Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ruth's Tao of Travel

Antwerp Train Station

January 8, 2015

One month ago today I climbed down the gangway of the MV Explorer for the last time and set foot on land in the USA after four months away. During that time I traveled to 14 countries, a whirl of impressions and experiences that still dizzies, enchants and excites me.

I had many first experiences, including raking and harvesting salt (Cadiz), learning to create a stencil portrait with a graffiti street artist (Berlin), making delicious tapas (Barcelona), dancing salsa in a nightclub (Havana), studying percussion at a samba school (Rio de Janeiro), communing with a goddess (Kildare, Ireland), and attending a candomble ceremony (Salvador).

I tasted new foods, listened to live music of all kinds, danced my heart out, and talked to people with every language in my power-- words, gestures, smiles.

I asked myself and my fellow travelers questions: Why do we travel? To see the destination? To learn about the place? To search for truths about ourselves?

I realized that I travel to connect -- to connect with gods, myths and people through food, music and history. Even more, to find the myths, foods, songs and stories that connect us rather than divide us.

To that end, I've compiled a list of 10 travel guidelines, a Tao of Travel inspired by the great traveler, Paul Theroux. In homage, my #1 is the same as his. I hope they inspire you to create your own list ... and to take off on a trip yourself. Happy Voyages in 2015!

1. Travel alone. At the very least, find time to be alone-- an hour, an afternoon-- and explore on your own. Walk whenever you can.

2. Get lost. Seriously. Remember the art of wandering. Take a bus, subway or walk with no destination, and then gradually wind your way back to where you began. Be sure to ask directions and talk to people along the way. 

3. Eat where locals do. 

Outdoor stand in the Djma el Fna'a, Marrakesh

4. Browse a street market or supermarket. You can learn so much from the items that are (or are not) stocked. The empty shelves in St. Petersburg and Havana, the enticing windows and bursting produce in Barcelona and Naples ....

Storefront in Naples

La Boqueria, Barcelona

5. Keep a travel journal. You will never have a second chance to have a first impression of a place. Write it down while the sensory details are fresh in your mind. 

6.  Do something touristy. Splurge once, if you can. 

7. Connect. Talk to people. Ask questions. Not just fellow tourists, but guides-- they are proud of their city or country and want to share it-- and locals. Ask them where to go and what to do.

8. Pre-voyage: learn basic phrases for each new country. Read a bit of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by noted authors of the country.

9. Stop journaling and photographing. (I know, I know, but you need to look up and see directly with your eyes, too.) Sit for an hour on a bench or at a cafe and watch people. Listen to them. Absorb their rhythm.

10. When we travel, we take home impressions, souvenirs, memories. But what do we leave behind? Did we connect with anyone who will remember us? Traveling gives us the chance to leave a part of ourselves everywhere we go, not only to be touched by others, but also to touch other lives. 

Below, some of the wonderful people who helped make my voyage unforgettable. Thank you! Gracias! Danke! Obrigada! Until we meet again ....