February 12, 2014

On the Road to New and Scary

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Screen Shot 2014 02 12 at 12.51.14 PMWhy travel?

There’s obvious common ground when individuals answer that question, but there are also fascinating shades of difference.

I think I travel to conquer fear.

Not consciously, of course. I set out for pretty basic reasons – to see other places outside of my home in New Jersey, to meet new people, to experience different cultures. There’s some kind of fire in my belly to see more. And more.

It began more than 25 years ago with my first job with a decent salary, an office and an expense account. At age 26, still a fairly sheltered suburban girl, I was the public relations director for a national youth baseball league. When I was sent to Oakland, California a week in advance of our national tournament and one of my duties was to pick up dignitaries at the airport, I was terrified. California freeway driving? An unknown? Me?

I did it once. Then twice the next day. It turns out it wasn’t a big deal. The only thing that quelled my anxiety was actually doing the drive. That trip and subsequent trips taught me so much about life and my love of moving about new places. Whether we were in Newark, Ohio for two weeks or the Outer Banks in North Carolina, I got to know the town and became entrenched in it. It always reached a point where it was sad to leave.

That was my first taste, as a professional forced to do my job. When I conducted my first press conference in a small town in Ohio, I had about 10 minutes notice and was tasked with introducing a Hall of Fame baseball player. What? Me? Seriously? They got easier and easier after that.

Prior to traveling for work I had gone to tropical locales with friends – all-inclusive resorts where the prime purpose was lounging and partying. Fun, but those didn’t give rise to fear in me. We had transportation to and from the resort and so there was no need to find our way. No challenge.

One exception comes to mind and all it involved was getting in a cab. My sister and I were in St. Thomas in a taxi that was taking us to Mountain Top on Signal Hill. We were holding on for dear life because the cabbie drove the winding road with no guard rails at warp speed, laughing and patting the dashboard. “Mohammed crazy!” he kept saying as my sister and I looked at each other and wondered, “How crazy?” We lived to tell about it and have a cocktail at the hilltop bar.

For some, fear conquered might mean a steep mountain climb or swimming with sharks. For me it’s overcoming situations that are just plain new and out of my comfort zone. They are at the very least things that open me up or fly in the face of my sometimes overly cautious nature.

A professional conference in Austin, Texas where my proper self winds up out on the town with a group of women smoking cigars with our martinis. Eating wild boar in Asheville, North Carolina at another conference. And at yet another, stepping into the Butterfly Palace in Branson, Missouri and wondering why the little critters were dive bombing my jittery self.

Travel has been about buying a pretty something at Giorgio on Rodeo Drive only to have my rental car broken into near Melrose Avenue and me breaking down in tears while trying to handle it. It’s been about being in Oklahoma City for the NCAA Softball World Series and going to see the site of Timothy McVeigh’s despicable destruction. It’s been about a drive in the Arizona desert while on a break from covering a soccer tournament and not caring that I’m not quite sure how to get back to my hotel. It’s about leaving Ann Arbor for an afternoon with two friends, stumbling onto a place called Hell, Michigan during hunting season, and bellying up at a tavern to take it all in.

New, new, new. Open, open, open.

Yes.

Why travel?

To try out my rudimentary French in Paris. To learn more about my ancestors’ culture in Italy. To see art. To just see.

And maybe to find out what else I’m scared of?

Sometimes I get into ruts and have travel dry spells. When I withdraw into myself it means I’m too comfortable and easily thrown by the simplest things.

I know exactly what to do to snap me out of it.

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