Wherever I went

The road is calling!  Get ready to give and receive.  Colonial Williamsburg, December 2004

The road is calling! Get ready to give and receive. Colonial Williamsburg, December 2004

“I had always believed that I left a bit of me wherever I went. I also believed that I took a bit of every place with me…And the only possible explanation I could find for that feeling was that a spirit existed in many of the places I visited, and a spirit existed in me and the two had somehow met in the course of my travels.”
Bruce Feiler

I don’t know anyone who enjoys staying home more than I do, and the older I get, the more I like it.  But I also was born to travel, to long for discovery of places and people I have never known.  While these two impulses might seem contradictory, they need not be.

I connect with what Feiler says in this quote, because I agree that we leave a bit of ourselves behind wherever we go.  The conversations we have with locals; the things we photograph, buy or contemplate; the very steps we take; all leave visible or invisible traces.  That’s why I try to be aware of my conduct in the cultures I visit, and careful to treat the land and its people with respect, whether it’s a country thousands of miles away or a town just down the road.

At the same time, each place we visit leaves us changed in some way, because our senses are taking in impressions every waking hour.  We may not consciously remember being affected by a place (though often we will), but our experiences make up a large part of who we are.  Again, it calls for awareness.  I try to avoid experiences that will feed my fears, prejudices and negativity.  It isn’t always possible, of course, but even when I find myself in less than ideal circumstances, there is almost always something to appreciate, if I look for it hard enough.

Perhaps it’s possible to love both home and travel because most of us long to feel at home wherever we go, and to see home with the fresh eyes of a traveler.  When we are on the road, let’s remember to take a bit of our best selves with us, to share freely in our travels.  When we do, we usually will discover generously offered gifts to bring home with us, bright gems of memory that will connect us to fellow humans through a spirit of shared understanding.

When you travel, what do you leave behind?  What do you bring back home with you?

One year ago today:

All gates


  1. Recently,while traveling in Maine, I used what I thought was a perfectly acceptable form of “the first person, plural pronoun” (as teachers would refer to it). I said “where do youse normally go for lunch?”
    They looked at me as if I were a talking moose!

    • I think you were just a bit too far northeast for that lingo. Try it in Queens or Long Island or Newark and it should go over a little better, assuming you don’t say it with too thick a Southern accent. Now they know how we feel when some Yankee calls one person “y’all” or even worse, “you all.” 😀

    • “Talking moose” is my chuckle for the morning. Oh, you were in Maine…. I get it! 🙂

      • Did you pick up on the fact that “moose” rhymes with “youse?” Could that be coincidence? I think not! 😀

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    If you looked at my cluttered closets and my photo collection, you might think that I leave nothing, and bring EVERYTHING home.
    I know that there are times that what I’ve at least tried to leave behind is a kinder impression of Americans. I remember recently in Detroit, a sweet young lady was almost in tears, trying to ask me to help her find her flight gate. She said with a trembling voice, “I don’t speak your language….”
    I was so glad that she had asked me! I honestly would have missed my flight to help her find hers, if I’d had to (which I didn’t), because I know that feeling of near panic, and I’ve stood in those long lines to finally talk to an agent, and I know that there are people who would give up on helping her because of the language barrier, or because they were too busy trying to Jockey for the earliest possible boarding (better carry-on storage options, you know).
    Sorry about the long story. I guess my point is that I try to un-do the damage, where possible.

    • Susan, don’t apologize for the long story, I love it! And yes, we do need to help people in such circumstances; I’ve been there myself many times in one way or another, and have always appreciated the kindness of strangers. I remember two Asian girls who insisted on giving me their train passes after they witnessed my wallet being stolen in Barcelona, which was done so quickly that nobody even realize what was happening until the thieves jumped off the train just after following (pushing, shoving) me on. The girls didn’t speak much English, but were insistent that I take their passes, even though I tried to tell them I couldn’t use them. I found it deeply touching and finally accepted them, just to avoid hurt feelings or misunderstandings. I saved them as souvenirs to remind me of how much acts of kindness help us in stressful or scary times. I’m sure the young woman you helped will remember your kindness as well. It sounds corny, but such small acts have great cumulative power. I honestly believe they do more good than political summits or world leaders shaking hands for the camera. Peace is more effectively achieved one person at a time, however much we may be blinded by what the world sees as power.

  3. raynard

    Julia, last few years, I find myself singing” there’s no place like home. Especially when coming from down south and one I get into Maryland off 95. We pass right thru the tunnel in Baltimore and Downtown is to our left. Trying to make one last trip before winter and” time for more tires on the van ( man they are expensive)194,000 miles and going and going .. I digress I live 55 miles from Maryland and 45 minutes fromThe City of Brotherly love and 20 minutes from NJ and 2 hours from NYC….A geographic history lesson minus anything about GPS,,Paper maps.( I usually tell younger people about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. They look at me ” like WoW. I thought everyone knew that? lol be blessed

    • Raynard, whenever I get disoriented (I have NO sense of direction whatsoever) I still look at the clock and check to see which way the shadows are falling. I do think there’s a danger in getting so dependent on the GPS that one has no sense of where one is in the big picture. For that reason I still love and use maps. I know what you mean about seeing those signs of home and feeling relieved to be there. You live right in between some of the most legendary traffic in America (though I have still never seen anything here to equal L.A. during rush hour). YES tires are quite expensive but look at it as an investment in safety; at least that’s what I try to do. Jeff and I once witnessed an SUV blowing a tire and careening right in front of an 18-wheeler which slammed it so hard that it literally went flying through the air, landing upside down in the median. It happened right in front of us, one Sunday afternoon on I-80 between Fairfield and Vacaville, CA, and our car came to a stop literally inches from the wreckage, with Jeff screaming at me to call 911 and running to help the driver of the SUV. (I was horrified to get nothing but busy signals for 10 minutes calling 911 but an off duty paramedic soon stopped to help.) It was traumatic, to say the least, and gave me a new willingness to spend money on tires. Now Jeff gets annoyed at me asking about them so often. 😀

    • Hey Raynard and Julia – I bought slightly used tires off Craigslist last night. The owner had traded to a newer VW, and his old snow tires didn’t quite fit. If you can find time to look, and do a little research, you can get lucky.

      • Good deal, Susan! I love it when people can get a bargain AND make use of something perfectly good that someone else no longer needs.

  4. Anon E. Moose

    Hey! Where’s my last comment?

    • Which one? I already answered a couple this morning so I don’t know which one is missing.

      • Julia, now we’re getting “moose-isms”! 🙂

        • Sheila, I just “gnu” it was bound to happen sometime! Hee-hee.

  5. Carlyle

    I am reminded of a comment by Ryan once when we visited the abandoned boy Scout Camp Westmoreland. He said, “There are ghosts here.”

    • Daddy, he must have that sixth sense for such things, which seems to run in our family. Do you remember how terrified I was of Shiloh battlefield when we visited there before I was school age? How I refused to get out of the car after the first few stops and begged Mama to stay with me? It may have been from hearing the read-aloud comments from the park brochure about the “Hornet’s Nest” (I still remember that phrase and how it struck terror into me) but I think it was mostly that I sensed there what Ryan must have felt at Westmoreland. The ghosts of Shiloh do not inspire comfort or a feeling of security. Hopefully the ones at Westmoreland were happier.

  6. Jack

    If I can’t drive to it in less than 4 hours, it’s work, not vacation. Wanderlust: Cured!

    • Jack, what you say here makes more sense every day. Given gas prices, airline travel hassles and crazy traffic, I am discovering (at just the right time in life to do so) how charming my immediate surroundings are. Having said that, though, I have it on good authority that these wings fastened to my heels will never be completely removed. So I’ll travel mostly in my own mind, with a few literal trips here and there just to remind me why I love to stay home. 😀

  7. I like Feiler’s words; the spirit of the place and the spirit in me somehow met. What comes to mind are annual retreats I attended as a Catholic school teacher. Most of my colleagues weren’t as enthused as I. But, I felt a certain comfort at the monasteries or covents that often hosted these events. The quiet, solitude and presence of God, seemed to bring out that kindred spirit of which Feiler speaks.

    • Alan, I love visiting places set aside for prayer and meditation. I almost always go into any hospital or airport chapel that I pass, and of course I love to visit churches and cathedrals when we travel. I sense not only the presence of God, but also the fellowship of pilgrims who have been there before me. On the night after Jeff’s first liver resection, when he was still in the ICU at Walter Reed, and I was not allowed to sleep in there with him, I was told to go to the surgical waiting room where we had spent the day. But another patient’s family member was already sleeping on the couch there so I had no place to go, until I remembered there was a tiny chapel nearby. I went in and pulled three chairs together to enable me to stretch out somewhat. It was surprisingly comfortable (considering) and I slept peacefully. It was quiet and much darker than the waiting room where hallway lights were glaring in. But beyond that I felt a comfort from being in a place dedicated to communion with God, and felt more strongly the assurance that Jeff was being watched over through the night. The next night I slept there again, this time by choice.

      • Thank you for sharing your experience, Julia. I’ve been told by some that they feel badly when they find that they have fallen asleep while praying. I relay to them what I have heard from another; “Never feel badly for falling asleep while praying. You have simply fallen asleep in God’s arms.” As much have you have, when you spent the night in the chapel.

        • Thank you Alan. That is exactly how I feel when I fall asleep while praying, and very much how I felt that night.

  8. Lovely, Julia. I too am both a homebody and a traveler. I take pictures and memories and hopefully leave behind my appreciation and gratitude and a bit of money to support the local economy.

    I long to see more of the world, and I’m just as happy at home, drinking tea, being with my family. Balance in all things.

    • Alys, isn’t it marvelous to be in such a win/win situation, joy at home and on the road, life an adventure inside our own houses, hearts and minds as well as outside in the wider world! I have been meaning to write and thank you for the delightful postcard I got from you and K a few weeks back – it brightened my day with a bit of vicarious enjoyment of faraway places. I’m happy to share so much delight with you both! Thanks for being here.

      • It is indeed, Julia. I’m glad you enjoyed the postcard. I love hearing from people around the world, and hope that postcard-sending doesn’t die out with the advent of digital sharing. xox

        • I do too, Alys! I love to look at old post cards in antique shops, especially those with long-forgotten messages still readable on the back. I have a few I have saved, including one that I bought in an antique shop on the east coast, that was sent from an early 20th century San Francisco. Such wonderful slices of life in each postcard!

  9. The most beautiful sight in the world…Home. 🙂

    • Merry, I agree! I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  10. beautiful post, and yes, i believe that a part of us lingers behind and hopefully embraces others, and we are also embraced by those who were here before us…z

    • That is such a comforting reality when those we love are gone from our sight. Einstein discovered through science and imagination what theologians have always known: time is relative, and life is eternal.

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