In a recent Associated Press article actor-turned-writer Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and, my personal favorite, Mannequin) discusses his new travel memoir and his views on travel. In the last few lines of the interview McCarthy states:
You go, you leave everything you know that you’ve safely constructed to keep yourself from having any anxiety and you go to a beach and you lay there and all you have is your mind. How can you not think that’s gonna be a stressful experience? I always think travel is not about escape at all, it’s about confronting yourself.
I totally agree. He doesn’t get the opportunity to expand upon this but I understand McCarthy’s “stressful experience” to be of the ‘all you’re left with is yourself and who wants to be alone with their own thoughts?’ variety. This definition has a bad connotation. Goodness knows I’ve had plenty of those moments while traveling. And of course through serious, forced self-examination in the end those confrontations can be positive experiences. But what about the confrontations that are positive from the get-go?
What about the times when you find yourself somewhere that frees your mind up to really examine and look at an issue or question that you might have been too busy or bogged down by everyday details to devote the time to reaching a resolution or solution? I decided to join two of my friends on a last minute road trip from Madison, Wisconsin to Empire, Michigan. The three of us left in the late afternoon and didn’t arrive until the wee hours of the morning to the family house of another friend.
The issue weighing on my mind was what to do next with my life. Did I want to go to grad school? Did I want to travel? Did I want to stay in Wisconsin, go home to New York, or go somewhere else? Did I want to work? I didn’t have high hopes of being any closer to a solution by the end of the trip. But, we were gone for less than 48 hours and the time spent walking along Lake Michigan, climbing up and then running down the huge sand dunes, and feeling carefree for the first time in a long time turned out to be just what I needed.
When I returned to Madison and my regularly scheduled programming of daily life, two things had changed. I had an answer, a doubtless, resolute answer, and a plan started. I was going to move home to New York, and work for a year while applying to grad school in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Being in a new setting allowed me to truly feel removed from the pressures and stresses of my life. The simplicity of my surroundings aided my self-examination. I was able on this trip to focus on the one topic without having many distractions to hide behind. It is this experience that I often refer back to, and try to replicate, when I’m in need of making some big decisions.
Also, what about the confrontations that can come in the form of finding out you are stronger or braver than you thought you were? That’s the realization I could no longer deny as I sat on the ground one evening in the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy. As I state in my about page, “This Lady,” this was the trip where I allowed myself to recognize how all of my travels – solo, in groups, with family – were me fighting through all my personal doubts, issues, and BS to do what I wanted to do, go where I wanted to go. I said it best on that page:
As I was taking in my surroundings […] I began to think about my travels over the years and how this was the first trip I had taken on my own. How had I, that shy, dependent, and scared girl, gotten to where I was? I was dumbfounded. Thinking back I saw no giant leaps, no major personality changes, just a gradual building of sense of self and confidence to do what I needed to do for me that had brought me to that point.
Siena was more of a struggle than my decision-making in Empire. I was forced to look at myself through a different lens, one that didn’t belong to me, but one that I would make mine over the course of an evening. I had nowhere to be but where I was. Taking the moment to really look around me and not just see, but observe where I was and with whom I had interacted is what prompted the introspection.
As McCarthy stated, I was away from my daily safety net and left with nothing but my own mind, but these self confrontations I had in Michigan and Italy were positive. And though travel has an element of escape, it just isn’t always from what you think.