I’m in Milwaukee for the Women in Travel Summit, sequestered in a Hilton Lounge. There’s a small part of me that wishes I had planned better, gone out less, and logged out of Facebook more so I could actually enjoy my mini trip. I’m facing several looming deadlines, set backs on personal projects and an avalanche of emails that multiply with every click and refresh. You’d think I’d be stressed. Instead, I’m reveling in the fact that I’m away, am actively ignoring my surroundings and I can write in peace.
It’s dawned on me that writing and traveling might occupy the same mental spectrum in my brain. Almost as if they formed some massive, amorphous creative project. Writers often talk about the impulse that first go them to put pen to paper. I find it an odd subject. At the risk of sounding too precious, writing is something I’ve always done. There was no grandiose vision when at the tender age of 7 I decided to write myself out of some boring afternoon. If I was forced to pinpoint, however, the sequence of events that resulted in my wanting to write, then travel is probably the big rolling boulder that set it all in motion.
I spent a lot of time alone as a kid and not all of it was due to certain introverted tendencies. As the daughter of a diplomat, my family packed up and moved every three years to another city, sometimes to another country. The first months of being in a new school meant that I had no friends. My sister and younger brothers were entertaining enough but even they would start to wear on me at some point, as siblings are wont to do. So, in lieu of company, I wrote. Writing was my main source of companionship during those periodic lonely transitions.
There were other ways, however, that travel affected my writing. For starters, my first forays into the activity where retellings of stories I had already heard or seen. My moral compass is so freaking rigid that even at the tender age of 8 I felt shame in plagiarizing an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon or filling pages of my notebooks to what was basically a Babysitters Club rip off. Today I am much more forgiving of my former self (thanks, therapy) and I wonder if I was also a copycat for a more profound reason: to process my surroundings. I mean, what was babysitting? For real. In Peru, there were nannies and people who had nannies and grandmas who took care of you and a squad of aunts who never seemed to go away and maybe an older sister who was automatically responsible for your wellbeing if your parents were nowhere to be found. Babysitters was an exotic and foreign concept, something uniquely American. Why were they allowing children to do it? Hell, why were they paying them? Why were these babysitters so entrepreneurial at such a young age?
Exotic, I tell ya.
Later on, as a teen and a young adult, I began using writing as a way to archive what I observed. My diaries became obsessed with writing down every second of my day, as tedious as it was, in the hopes that my memory—all of it—could be preserved for eternity. Why anyone would care to hear the minute details of a 15-year-olds latest crush is still a mystery I haven’t resolved. Then again, my biggest fear at that point, besides dying a virgin, was to be forgotten. This was pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, pre-social media stalking and I was convinced that my nomadic lifestyle had condemned me to a lifetime of invisibility. Therefore, I wrote. Some fragment of me was going to live, dammit, if I wasn’t going to live in anyone’s mind.
Of course all that angst swiftly disappeared once I began getting random FB invites from people I myself had forgotten existed.
With every move and every journey, I’ve kept writing. Even now, at 34, when most people my age scoff at the ideas of a diary, I do it. I do it a lot when I’m out of my element too, when I’m in a new location. This burst of writing energy comes through that I wish I could take home with me, like a souvenir. Perhaps it’s a way to stabilize my own narrative. I don’t share my daily life with the same stable group of people. I live alone, far away from my family, my closest friends are spread out around the globe. Really, I have only myself to count on when I want to feel nostalgic because I don’t have that one person to turn to and say, “Remember when.” Maybe none of us do. What I do have is my writing. Travel buddy extraordinaire.