I didn’t know the woman. We’d never met. I didn’t know this photo was being taken. I’m not a ‘hugger’, and I certainly don’t like hugging someone I don’t know. But I’m smiling.
You hear it all the time: travel is about the people you meet. It’s about the understanding you gain as you put faces to stories and watch the world shrink before your eyes. And this is true, without a doubt. I’ve felt it in moments like the one above, visiting a Peruvian grammar school high in the Andes where I nibbled as politely as I could on roast guinea pig in a seat of honor while children who had never traveled even so far as their own capital, only an hour away, sang for me. When they launched into an enthusiastic rendition of De Colores, I smiled again, because my own son, 7000 kilometers away at home, was learning the same song in his classroom.
I’ve felt it while trying to learn the art of making paper from recycled pulp from Dominican women in a barrio in Puerto Plata, feeling like I was all thumbs. I’ve felt it drinking Aperol Spritz until late into the night while discussing American politics in a bar on the coast of Portugal with Brits and Germans. I’ve felt it soaking in a steam room and chatting about Brexit with a friendly Swedish couple in Reykjavik, and certainly in the conversations we’ve had ranging from American prom to international college prep with our Italian exchange student.
But yesterday, I scrolled through three years of travel photos in search of an image I needed for a freelance assignment, and as each photo of my own family popped up, I realized: travel illuminates your relationships with your loved ones as surely as it teaches you about those you meet en route. I see my kids and my partner, even my parents, through new eyes while we travel together, as though we, too, have been foreigners to one another, and then no longer strangers as we’re cast into new adventures in unfamiliar places.
In Panama, I see my youngest son’s graceful ability to forge new friendships with travelers of different generations.
In Montana, I see my oldest’s passion for sailing take hold.
In France, I see how deep my middle son’s love of ‘the beautiful game’ goes, as he finds pick up soccer matches to join everywhere he travels.
In cities from Chicago to Calgary, Rome to New York, I see our sense of Carpe Diem grow as weather delays turn into entirely new adventures or missed turns take us on unexpected detours. (We make a lot of mistakes when we travel. We have some pretty great stories.) Each new experience and destination reveals more I didn’t know about the people I love, layers thin as onion skin peeled back bit by bit, as delightful a surprise as tasting a new cuisine, sipping a new wine, or testing the feel of a new language on one’s tongue.