It is such an Australian thing, this overwhelming desire to travel. A cliche, but a cliche because it's true. To be Australian is to travel, from city to city or country to country. We are born knowing we are isolated, knowing we are far far away - from the rest of Australia, from the rest of the world. We grow up accepting long distances, accepting the tedium of travel in order to get someplace else. Travel is just what we do, if we want to do anything at all. And we are a migrant community, so all around us are reminders that there is a big wide world out there filled with sights to see and delicious food to eat and wonderful, intriguing, new people. Just waiting to be discovered.
I'm no different. I've always wanted to travel.
As a kid, each year during the long summer break we'd pile into the car and do a road trip up the coast, visiting friends and family along the way. Heading north we'd visit country farms, stopping to ride the horses and swim in the creeks; we'd visit homesteads and hippie communes and flash apartments. We stopped in Sydney and the Gold Coast and Corryong and Toowoomba, and Nimbin.
Despite the odd bout of travel sickness, and what was I'm sure hours and hours of annoying our parents with complaints and niggles, I have very fond memories of these journeys. I have memories of swimming pools and a ukelele under the palm trees; of gorging myself on mangoes, bought by the box-load at roadside stalls; of hand feeding overexcited baby goats in our underwear (Nimbin), of rainforest walks and leeches - eeeek! - and getting bogged in the mud (Nimbin, again); and of watching the most spectacular thunderstorms whip around the gums whilst perched on the outside pit toilet (yep, Nimbin again).
Road trips are still one of my favourite ways to travel, whether it's an overnight stay in the country or six weeks in Europe. I love the freedom having a car gives you, you can stay or go as you please. I love knowing you've got everything with you in the car - the people you love, your clothes, the wine, the snacks, your toothbrush...
And then there's the music. Some road trips we get organised and create a special playlist. When we drove through Death Valley, from Mammoth Mountain down to Las Vegas, we listened to nothing but Simon and Garfunkel, The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield, and Johnny Cash. But on some drives, when we're a bit disorganised, we're reduced to digging through those cheap CD bins in service stations to find something half decent. This has happened in Italy more times than I can remember.
So on our Italian road trips we normally end up flicking between unbelievably terrible dance music on Radio 105 and unbelievably soppy love songs on whatever Eros Ramazzotti CD my husband (slightly too excitedly) bought at the last Autogrill. One trip we were lucky enough to find a 5 CD set - Le 100 Canzoni de Sempre Internazionale - packed with gems from Wham!, Patti Smith, Toto, Survivor and Whitney Houston. It's still on high rotation in my iTunes playlist. And then there was the trip where I forced my not-then-husband to listen to Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi. On repeat. I have a feeling I owe my entire marriage to this trip. I'm pretty sure listening to We Belong Together thirty eight times as we drove through the Italian countryside is what finally convinced my husband that we did, in fact, belong together. But that's a whole other tale...
Anyway, road trips are ace. Unfortunately despite (because of?) dragging them on road trips across all of the continents except for Africa, we are yet to convince the step-sons of this fact. They'd much rather fly / teleport everywhere. Yawn.
For me, part of the joy of travel is the getting there. Which is an odd thing to say because airport queues and flying anxieties and hours in a car seat are not joyous things, are they? But they are part of the ritual, they are sign posts of the fun and adventure to come. And in and of themselves there is something meditative, calming about them - a kind of enforced stillness. I want to get to x, but I have to endure a, b and c to get to x. So I will endure a, b and c. And, strangely, endure them with pleasure. But the step-sons would rather skip a, b and c and go straight to x.
Maybe I was like that as a kid too, but I don't think so. Is it a generational thing? A result of the just-one-google-away times they live in? Or perhaps it's a result of the ridiculous amount of travel they've done, at such a young age? Maybe there's still room for a little romance when you're catching your third flight ever at age twenty-something, but if you're on your thirtieth flight ever before puberty it all gets a bit ho-hum?
Anyway, I digress.
Although I always had the desire to travel I was a bit of a late bloomer in the international stakes. Sure, when I was seventeen I spent a pretty incredible two months with a host family in Nepal. But that was followed by a stretch when - outside of a trip to Fiji - I didn't leave Australia's shores. But then in my middish twenties I cobbled together a six week solo around the world trip and everything changed. I landed in Madrid, my first European city, and fell completely, utterly in love. The Prado! The cobbled lanes! The age of everything - so old, so historic! The late late meals! The croquettes! The pig! Then I caught the train to Barcelona, and swooned. In San Sebastian I wandered, wide eyed and fluttery. And then Prague, how could I not love thee? I was smitten, and I was hooked.
A few years later I did it all again, but this time I went to San Francisco and New York and Paris. And then I met my husband, and we travelled to Italy. And then we moved overseas and my goodness did we travel, across Asia and America and Europe. I may have been a late bloomer but I sure as heck made up for it.
I sometimes ponder what this urge is - what this desire to move, to go somewhere, anywhere new is. (As an aside as a teen I used to rearrange my room every year or so. And the three and a half year stint in our apartment in Seoul was the longest I'd lived anywhere, outside of the house I grew up in).
I could say it's driven by all the noble things. I could say it's driven by a desire for compassion and understanding; history, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. But it's probably more about escape, about avoiding the mundane (I am so scared of the soul destroying mundane...). It's probably more about that feeling of stepping outside yourself. When you're in a foreign land, a foreign city, there are no preconceptions, there are no known knowns. Everything is an adventure.
I was lucky enough to listen to one of my favourite authors, Robert Dessaix, speak about why he travels at the Sydney Writers' Festival last year. He talked about travelling to cheat time. We can't ever stop time, but when we travel we somehow manage to stretch it out. When we're at home there are constant reminders that time is ticking by - there are due dates for bills, there are places to be at specific times, there are dinner dates and doctors appointments, and all kinds of things that we must do. But when we travel, all that fades into the background. And it is a most wonderful thing. In the end I think that's why we travel too, to cheat time in a way.
And to eat, of course.
The My... posts are a way to get me writing more throughout 2015. There'll be one a month, each with a different My... prompt. You can play along as well, whenever and wherever you want. This month's prompt (May) is My Travel. Next month's prompt (June) is My Neighbourhood. Interpret each prompt however you like - a story or a jumble of thoughts, fact or fiction, personal or not. Don't feel too constrained by the months either, if you like a prompt then have a go. And make sure to let me know if you do join in!