In the 1990’s, I took a travel writing workshop from Catherine Watson, travel journalist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her writing then, as now, was not a narrative of pretty views, delicious meals and how to save money by going to museums on half-price days. Hers were gritty essays about life in tundra-like climates, unpopulated islands and areas in the midst of political unrest. And she documented her pieces with photographs that told their own stories–survival, human interest and cold beauty.
Her workshop was gritty too. She said we were in class to recognize and report on the inevitable inner journey that converges with and diverges from the external journey. She told us that, like a good novel, the main character needs to enter the piece like he or she enters the place. That the main character will be changed by the journey. Travel is, after all, a metaphor for Life. She stated that the reader will be most interested in the main character’s inner changes. And, she announced, the main character was us.
I have never forgotten her lesson. Travel changes us. Travel needs to change us.
There is something greater at work than just going somewhere when we travel. The first footstep on the journey is a leap into inevitability. We enter an engine bigger than we are. We feel ourselves burst open. We are breathless at the going toward, at the possibilities, at the unknowns, the potential for disappointments, at the awe and wonder and fear of the new.
Many people travel at this time of year. I will be traveling, too. As I pack, I want to remember Catherine’s lesson. Travel broadens us, which is good. But it also deepens and changes us. Which is better.