meditations: the pull of travel + cities

I can feel it when I’m in one place for too long.

When the heartbeat of a locale grows stagnant, overly familiar, and you need something electric to jolt yourself back to life.

I remember stepping into Rome, like that. Snap your fingers. It felt like a moment, the kind you have to italicize to explain.

Airplanes are the same, mostly, and you only get a hint of your destination until you’re there. On the way to Rome we were served gelato, and I caught the rush of Italian flickering between the stewardesses… but there’s nothing like stepping into a country for the first time. There’s always one street it begins on, one place. A step, a taste, a scene.

You feel it off and on again, that sensation of being somewhere else.

In Rome it wasn’t having landed in the airport that caused this feeling to creep across my shoulders and drape itself there like a cat, comfortable. Airports, like the vehicles they serve are always similar in structure. It wasn’t exiting the airport and figuring out how to take the train to Termini Station, though there I caught a whiff of it.

But after I’d found my hostel, checked in and locked my bags away to venture back out, the cobblestone streets and afternoon sun hit me. Faded ochre shutters popped into view; sunshine lemons peered out at me from the shelter of leafy green trees.

I got lucky and it was cold and sunlit.

I could see my breath in the air, grounding me in the moment, the real. I am here, this is now. And yet, this now, when travelling is so far removed from the day-to-day, seems as though it may well be a dream.

Beyond anything, I felt so free. Part of the lure of travel is the way it grants you the gift of exploration. You aren’t expected to know where anything is. You can pick a direction at random and walk, run, just go and see what lies ahead.

Travel drags you into the present whether you are ready and willing or hesitant. It reminds you to walk with your head up and eyes open. Going somewhere new breathes life into you, wakes up your senses. We grow so set, so comfortable in our routines. And sure, there is something to be said for comfort and reliability. It’s human nature to seek these feelings, after all. Yes, it’s true- they’re just feelings. So much of our comfort, our security is rooted in the illusion that we are sure of our place in an ever-changing world ruled by an uncontrollable mother nature…. but I digress. Illusory or not, this comfort doesn’t teach us as much about life as a good challenge.

Comfort doesn’t change us.

Comfort, in its most negative manifestation, allows us to go about our days with blinders on, swimming through life with ease.

Maybe ease is what you’re after. That’s fine. Comfort is nice. Comfort feels like being kind. But if you want to expand your horizons, explore your limits and discover their elasticity…

Travel. Get out there. Explore.

It’s possible to find comfort in the endless unknown.

Where do you feel most yourself? Around what’s normal or when you’ve been set free of the obligations and expectations that shape your life?

Who are you when you are left to your own devices and given a place to explore?

I crave cities, find confidence in solitude when I walk though their streets. Cities are my favorite places to explore, those urban jungles flooded with evidence of the ever-changing existence of humanity. People in cities are always energized, creating, thinking, moving, writing, dreaming. I find inspiration here.

Cities are good places to be lonely if you want to be. Cities are good places to find solitude in a crowd. You can sit in a cafe for hours and speak with everyone, or no one. Hide out from a storm in the library surrounded by literature, or duck into a museum on a hot day and gaze across pages of ancient paint that illustrate the history of a nation.

When you travel you are more vulnerable to the elements, somehow. Caught on a crosswalk in a downpour you can grimace and wish for home, or you can smile and tilt your head up to catch the water because this is an adventure, now. Traveling sets something loose in us, makes it easier to embrace anything unexpected because we’re already out of our element and this is already different.

How does one get to know a city?

Walk through it. Get honest. Visit the tourist stops if you want, but also the mom-and-pop shops in the corner, eat with the locals, et cetera. We know this.

So walk though it, honestly. We’re going for authenticity here. Move with respect for the silence in your head to make space for the sounds of your surroundings. Relax your eyes to allow them to be drawn to whatever suits them.

Let yourself be taken by the city, this new place, this adventure.

I believe exploration heals something in our souls. We create memories that allow us to root ourselves in our personal histories, creating a grounding sense of self that can be carried with us, unlike our homes or possessions. Adventure encourages us to find extraordinary beauty in the standard, transforms the monotony of someone else’s routine view into a brilliant kaleidoscope of thrills.

Next time you step out of your routine, seek those moments deserving of their own fonts, their own headlines in bold newsprint.

The scent of pine on the edge of the river, the clatter of silverware atop white linen that blows in the wind. The roar of the ocean on the other side of the street- listen to grains the size of pebbles clicking together as they shift and roll over. Collective hurried mornings on the way to work, briefcases and suits on Wall Street; our faces open to the skies on a bright, cool morning promising a glorious sun in the afternoon. A glass of wine, late nights out dancing, the trail around the algae-colored lake serving as a reprieve from the sparkling lights of the city that, when driven into at night, drag you blissfully home. A rainstorm that cleanses and calms you, the sky breaking open to reveal wondrous light as the clouds pass over.

I can feel the pull of the city, travel, an adventure when I’ve been in one place too long.

This is how you know it’s time to explore again.

This is how you know it’s time to shift your perspective. Open your eyes.

Travel, forward; always, again.

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