By Boat, Plane, & Road
She handed me a book & said, I think you would really like this. I looked at the cover and was immediately intrigued. Eat Pray Love. Even though I considered myself a reader at the time, most books I read were school requirements, and this….this was no school requirement—although I think it should be. I began to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s words in the townhouse I shared with two other girls, & all the sudden, my life felt cracked wide open like an egg. Did my dear professor know what this book would do to me? How it would inspire and heal and light a fire under me? I suppose she did or she wouldn’t have loaned me her copy. This book was a story—a true, honest, imperfect, brave story about a woman seeking the meaning of life beyond the borders of her world. Her thirst for travel and peace and beauty both in people and nature was exposed in the rawest of ways. And as I read those pages, I was with her, alongside her on her journey, making it my own.
As LG (Elizabeth Gilbert) ate pasta, drank wine, and made friends to watch soccer games and buy bigger pants with in Italy, I was there, breathing in the smells of the kitchen where she learned authentic recipes from an opinionated Italian grandmother. As she lived in an ashram in India, I was there, learning what it means to be still, to meditate, and how to learn from people much wiser than us. And then there was Bali, the completely unexpected part of her journey. So often when you travel, you’re at the mercy of the locals, the experienced ones. You must ask for help or recommendations or advice, & it’s a hard thing for many of us to do. The beautiful thing though is when you’re able to take that help with humility and then find someone in which to give. LG did that in Bali—she became friends with a woman and her little girl and was able to help them build their home using resources she had back at home. She also found love there in Bali. (If you have not read the book but have seen the movie, I implore you to read the book. You can still imagine Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert if you wish, but just go & do it.)
I adore that book. Since then, I’ve purchased at least two copies, given away a couple, and driven to watch Elizabeth Gilbert speak twice, only getting lost both times. Just kidding, I don’t actually recall getting lost one of the times—but it probably happened.
Why did this book get me the way it did (& still kind of does, apparently)? Travel has always been such a huge part of my life, whether I was doing the traveling or dreaming about the places I would one day go. Maybe it was this book that showed me how vital it really is. Because traveling is typically a luxury, in the past, it has made me feel guilty for getting to do it. Eat Pray Love presented a new perspective, though. Travel gives us stories. It breaks up our routine and parts of life we don’t even recognize anymore and shakes things up a bit. Travel lets us in on parts of the world we didn’t realize actually existed. Travel reminds us who we are and what we’re all about…and then we get to go home better people.
I dream of traveling with my family. I want us teaching and learning from our kids as we explore different cultures. In my dreams, we’re meeting people and hearing their stories, even despite language barriers. We see how people make their livings and raise their families and what kind of roads they travel daily. I want learning to be natural and desired, not forced with dead-end objectives. I want my kids to taste food and see the fields and orchards where it’s all grown. I want them to get their hands dirty and work alongside new friends who can become family. I want them to have ideas, stories, and memories to journal & store in their minds.
Shauna Niequist says,
“I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room.”
I could not love or believe in these words more.
I was fourteen the first time I traveled to Europe with my parents and sister. We were actually with a group from school, which made it all the more fun. I distinctly remember these things standing out in my mind: Bread was never brought to the table in baskets at restaurants, & this made me sad. The tables and chairs were quite smaller than ones here in the US…probably because they didn’t eat so much bread. Damn those Europeans. The buildings were breathtaking. We toured a castle nestled in the Swiss Alps that was covered in snow while we were there. I never wanted to leave. Those people love Fanta. We made our tour guide listen to Kenny Chesney’s She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy on our Walkman, & you could tell she thought it was the dumbest song EVER. I bit into a chocolate that had alcohol in it and spit it out so fast because I thought nothing could have been more disgusting. The beds were kind of hard, and since we couldn’t plug things into European outlets, I couldn’t straighten my hair and found out I actually liked it curly. My dad brought my sister, friend, and me a Kaiser roll with cheese and butter every night before we went to sleep.
People warn you not to take your kids on trips before they can truly appreciate where you are taking them. And while I understand the concept and could possibly agree it’s not worth dropping the cash to take Collins on a European adventure just yet, I need to remember something. We are always growing up. And we always appreciate and understand things to the full capacity of our abilities, which feels pretty complete to us in the moment. If I went to Europe tomorrow, I would absolutely have a different experience than I did at fourteen. Would it be more in depth? Yes. Would I appreciate the art and architecture and history and people more? Yes and yes. But would it be better? I don’t think so. Each experience we are given molds us according to where we are at that moment, not where we will be in a wiser lifetime. And trips don’t have to be fancy or a fortune to be memorable. Anywhere that is a favorite place or new where we can unplug and be together is a perfect foundation to a vacation. I do hope we do all get to go to Europe one day in the not too far away future, & then I hope we go back again and again, & when we are in our seventies, the experience will be quite different—not better, not worse—just different, because maybe by then we’ll appreciate the fact that we’re still growing up and have much to learn in the moment.
Blake and I are planning a trip right now. At first we were thinking Nashville because we could drive there, & I thought that would make me feel closer to Collins since it will be our first big trip away from her. However, I’m learning distance is much harder on me than on my kid, and there are places we’d much rather traipse through than Nashville (no offense, TN—we’ll bring the kids one day), so we began researching and narrowing down our options again last night. There’s something exciting about planning a trip for just you and your husband, don’t you agree?
I’ve told Blake sometimes I feel like being a single mother would be easier than parenting with him (I don’t actually think it would be easier…I’m not delusional) because on days/nights when Blake is out of town, I just power through with Collins on my own. I’m never wondering who is taking care of what—I just do it, and we have fun together. And then when she goes to sleep, I kick back and can be as selfish as I want because nobody is around to give to at the moment. When Blake is around (which is 99% of our nights), I miss him. The business of parenting becomes more apparent because all of the sudden the choice is presented to spend time with the toddler or the husband, and let’s face it, the toddler wins 96% of the time she’s awake. Then she goes to sleep, and the husband still only gets 50% of me because the other 50% is still fighting for time, energy, and rest. I’m learning balance these days.
I don’t bring this up because we desperately need to get away together for our sanity or get away from our girl. Not in the slightest— there are times I stop & genuinely ask myself if this is real life because it is so beautiful and undeserved. Getting to travel with just my husband though means he gets 100% of me and I 100% of him, something we need to remember how to do and something we always need to work on together. Life will not always be filled with babies and kids and teenagers to love and raise. I really don’t want us trying our hardest to remember who we are together without our children in 20 years.
Plus…..travel is fun. Really fun. This world has so much to offer us outside our own cities. I hope down the road we’re able to pinpoint memories from each year of our lives as a family (obviously with the help of journals and pictures because otherwise, I mean…it’s a lost cause). I hope those memories include time at home, time that seems a little mundane and time that we make special. I hope those memories also include time away, as a whole family or as just husband and wife. Because, let’s be real—even when Blake and I are away together, Collins is having just as memorable of a time with her grandparents. She’s not missing out on anything.
There is one thing about traveling I need to work on….& let’s face it, Blake needs to work on it, too. Expectations. Oh, the dreaded E-word that’s been part of the dreaded C-word (Confrontation) since we began pre-marital counseling. All this planning makes me excited beyond belief. I dream about all the things we’ll do and see and talk about together as we have so much uninterrupted time. I can practically taste the food and the wine and coffee we’ll sip with ease. I imagine how rested and whole we’ll fill, a perfect retreat for my best friend and me. And then there’s Blake who hasn’t given our trip a single thought because we don’t leave until tomorrow. You can see where this is leading. So we’ll land & settle into our hotel. I’m filled with energy and anticipation for all the adventure ahead, and Blake will casually say, So what do you want to do today?…because he has no idea what there is to do and honestly doesn’t care what we’re doing as long as we’re hanging out together. That’s a trait I find both endearing and frustrating to the core.
So here’s how the preparation for our next trip is going to go. I will channel my teacher side and prepare documents to intrigue Blake and persuade him to make the time to learn about where we are heading. There will be pictures and ideas and maybe even some restaurant menus. We are going to make this planning fun, by George.
And then I will memorize and repeat this mantra every day, possibly multiple times a day, as it relates to home life as much or more than vacation life. It’s a part of Ben Rector’s song, I Like You, which I find so lovely.
“There are way too many love songs
And I think they’ve got it all wrong
Cause life is not the mountaintops
It’s the walking in between
And I like you walking next to me.”
This is such an important thing to remember….I need to learn this like my life depended on it because it kind of does.
Planning to an extent is good. Knowing some options and having ideas is all fair and well. Leaving room for spontaneity is crucial (but you can still have expectation for spontaneity, believe it or not). My problem with expectations, though, is I become so focused on the high points—the big, pretty picture. So when down time comes around or nothing is planned, I fear we are missing out, and all hope is dramatically lost. When really, we are together. We are being given the opportunity to love who we’re with. This speaks for time away and time at home. If I would truly focus on gratitude and love, pushing all other distractions aside, life would be much sweeter, always.
While I was pregnant with Collins, Blake and I went on an East Coast cruise where we were the youngest people on the ship by a solid 40 years. The whole trip was a treat, and we find ourselves flipping (okay, scrolling) through those pictures quite often. My favorite memory was our time in Bar Harbor, Maine. It was October, and fall was in full swing with luscious trees of red and gold while still smelling the salt of the chilled sea. We knew we wanted to go to Acadia National Park, but that was about it. There was a bike rental shop downtown, so we rented bikes and took off for the park. This park, to put things in perspective, protects over 47,000 acres of land. It’s massive and will take your breath away over and over again. I’m not going to lie—there were at least two hills Blake biked that I had to walk my bike like a dog up to meet him. I told Jesus if He ever need us to move, this place was well-approved by myself, if He was interested to know. When we returned the bikes, we asked the guy where we should eat, and I wish I knew his name so I could send him a Christmas card every year. This meal was our favorite by a longshot. Sitting outside in Maine, breathing in fall and eating lobster stew will forever be etched in my mind. Something I need to greatly credit is that while the place and activity and food was award-worthy, the company is what made the adventure. I’m so thankful I didn’t miss being present with him because I was focused on details. We finished eating, and not really knowing what else to do, we just walked. The sun was shining, so we walked up some streets and down others. We peeked into some shops catering to the outdoor adventurist and walked some more. And then we walked back to our ship and told Maine we would see her again.