Several years ago, I realized that I really ought to get rid of the two or three or five grudges I was still carrying from HS and college because, in most cases, the original fault in those feuds was mine and, in any case, both I and the begrudged person were by now so different that it was like carrying on a fight with a ghost.
I am like that. I have lots of instinctive aversions to things that I’ve never really tried: salads; camping; running for exercise (as opposed to because someone is chasing you); urban bicycling; yoga; meditation; Eastern religion; Western religion; manual transmission cars; adjunct teaching; writing a trilogy or series; fixing things around the house; owning a truck or SUV; etc.
I have one aversion that I am absolutely certain about. I do not like to travel. When I was telling my friend Jillian about my dislike of travel, she was shocked! Jillian works as a foreign correspondent and is all about traveling, and she was all like words words words about traveling, but in the end I had to say that this is one preference of mine which I have tested out extensively, and if there’s anything I am sure of, it’s that traveling is not for me.
My parents immigrated to America from India, so they obviously do not share my aversion, and when I was growing up, we went on many, many, many family vacations. I honestly cannot fathom it. For me, the prospect of taking my own self to Vietnam or Egypt or Guatemala for two weeks is so exhausting and alienating that it puts me right to sleep, but my parents were perfectly content to do it with two children in tow (and oftentimes, because my father’s work schedule clashed, my brother and I would also travel with just my mother). So I saw (and appreciated) many very old buildings before I turned eighteen: Macchu Picchu; Angkor Wat; the Pyramids; the Taj Mahal (I saw the Taj Mahal five times in one year, actually).
Then, of course, I lived in New Delhi for a year (9th grade) when I was growing up.
And I’ve also done my fair share of solo traveling. After sophomore year of college, a friend and I travelled through Europe for three months. When I worked for the World Bank, I would travel for weeks at a time, usually to India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, and I often attached trips of my own to either end of my World Bank missions. I spent ten days in Berlin, for instance, and once visited Jordan and Israel for a week. Both ended up being gaycations, actually. Hmm, maybe there’s a pattern there. And all of that was really fun. I mean, I always enjoyed the trips I went on.
So I think I’ve experienced all the various facets of foreign travel, and I have to say, it’s just not my thing. My three main complaints are that it’s expensive, physically taxing, and lonely. (And yes, I know the expense can be ameliorated, in some cases, but only by increasing the loneliness and physical discomfort).
For me, the sense of alienation is the most unsettling part. Whenever I’m in a foreign country, I feel so distant from the culture around me. Like, I always think, “Could I set a story here?” And I find that the answer is almost always “No,” because I really don’t know anything about this place. And no matter how much I talk to people, I still won’t understand the subtleties of life in this place in the same way that I understand them in the United States. It sounds silly, even to me, but I feel, in some way, that I have a responsibility to write about the things I understand: the places where I belong; the communities I’ve been part of; and the stories I’ve seen or been a part of. And in order to become a writer, I don’t need to seek out new experiences: I just need to more fully understand the things that are already happening to me.
Although I struggled against it for years (because it’s so expensive here), I feel lucky to have found a metropolitan area where I have community and feel connected to people. To me, that’s the adventure: making a home and becoming a part of a place. Because I do think that you can gain something valuable by going to a new place, but I also think you can gain something valuable by spending five or ten or fifteen or fifty years in the same place. And, well…the latter involves a lot less time cramming myself my 6′ 7″ body into tiny airplane seats.
P.S. On a sidenote, the one kind of trip I like is the kind where I visit a friend of mine and spend lots of time with them and their friends, seeing how they live, because that’s the only time I feel really connected to the place I’m visiting. That is, for instance, why I really enjoyed my recent visit to Salt Lake City.