be seen as an unwelcome intrusion or smiled at as the vibrancy of life. The birds are honestly making the most racket.

Solo Travel: the inaugural trip

I was going through a couple of my journals (truly, I have an absurd collection of them), hunting for a writing piece to share with you and instead stumbled upon this one on a little scrap of paper from my very first solo journey.

Here’s the set up: at the time of this piece, I was in a relationship with a man who lived two hours away from me. While we were out in his town, he disrespected me so badly that I hopped in my car and drove the two hours back home. It was the end of our relationship that night. When I got to my house, seething and fuming, I sat to play on the computer…and ended up booking a trip to Cancun for myself. I chuckle now that it was booked out of spite.

The resort I was at (Le Blanc) was absolutely divine, with a child-free atmosphere and indulgences like aromatherapy that could be ordered to your room (bougie much?); I was pampered and in heaven. The downside was that seemingly the rest of the guests were all couples on their romantic honeymoons and anniversary trips; as a solo gal I felt that I stood out like a sore thumb. I dressed up one night to go downstairs and sat at the bar alone feeling entirely conspicuous. At a loss as to how to handle myself, I picked up pen and paper so that I was “doing” something. This is the piece that I wrote:

Regret nothing–not even sitting alone at a bar feeling silly–do not wish your life away. Play by your own rules and damn the rest of it–there is no one to impress but yourself. Let it all slide off: what you have to do, what you should do, just BE and enjoy the glory of living. You will never be small again, that much is clear. How far you’ve come! How much further can you go? There ya go…a little company goes a long way, hm?

Simple and yet self-comforting! I relaxed and sipped my drink.