When travel alone isn’t the answer

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Around this time last year most of us where trying to emotionally and psychologically get by. I was still in the early days of homeschooling so it was easy to become distracted, to stay busy. We had also just returned from traveling and were knee-deep in planning another trip.

Our first plane ride took us to California, where we saw family and friends and lost ourselves in nature hikes that gave us an insight into why, despite all the traffic, people love it there so much.

We road tripped closer to home. We went to fun destinations such as Maine and The Hamptons. We disconnected completely in Vermont and fell in love all over again with one of our favorite local destinations, the Finger Lakes.

A cold, but beautiful evening in Long Island.

Hiking Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes, NY.

We even went on a spontaneous, last minute trip to England where we toured both London and Oxford and went all-in on the Harry Potter experience.

Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley movie set at the Warner Brothers Studio near London.

But there were some travel experiences this year that were even more impactful because of the political climate in our country today. My visit to Jerusalem and then later to Palestine had me struggling with the narrative that I had for so long been exposed to as a consumer of American media, and the truth that is in your face – if you open yourself enough to it – happening there. I came back from that trip inspired by some of the people who I met, but also sad and angry and questioning everything.

View of the market in Jerusalem.

View of the wall in Palestine.

Our last international trip was to Ireland, where I was for nearly a month, and where my family and I traveled together for 2 weeks. We ventured around the island, visiting the most Northern point as well as getting caught in a storm whilst in Belfast, and exploring Star Wars filming locations along the way. If you search it up on my blog, you won’t find it yet because I haven’t been able to bring myself to writing about it.

That is because when it was time to leave Ireland, I didn’t want to come back. I cried. I cried with a heavy heart and a sense of grief that I had never experienced at the end of any of my travels before. I had enjoyed the escape that my month-long trip to this most beautiful country was for me. It reminded me of the fact that though we are presented with this notion that evil and cruelty and ignorance and divisiveness and greed are winning, because we are bombarded with the images and stories and tweets daily, as Americans, there are parts of the world where this isn’t at all the daily life. In Ireland I could turn on the television and not hear anything about our government, though granted, Brexit was a huge topic of discussion. If I wanted to, I could go days upon days without knowing anything about the chaos happening back home.

I could talk to people and go anywhere and not have to worry about my safety, and even in moments where I felt a bit more vulnerable, someone inevitably would show me so much kindness and so much warmth, whether our encounter was 5 minutes or a couple of days. Yeah, there were a couple of grumpy old folks I met along the way too, but they were so significantly the exception that it did nothing to hinder the peace and joy I felt in this magical place.

And so writing about it as a travel destination has been hard. Because I miss it still to the point where it makes me sad, though of course, I have so much I want to share.

But when I did come home, I didn’t want to be sad. I didn’t want to get lost in the escape I had just experienced and lose perspective of the good things I have here. My return home forced me to examine my community and the commitment, or rather lack thereof, I had shown it over the past 6 years since I moved here. I realized that this sense of sadness and fear and anger and frustration that I began to feel last year wasn’t going to go away with my constant traveling. Travel as a form of escapism from our reality can only do but so much. When we get back, our problems and our reality will still be here waiting to be dealt with.

And so what really began to cure my heart and heal my soul, what helped me through moments of fear and confusion over what is happening in and to our country, what really has helped me through my sadness of leaving Ireland and connected me more to the place I call home, have been the people I purposely and intentionally opened myself up to.

But this took effort, focus, and some sacrifice. I turned away a lot of travel this year. I realized that if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to recover. I found work that didn’t consist of my blogging or sharing my travel voice because for a lot of this year, I didn’t have the heart to say much at all that didn’t speak to how the heightened radicalism in our nation and ignorant policies were hurting me and so many of my loved ones. In the process I also realized that I have been fortunate in building an audience that sees me as more than just a one-dimensional narrator of travel advice and fantasy and that my blog, this blog, isn’t the entirety of my professional or personal existence  or purpose.

I joined my community in protests. I invited strangers (who are now some of my closest friends) into our home, where we shared spirits, broke bread, and opened our hearts. I joined a diversity focused, female-empowered book club made up of some of smartest, funniest, and most caring women I have ever met. I started a group for parents of color in our community, a space for our voices and our concerns and where we could feel like we weren’t alone. Because when you are surrounded by messages that you are an unwelcome “other” either as an immigrant or as a person of color, that you are less than or a threat to others, and see how this mentality not only impacts you but your family as well, it’s important to find others who remind you otherwise and who stand with you and for you when needed. I gave more of me to my children and my family this year. No longer was I missing special dates or moments with them. No longer was I “passing through” in my home.

It is not surprising that when I looked up my most popular Instagrams of the year, my travel experiences were sprinkled in with scenes from moments in which I poured my heart into my community and yet, it doesn’t even begin to capture all the incredible moments I lived.

Travel this year was amazing. I didn’t photograph it all, or share it all. A lot of it I kept private, personal, for just myself and my family. I also realized that in this age of over-sharing, not sharing felt wonderfully freeing and special. And mine. I am so grateful for the continued opportunities we have to escape when we need to, and for the fact that I don’t have to always do it in partnership to do it at all. But travel alone didn’t save me from drowning in sorrow and hopelessness. I had a little help from the new friends I met in my community and from my family. I have hosted more dinners in this one year than I have in the past 5 years combined. I realized how healing it has been for me and how much I needed to ground myself.

The value that travel has in opening our eyes, like my trip to the Middle East did; in stealing our hearts, like Ireland did; in making us reflect and take pause, like Vermont did; and in helping us create traditions, like our trips to the Finger Lakes do, cannot be denied.

But sometimes to heal, to fight, to console, to support, to protest, to invoke change, to mend and help others do the same, to matter, to make a difference, sometimes for that you need to just be home and be present. To give of yourself. It requires you to join and connect with your community, a cause, and let go of that which in the bigger scheme of things, don’t really matter.

I feel so lucky to look back at this year and be able to visualize so many smiling faces looking back at me. Some far away, but most importantly, many right here at home.

 

 

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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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