I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug. I can’t say for sure when the signs or symptoms occurred, but I do know that for most of my life I’ve been struck by urges to see other places, sometimes distant and remote ones.
What is the lure of travel? Why has it occupied such an important place in my life?
There is of course the excitement of seeing new places, the adventure of encountering the unfamiliar, the exhilaration of experiencing the wonders and beauties of the world, the escape from quotidian existence. But surely there is more that informs the passion for traveling. What is the source of this periodic desire to pick up belongings and forego the comforts of home to become a nomad? I recently gained an insight about the answer to this question.
My mother passed away several years ago, and I was finally cleaning out her file cabinet, throwing out her old bills and papers. I happened to find a folder marked “My Writings: Do Not Destroy.” To my surprise and delight, the first paper I pulled out was an account she wrote of a dream she had at the age of twelve.
She related that this dream remained with her all her life and had a remarkable impact on her.
In the dream she walked out the back door of her rural home on a beautiful moonlit night and heard orchestral music playing, even though she had never heard music like that before, since her family didn’t even have a radio (the year was 1920). She looked up into the sky and instead of the moon “saw our planet, brilliantly lighted and slowly revolving with every continent in view, separated by blue waters. Stars shown brilliantly around it and the music played on. I gazed in amazement as it slowly disappeared and the dream was over.”
She reported that following that dream, geography and history were her favorite subjects in school and that she always wanted to travel but was unable to do so until later in her life, when she had the time and resources.
My mother’s dream took place the year her mother died. I imagine that the dream came to her at a time when she needed something to sustain her through her enormous and painful loss. In it a new world, in fact the whole world, opened up to her and changed her life forever.
New agers might say that she was tapping into a global consciousness; the ancients might say she was hearing the music of the spheres.
No matter how one might interpret her dream, it is unmistakably beautiful and profoundly spiritual. It engendered in her the passion for travel.
When my mother was in her mid-sixties, and her marriage of 42 years had come apart, travel emerged once again as something that helped her cope with, and perhaps transmute, a painful loss. With financial resources available to her, she traveled to every corner of the globe–to every continent and a mind-boggling number of countries. She even went on a 90-day around-the-world tour.
At the end of her life she had on her bedroom wall a map of the world, punctuated by pins marking each place she had visited. It looked like an acupuncturist’s delight. On the wall above her bed she had placed a huge poster of Machu Picchu. Most of the pictures she had were placed in elaborate frames, but the prominently placed poster was just that—a plain poster taped to the wall. The beauty and majesty of that site spoke for itself; no frills were necessary.
Her visit there was, quite literally, a peak experience.
She had a small globe custom-made of gold to wear as a necklace. On it every continent is slightly raised and contains a diamond. My mother took those diamonds from her wedding ring and placed them on that world globe. It represented the transformation that her travels helped her to make after her divorce, a transformation from the personal to the global, which once again helped her to survive emotionally.
I saved that globe as a treasured symbol of what travel meant to my mother.
I keep it in my jewelry box, and I take it out and hold it whenever I want to be reminded of the powerful message it contains about the capacity of travel to transform our lives.
I know I got the travel bug from my mother. Perhaps it came through in my genes, or perhaps it was the result of growing up with her and absorbing her love of travel through osmosis. I’m not sure how I got it, but I did, and my three children somehow got it as well—maybe through their genes, but primarily, I think, because of the influence of their grandmother.
To return to the question of why we travel, beyond the need for such things as excitement and adventure, my mother’s dream gave me a new insight. Her passion for travel, born in that dream, became a major theme in her life.
In her dream she tapped into a dimension of experience that was luminous, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. It motivated and informed her travel experiences.
Her dream enabled me to realize something that I understood on some half-conscious level but could not before articulate, and that is simply that travel feeds the soul, helping us to renew and transform our lives.