Traveling with the Internets

Last week I was reading the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and it awakened in me a healthy wanderlust. That may sound strange because I haven’t been home ever in my life and so I should not even be able to want to travel. It should be like breath for me… but sometimes I go to yoga and I realize that every second of every day we are missing out on much of the potential that our breathing holds. Travel is like that. You can do it, as a natural process that keeps you alive, or you can imerse yourself in it and feel the complete power of the movement within and around you. I have fallen into habit and so it was refreshing to be brushed awake by Calvino’s prose.

After getting over the initial shock of his style (always different, even from his own) I began to enjoy Marco Polo’s queer experience of foreign lands. Then, of course, I wanted to experience foreign lands of my own. I went out (I had to anyways, as there were visas to be applied for and Turkish food to be eaten),  walked around Plovdiv and I felt lighter and more aware than I had in months. I appreciated the garden and the streets in a more thorough way, as if seeing it for the first time even as I had to say goodbye. I wondered how Marco Polo would have felt in Plovdiv. What craziness would he have imagined there, and given to it as its permanent popularity? I daydreamed about what it would be like to go somewhere and not research it before hand. I realized that I now look up places to go, things to see, and line up a place to stay before going anywhere. My need to feel safe and secure has gotten so bad that I was not comfortable exploring the mineral baths only 45 minutes from my home until I felt that I understood them first. I even book my train travel online. Everything is planned through the computer, which holds the cumulative experience of every traveller before me and in the end, when the moment of truth comes, I have little more to do than lazily slide through the experience. I wonder what it would be like to go someplace new, without knowing anything about it. To show up and potentially miss the biggest, most important sites and to be guided by instinct to my personal wonders. Perhaps instead of seeing the blue mosque and the cisterns in Istanbul I would have forever imagined it as a city filled with tiny fish and spice markets and an ancient wall that lovingly wraps around it, going on and on to eternity. It becomes quite a different city.

As enticing as the imagination can be, I don’t think I am brave enough to let go of the external storage that guides me. I like to be safe. I like to know where I will lay my head at night. I think most of the world agrees with me. More and more people are traveling these days. These are people who would not have traveled 20 years ago, back when things were a left just a little more to chance. They would have stayed safe in their own countries. Instead they hop on the internet and get the closest experience to home that they can, in 10 different countries. And being in the hostel gives me very little hope. I see a room of 30 people, every one of them on a smart phone or laptop. They are researcing their next destination or blogging about their last one. I wonder what hostel lobbies used to be like, with one computer and no wifi. People sat around and gave each other tips about where they had been, writing it down in notebooks.They talked. They processed their experience and all they had was each other. Stories waited in film canisters to be told at home. I imagine a greater camaraderie among travelers, borne out of necessity, and I am thirsty for that experiece. Of course, my laptop and smartphone are here… I am part of the problem. I need to put them away and rediscover what an intimate conversation is. Luckily I have time, and I have a great place to start learning how to be lost and clueless. 

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