A journalism mentor once told our class there are two kinds of stories: Going on a Journey, and Stranger Comes to Town. I’ve been mulling that notion more than a decade, trying to discern its truth.
What I know today: I love going on a journey. And I love being the stranger who comes to town.
I write this from a happy perch around 30,000ft (9000m) above ground. I’ve just eaten a surprisingly tasty meal of venison with pumpkin gnocchi, washed down with Chardonnay, topped off with strawberry icecream and tea. I’d dash for the toilet, but I’m too tubby to move.
It’s not just the wine or food spinning me into delirium – it’s the euphoria of possibility. Suspended midpoint between departure and arrival is a sweet spot- where what might happen has yet to shake hands with what will be. Anticipation is the honey in my just-poured tea.
It never starts this way. Nearly all aeroplane trips are preceded by dread. He’s the gremlin tapping my shoulder, warning I may have forgotten something. He won’t tell me what.
I spent last night feeding the gremlin, checking my packing list and texting a babysitter and other parents who will, for the next five days, care for my children and shuttle them between sports trainings and home. Murphy’s Law has decreed the week I get to write a travel story about Hong Kong is the same week my husband starts a new job in Hamilton. Our village to the rescue.
After dropping the kids at school and navigating minimal traffic en route to Auckland, I arrive at the airport’s International Departure Hall. I’m more than two hours early, yet race to the check-in counter, vibrating with excitement.
Frequent business travellers tell me the grind quickly wears thin when faced with weekly trips to distant conference rooms and soulless hotels. I don’t travel often enough to face that problem. A boarding pass still thrills.
I’m inspired by the Kiwi spirit of adventure, which says the Land of the Long White Cloud is not only a fine place to live, but a nifty runway, too. The past month, I’ve farewelled friends temporarily leaving the Bay of Plenty for months-long excursions to Central America and Europe. Seventy-five per cent of New Zealanders own a passport. Thirty-six per cent of people in my native US own a paper key to other countries. Kiwis embrace the notion life is short, the world is vast and there’s much to learn when we leave home.
It’s said travel is the only thing we buy that makes us richer.
If we’re lucky enough to afford the ticket, we give ourselves a gift to last as long as memory. We bring our particles elsewhere hoping, not just to traipse the nave at Notre Dame, trudge the stairs of the Great Wall or traverse Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, but also to be changed by places we visit and people we meet. My favourite encounters have happened not at monuments, but in uncelebrated homes, pubs and footpaths. I’ve eaten cherry clafoutis in a suburban Paris home, watched volunteers sew an artisan quilt in the Swiss Alps and partied in a quasi-speakeasy at a Luxembourgish barn. None of these experiences (to my knowledge) featured in a guidebook.
Ibn Battuta said travelling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.
Even crappy trips deliver something – cautionary tales or reminders of the blessings of home. My worst holiday, on Oahu’s Ewa Beach in Hawaii, involved daily 45-minute traffic jams, a beach littered with office furniture, and the smell of fresh tar from roadworks in front of our rented house. Who needs Oahu when I have Papamoa? At least I have the story.
Solo travel is its own reward. I found, as a university student riding the rails through Europe, I was 500 per cent more likely to meet strangers on my own than while with friends. Sometimes, solitude is fortifying. A friend gave herself a solo excursion on the Tongariro Crossing as a 40th birthday present (though, given the trek’s popularity, a solo tramp still has you rubbing shoulders with a sweaty mass of humanity).
Will my Hong Kong adventure live up to my imagination? Does it matter? The journey’s richness resides in possibilities stretching like the horizon mid-flight.
What’s your most unusual travel memory?