Very often, I’m a klutz when I travel. I have everything neatly planned and packed on trips before I leave: my well-worn notebook (not always a Moleskin), the Nikon D-90 camera, Android (for videos and instant photographs). Before a trip, my soul often feels like an oasis. But, very much like an oasis, that feeling is short-lived, a mirage.
Nothing really prepares me for the fast pace of travel. Very often, the pace of travel can be a blur that ebbs and flows like the Doppler Effect. From the time I wheel my suitcase out the front door and hear the click of the lock, to the time I board the plane, unplanned events transpire and throw a curveball at the most well-laid plans. Sometimes the travel experience is like playing roulette games. During my recent trip to Aruba, I was not prepared to take a taxi from the airport to the wrong hotel. Nor was I prepared to wait for the bus for an extraordinarily long 20 minutes (normally, 20 minutes would not have been long at all; but after a 5 hour long plane journey and a taxi to the wrong hotel, you’re eager to soak in a tub full of Epsom salts).
A shot from Ghost Ranch, the expansive wilderness where Georgia O’Keefe lived and painted. I’m glad I paused to take this shot
It occurs to me that during these times of experiencing the “curveballs,” I must be taking diligent notes or recording my chronicles in some fashion. After all, how am I to remember them when the time comes to put pen to paper?
I’ll be honest, my memory is getting better, but it still isn’t the greatest. When I’m rushing around trying to get my travel feet wet, I’m always trying to experience and understand a place. Here are some of the questions I ask myself: why is this destination popular? What exactly is the history behind the culture? How can I understand the local customs better so I can respect the citizens? Amidst the tourists doing the point and shoot dance and shouting “amazing” and “gorgeous” at every picture, how is the travel writer supposed to respond?
A relevant quote from a Matador University article by springs to mind: “I’ve always felt this total disconnection between the way things seem while you’re traveling — the way people talk, act, the behaviors they engage in — and the way most people write about it.” Miller elucidates the feeling that many travelers have when they try to spin travel straw into gold. How do you capture a great story, a candid laugh, a child’s smile or a stray dog unless your media is always ON? How do you capture a joyful moment and convey it authentically as though you’ve won a jackpot at the best online casino? But if you’re that prepared, aren’t you losing the “pure experience” part of traveling?
What has worked for me is to first experience the destination with a relaxed mind. Often, I get stressed when I travel only because I’m asking way too many questions and trying to get everything “right” the whole time. My best experiences have occurred when I’ve just let the wind take me where I’m supposed to go, without too much planning.
But even during those moments, I’ve had to decide whether I’ll use my Android device, my notepad, or my “proper” DSLR camera. Over the years, I’ve learned to let go of these questions a bit, and just let my imagination and travel hunger (call it inner GPS if you will) triumph over pure reason.
In the end, travel is an art of compromise. There’s the “slow component” to travel that I love, that makes you want to take in every bird cry and wildflower. But then there’s the journalistic task to also photograph every aspect and record every precious moment too. Those small, precious moments are what I call the “holy water” of a travel experience — otherwise each journey would be way too generic. What are your thoughts on travel and capturing the moment?