Gloria Steinem says in My Life on the Road (p xix):
‘Taking to the road – by which I mean letting the road take you – changed who I thought I was. The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories – in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.’
What does this passage evoke for you?
My response to Ms Steinem’s reflections were profound, elucidating and somewhat unexpected because I have always felt like a homebody; I like to have a place to not feel like I’m performing for anyone. Home is a place where I relax, work, dream, experiment, grow and connect, and it is filled with people who are most dear to me. This place called home provides me with a sense of stability, familiarity and safety. It gives my family roots, which is important because my parents both left their countries of origin with their families to emigrate to a life of opportunity in Australia. But at the same time as home is so important to me, I get ‘itchy feet’.
So many times I have dreamed of moving somewhere else – usually cold and snowy for a complete contrast to the sunny, humidity in Queensland. And I love – I mean love – to travel. In the last 10 years the road trip has been a necessity to get our family of five on holiday on a budget; but now road trips are my preferred way to travel. I am surprised to have discovered that I am quite adventurous and that I want to be a grey nomad when I grow up.
I ask myself, how could this paradox of homely stability and roving exploration be? I have grown up knowing both home and travel as being connected parts of life through living in Europe as a child and regular trips to all my extended family in NSW. It could also be that moving into the unexplored is part of my DNA, given all the migrants in my family. But I think at the heart of it travel is like a good read for me, it enables me to explore. And that is what Gloria Steinem’s words speak to me; the road is an exploration of life and through it you are given opportunities to discover what life means to you, how you want to be in this world and what your purpose is. I believe this endeavour is our lifelong work and I regularly turn to books to undertake it – it is an accessible way to delve into something different and diverse. But Ms Steinem’s words compel me to draw the links between reading a good book and traveling on the road. Both provide opportunities to connect with other places and people, engage in new experiences and be in contact with ourselves. But the travel experience has the unique quality of creating my own story whilst being immersed in the stories of the places and people I connect with on my way.
Connection and learning are at the centre of our human experience and, in my view, are inherent in travel. As I travel I explore the relationships that form my life; the relationship with myself, with others, with places, with the environment, with activities, with that which is greater than I. I connect with the environment – all my senses are alive and I am gifted the opportunity to engage with others and myself in new ways. I make contact with the people – I am privy to their stories, what makes meaning for them, which influences my own meaning. I act within spaces and with people as I travel and from these actions I learn – skills are formed and purpose maintained or rebuilt. Taking to ‘the road’ is a route to reaching out and within – a vehicle for deep learning.
Our brains are evolved to learn; human beings are learning organisms. Learning is the mechanism for how we grew up from tiny babies who were completely dependent on our caregivers to functioning adults that can communicate, plan and be skilled in the myriad of activities we do every day. Learning is how humans are enabled to be so ingenious and creative, that we have become the dominant species on Earth. Learning thrives on novel experiences; so that feeling of ‘itchy feet’ that I get, that is a signal for my need for needing new experiences and surroundings because I am wired that way. Going on a trip provides a fresh perspective as my routines are altered and my environment is different from the everyday. I am stretched, sometimes in a comfortable way and other times a more pressing way, and I return with knowledge and abilities I did not have before. There is much development that happens when away, even though I may not know it until months or years later.
After reading Gloria Steinem’s account of what being on ‘the road’ meant to her and how it shaped her, I realised very strongly in my being that the migration of travel, especially road trips, was a core part of my make-up. I have decided to own this exploratory part of my humanity and value any new experiences all the more for it. I also no longer see travel as a luxury activity; just as reading is an ordinary and essential activity that fulfills my natural ability as a human being to connect, learn and nourish my body, mind and spirit, so does travel. Both reading and travel are exploratory exercises from which human stories are created and growth emanates. I am anticipating that deep breath I take when I am in another place and I let go of the regular, familiar and known, making room for the adventures in my being.