To my mind, there are two ways to look at travel: The first and most common one is the outer journey, the destination we’re going to; and the second is the inner journey, what happens within as we move from one place to another. A good example of a book that explores the outer and inner journeys is the 2007 bestseller Eat, Pray, Love, in which the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, describes her visits to Italy, India, and Indonesia, but on a parallel track, the discoveries taking place within her.
I’ve visited many parts of the world already, so I don’t have a bucket list filled with exotic destinations. My travel goals for 2022 do include a few locations, but I’m particularly interested in the process of travel. Here are my seven goals:
1. To Deepen My Connections With People While Traveling
I love exploring nature, architecture, and urban design, but what sings to me most about travel is the people my husband Barry and I meet and the friendships we make, including folks who live both in the U.S. and abroad.
By “deepen,” I don’t mean anything mysterious or complicated, but rather things I already know, but don’t always practice: Stopping. Slowing down. Listening. Asking. Showing interest. Being open to giving and receiving.
I recognize, of course, that it’s unlikely that many people I meet on the road will become lasting friends. But I still want to make the most of every encounter.
One way to deepen my connections is to get to know people better, which I hope to do next week. My husband Barry and I will leave Guanajuato, the UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico where we live part of the year, and drive to Lake Chapala, in the neighboring state of Jalisco, where an old friend of Barry’s lives with his Mexican wife. They visited us before the pandemic, and we’re now reciprocating. The wife is a lawyer, and I’d like to ask her about her growing up years and how she became an attorney in an era when few Mexican women were professionals.
2. To Keep Working On My Spanish
About a year ago, I was delighted to learn that I speak Spanish at the level of C1, which basically means “first level fluent.” This discovery greatly motivated me. Because I want to increase my ability to have in-depth conversations in Spanish, I have since invested more time in continuing to master the language. For instance, I download Spanish podcasts to listen to when I walk. I also see my excellent tutor, Camila, three times a week. On her recommendation, I just finished reading my first book in Spanish, the funny, delightful novel, Yo No Soy Tu Perfecta Hija Mexicana, and am now reading a riveting page-turner set in Acapulco, translated from English, called American Dirt.
I also chat with native Spanish speakers through a free site called Conversation Exchange, where people take turns speaking in each other’s languages. So far I’ve had conversations once a week with people from Argentina, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
3. To Overcome My Reluctance To Approach Strangers
Once I’m engaged in a conversation, I find it easy to chat away with people — but I’m a bit shy about approaching strangers. I’ve decided to Just Do It. Life is short and I have no time to waste! The highlight of travel for me is conversations with people, and I’m always glad after I’ve had an exchange.
When Barry and I go on trips in our camper van, I enjoy looking at license plates, which can be an easy icebreaker since I’ve visited most U.S. states (though I’ve been fooled a few times, when it turns out the people are using a rental car!). I also plan to take advantage of the fact that folks on the road are often curious about our camper van.
4. To Visit New Archeological Ruins And Pueblos Mágicos
Launched in 2001 to promote tourism in smaller communities, the Mexican government-designated Pueblos Mágicos offer natural beauty, cultural richness, history, archeology, cuisine, and the arts. Of the 132, Barry and I have visited 37. Every year since we started living in Guanajuato part time, Barry and I have visited a different part of the country, usually with at least one pueblo magico. This year when we visit Jalisco, home of Mexico’s biggest city, Guadalajara, we plan to visit three of them.
As for archeological sites, I’ve never met a ruin I didn’t love, and Mexican ruins are particularly captivating because they almost always blend seamlessly and harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. I consider ruins to be thin places, the Celtic term for those holy sites where heaven and earth come close together, and the veil between worlds narrows. At a ruin, a dreamlike sense of timelessness often comes over me, as I soak in the beauty. Jalisco has a 2,000-year-old ruin near the pueblo mágico Tequila (birthplace of the drink) that I can’t wait to see. Los Guachimontones, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and unique because of its circular structure, is considered the finest in western Mexico.
5. To Visit More Places By Water
Barry and I both love being near water, which is one reason why we still live part-time in Eureka, on the North Coast of California, where our apartment is two minutes from the closest dock on Humboldt Bay and 10 minutes from the Pacific Ocean. I’ve been keeping a list of all the places I’ve paddle boarded, which now include California (8 bodies of water), Oregon (7), Mexico (4), and (of all places) Latvia, where we wandered along the beautiful canals of its capital city Riga. I itch to add to the list!
6. To Pack Light
I’m embarrassed to say that with all my seniority and expertise as a traveler, I’m spectacularly bad at packing. I suffer from serious PAD (Packing Anxiety Disorder). I bring too much, squeezing things in at the last minute that I later regret and forgetting other things I should have brought. On at least two trips to Europe, I have paid hefty fees to ship stuff back to our home in the U.S. For me, how I pack is a metaphor for how I live. Enough! From now on, I’m packing light.
7. To Take A Long Trip In Our Camper Van
From Eureka, two hours south of the Oregon border, Barry and I have taken several van trips of about three weeks, up and down the entire West Coast, and east to Utah and Arizona. But we haven’t done an extended road trip since 2019. It would have many benefits, including seeing our friends and relatives and appreciating fall leaves. The ancient redwoods near Eureka are beautiful, but they don’t change color in the fall.
Our camper van is a place where the “inner journey” seems to happen naturally. On road trips, Barry and I have the opportunity to experience natural beauty, fall asleep to the sound of water, read without distractions, and better hear the “small still voice within.” For me, our camper van is another thin place.
So those are my seven goals for 2022. A year from now, I hope to look back and appreciate both the inner and outer journeys I took.
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