When we were sitting in Rome, sharing a bottle of Italian red, Anne asked a question.
“Do you ever find it kind of sad that traveling isn’t always as exciting as you imagined?”
I’d never thought about it, but she had a point.
There are those times when you’re exhausted from taking a bus to catch a plane to jump on a train, then you finally make your way down a darkened Roman alley, only to arrive a ta hostel that’s experiencing a blackout.
There are times when you’re dirty, wearing scummy tennis shoes, sporting a bird’s nest on your head. All you want is a hot bath and some body lotion, but you’re still 24 hours from your next shower.
And, as we experienced in Italy, there are times you see something so ancient, like the Colosseum, but instead of really seeing it you just snap a few photos and dart back to the metro station.
I think the initial letdown comes from realizing that no matter where you are, you’re still you. Turning up in Rome, Paris, Tokyo, or Sydney doesn’t guarantee a personal transformation. The exciting part comes from the items that aren’t on your must-see list, the images that are frozen in your mind instead of on your memory card.
Anne and I might not remember exactly how we felt when we threw coins into the Trevi fountain, but I won’t forget three-year-old Francesca from the plane, who insisted on throwing her bunny puppet into our laps and roaring with laughter. Or Mister Salvatore, a young Italian mama’s boy who tried to coerce us into the hotel’s reception area so his silent, computer-playing friend could try his luck with Anne, the blonde American.
It wasn’t funny at the time, but I’d like to think Anne can laugh at the memory of us running like elephants through the Vauxhall train station, desperate to catch the last train to Hampton Court. Then, to top it off, I inexplicably got us off at the wrong stop, and we wound up calling a taxi.
The appeal of travel comes from learning what you’re made of. Once you survive a wily cab ride through the streets of Cairo, or a food-poisoning-induced blackout on the hard linoleum of a New Zealand hostel bathroom, you realize that you’re capable of more than you thought.
You learn to relax, you learn to breathe, and you learn to really look at what’s in front of you. You understand that you’re here to experience much more than you’ll ever fit into a photo album.