Here’s a news flash: travel isn’t perfect. No matter how many apps you download, points you accumulate or top-ten lists you memorize, travel is, and should be, a slightly messy and unpredictable business. The quicker you accept this truth, the more you will enjoy your journeys.
This insight is, of course, by no means new. Homer’s Odysseus had a bear of a time and it was certainly no easier for Nashe’s Jack Wilton or any of the hundreds of other literary world wanderers. But that’s just it – trials, quirks and unexpected encounters make for memorable stories. And that’s really why we travel, isn’t it?
This realization came to me again this past week while, of all things, I was painting my living room. My wife and I recently purchased a 1930s bungalow and while the home is in remarkably good shape for its age, there’s a bit of personalization and touch up we’ve decided to tackle. Painting and wainscoting the living room was at the top of the list. I was in the middle of the second coat of deep green when I saw it: a series of paint drips, frozen high up on a corner of the wall. Unnoticeable from a distance, they were glaringly obvious up close. God knows how long those drips had been there or how many layers of paint had cemented them into place. But once I saw them, it drove me slightly mad to think that my perfect paint job was now, well, imperfect.
After debating sanding and priming and a host of other fixes, I opted for what I thought was the most reasonable solution: a glass of Scotch. Drink in hand, I sat on my sheet-covered sofa and stared and scowled at the demon drips that had marred my beautiful wall. It may sound a bit silly to be worked up over something so trivial, but we’ve all had those moments when we feel our attempts at making something just so suddenly go pear-shaped. It’s disheartening, to say the least.
After nursing my frustrations with a few fingers of Ardbeg, I resigned myself to the inevitable work necessary to restore my wall to its much-deserved smoothness. Then it struck me: my favorite leather travel bags proudly show the wear of time; why should my living room wall be blemish free? Perfect is boring.
Travel is like purchasing an old house: from a distance it looks perfect. But when you get up close you find it’s full of imperfections, quirks and bedeviling curiosities that make you wonder how the place ever managed to stay standing as long as it has. Yet where some would see these characteristics as flaws, I see them as part of their charm. I like that my floors creak and the lights occasionally flicker for no reason (my four-year-old is convinced we have ghosts). I like the patina of time that settles in over years of use and abuse. Travel is no different. Anyone who knows me or has read my posts knows that I like comfort and convenience as much as the next person. But let’s face it, flights get delayed, bags are lost, hotel rooms are too small, too noisy or look out onto alleyways. Beach resorts get rain, ski resorts are devoid of snow and iconic international sites are closed for repair. Whether you’re on the road or at home, life simply happens. But if you free yourself of the expectation that all travels will be perfect and golden and bright, you’ll find you’re open to some wonderfully memorable experiences.
Lost luggage has provided me with the chance to find brilliant local shops and stores. Museum closed? I wandered the streets and found hidden little restaurants with amazing dishes. Train delayed? Extra time to settle in on the platform and strike up a conversation with a local. Are these moments inconvenient? Sometimes they are. But, much like the fossilized paint drips on my wall, they are what they are. I can fight them and try to make them into something they are not or I can embrace the moment and turn it into an opportunity for discovery, adventure and, perhaps most importantly, acceptance.
If you want blemish-free travel, best of luck. It rarely happens. And when it does, I find it to be dull, predictable and almost immediately forgettable. The best journeys happen when you embrace the drips and learn to love the imperfections of travel.