Travelling To A Better Version of You

04 Jul Travelling To A Better Version of You

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 11.7.22


This time three years ago, I had a very clear plan. With no child or parents to care for any longer, life was going to be all about the travel.

But shortly before take-off in 2020 – honestly, I’d bought new walking shoes and a Wonder Woman daypack – the gods laughed and the borders closed. My only international travel since has been to our Cook Island neighbours, squeaking in before the August lockdown last year. A photo I took from my room out to the ocean is the screensaver on my computer, and I sigh and smile at it each morning as I flick on my office heater.

There are people who say none of us should travel anymore – that given the state of a planet damaged by climate change, we can’t justify getting on a plane and visiting the other side of the world. That we should conduct our business by Zoom, and satisfy our curiosity about other countries and cultures the same way.

I am not one of these people. I feel like I should be, but I realise after staying put that I cannot stay put forever. I am going to have to plant a lot of trees to offset my carbon emissions, and hope that never owning an SUV counts for something.

Heaven knows I have done a lot of things to try to satisfy my wanderlust virtually, but now conclude these are wildly ineffective – like trying not to eat by distracting yourself with pictures of food.

It’s not just the image of Rarotonga. All day I listen to the local radio in New Orleans (my favourite city) and the gig guide of bars and artists I remember from previous visits makes me do the aural version of drool.

Also as I write this I have one eye and both ears on “Mattercam”, the live feed from a camera on the roof of Howard Johnson’s Hotel in Anaheim which sends me views of Disneyland. It’s been windy lately but today is calm so I’m watching Disney’s fireworks, simultaneously reminiscing and wishing myself back.

Travel can be about making us better versions of ourselves. Religions would send people off on pilgrimages for physical healing and spiritual enlightenment, believing there were things you would travel to that you couldn’t find at home.

There is huge value in seeing that people live differently, and experiencing it first-hand, realising that your way is not the only way. Whole countries take afternoon naps and go out for family dinner at 10pm and this is neither lazy nor irresponsible, just Italian.

Perhaps we can be more conscious about our travel choices – think not just about what we want to do when we get there, but what kind of person we want to be when we come home. Do you want to be calmer, or braver, or to regain your sense of wonder and awe?

I love a place like New Orleans where I get to be entertained, not do the entertaining. Where music and food is everything, and no one asks what you do, they ask, “What would you like to do right now?” And Disneyland, where I don’t have to be a grown up, and Rarotonga where I can live without a clock or deadlines and feel the power of the ocean and delight in feeling small.

Hurry up with the electric planes, please. Meanwhile, I’ll plant more trees.