Travel, Already!! (An Overwrought Plea)

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The dome at Hagia Sophia

Here I am, about to tell you about the steep, cobblestone streets of old Istanbul, about the soaring beauty of the Hagia Sophia and the creepy Basilica Cistern. I'm about to describe the lemony chicken lentil soup I had with a glass of butter-colored wine at a corner cafe in the old city. I'm getting ready to talk about how much fun it was to travel with four dear friends from my former life in the book trade. That's before I get into a description of the bucolic retreat I took on an island off the west coast of Ireland. But I am overwhelmed with another concept. So I'm going to run with it.

The experience of travel, like food, like lovemaking, cannot be conveyed with words. We humans have tried and tried, throughout the ages, and thank goodness for that: it's a pleasure to read others' words about all of these things. But seriously, Seriously! You can't understand it until you do it. It's really important to see as much of the world as you can. Yourself, with your own five senses. It makes the experience of living richer and more meaningful; it changes everything. It's that big. You have to travel! You must! Until you venture out of your home territory, you are only half living.

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Turkish tulips

Think you can't take the time off? Yes you can. People do it all the time; figure it out. If you really, truly cannot take any time off from your job, then step 1 is to reconsider your job. Your life is ticking away.

Can't afford it? Cancel the cable TV subscription, stop buying crap at the shopping malls, keep driving that old car, find a more affordable place to live, whatever it takes. I met a woman last year who was traveling in India because she was unemployed and it was cheaper to do that than to stay at home.

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Just-born lamb with mama sheep on Clare Island

Waiting until the kids are older? Nooooo!! Kids need to see the world too! The families I know who travel with their children are having a blast. Their travel itineraries include kid-friendly stops, of course. But if you're spending time with your children at the park near your house, then why not try it out in Barcelona or Amman or Addis Ababa? I have friends whose 5-year-old declared that "Chicken" is a really great country. (She meant Turkey, of course.)

Scared? Aha! That's the best reason of all. If you're afraid to venture out of your safety zone, that's a sure signal that it's time to put your toes in the water. Fear is a much clearer sign than indifference that you need to be packing your bags, stat.

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The Bosphorus Strait, dividing Europe from Asia

Get out and see the world! Do it! I could really give myself a good smack for waiting until age 40 to climb out of my sheltered cave and take a good look around.  

My recent month in Istanbul and then in Ireland got me to thinking, again, about how inadequate words and pictures are at getting to the big truths about life. (Ever notice how travel tends to make one think about life's big truths?)

At a yoga retreat on Clare Island, off the west coast of Ireland, I practiced yoga in a studio with windows facing the sunrise over the sparkling, deep blue Clew Bay. There I decided to experiment with a long-established routine. For years, I have been writing three pages of, well, anything, in a journal every morning. It's a good way to reconnect with my thoughts, my priorities, whatever's going on in my brain. It's great! On Clare Island, though, it occurred to me that I can also do a morning check-in with a thoughtful yoga session. In other words, I could sit on the couch and write about, say, how grateful I am that my husband is coming home tomorrow, and how preoccupied I am about an upcoming deadline. Or I could try some backbends or twists or forward folds, and actually experience the tension, the release, the defensiveness, the gratitude. It's right there in my body. I do a bit of yoga, and it illustrates how words can't touch the place where I am. They can't really touch any place. They can only describe it.

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Drying fish near the Black Sea

My husband and I are taking scuba diving lessons. I am learning to breathe underwater using a regulator, and at the surface using a snorkel. We have textbooks, and do classroom lessons as well as practice sessions in the water. This is another example of words being inadequate for the job. It is not possible to learn to scuba dive only by reading the book. You have to gear up and fully submerge yourself, experience the sensations for yourself.

It is not possible to experience the world only by reading about it. You have to see it, smell it, dive fully into it. So go! Go go go right now!

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Hiking in a stiff wind on Clare Island, Ireland