On travel

A strategically placed olive oil bottle, Greek restaurant, Holland.

I used to travel regularly for work, back in the day when my job involved launch plans and budget spreadsheets and international marketing entities.

Then I had kids and my job involved launch plans of a different sort. Budgets went out the window and my wanderlust was confined to the 5 mile circuit of school-soccer field- grocery store-home. Nothing at all wrong there — in fact, I wouldn’t trade this past decade for anything on earth.

But finally we are out on the open road — this road happens to be in Europe. Amsterdam > Paris > London to be exact. And while friends and family make great use of our homestead and pool, I am remembering why I loved Europe so much generally and travel in particular.

1. Step outside the bubble of Silicon Valley and you are confronted head on with the reality that people work to live, not the other way around. There is such a thing as “quitting time” and it usually involves a cafe and friends and relaxed conversation. It is not at all unusual to watch as people wander by on foot, catch sight of old friends, and pull up a chair. I have no idea where any of those folks were headed, but wherever it was, it was not as important in that moment as a coffee and smoke with an old friend.

2. Which brings me to smoking. Gasp. Cough. It does not appear to have lessened in the 15 years since I have been here. Not At All. My kids can now pick up the smell of pot 2 streets away (eeww they say!) and are getting a full picture of just how dull life is as a pothead. #howtoinnoculateyourkidsagainstdrugs

3. It is amazing what you will eat when you can’t read a menu. You do your best, handwaving and interpretive dance, and in the end you eat whatever it was you ordered because A) you paid for it and B) its all you are getting and C) for some miraculous reason risk comes naturally on a travel adventure. The kids are trying all sorts of things they’ve never eaten — some of it gets devoured, some politely rejected, all of it tried.

4. The entire world is not glued to a smartphone. Sure, folks are packing, no doubt. The thing is, if you are trying to do email on your morning commute you might actually die, as in get run over by a tram, a bicyclist, a taxi. At the very least you are going to be bumping the myriad people sharing the sidewalks with you, so it behooves you to look up.

5. Then there’s the walking. My kids are already loving it. At home I can barely bribe them to walk to Peets for a Saturday morning Cinnamon roll — a mere third of a mile. Here, they’re on their feet for hours at a time, and have energy to spare such that when we arrive at one of those wonderful European parks the soccer balls come out and juggling and keep-away ensue. David and I can’t get enough either. There is just something so wonderful about perambulating, then on a whim tucking into a side street to see what’s down there. Walking on century’s old cobblestone doesn’t hurt.

As strange as it sounds, in the end, I love the sense of being slightly out of control that foreign travel affords. Of having to struggle to figure out the train schedule. Of ordering off a menu you can’t read. Of reading a map to get somewhere. Of that first moment when you realize you are beginning to hear actual words in all those foreign morphemes. All of these small tasks conspire to slow me down, engage the present moment. I can’t churn over some existential problem (real or imagined) when the basics take full concentration. I appreciate help from strangers and friends in ways I rarely do at home, where mostly I eschew help as if I am too good for it, as if pride dictates I go it alone, all Marlboro Man-ish. My girls hold my hand everywhere we go, a little nervous at the strangeness but definitely captivated but a world much larger than the one they knew until today.

And like all great excursions, when we have a few minutes of downtime, we are already planning our next trip.

What about you? Any favorite things about traveling?

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