Reciting the travel mantra

On a recent visit to Perugia, I found myself reciting one of my travel mantras, which is ‘don’t make a snap judgment – you’re tired, not feeling well, went too long without eating – this may all seem different tomorrow.’

I came up with this mantra when I went to Australia and New Zealand in 2001. I flew from Sydney to Christchurch, arriving in depressingly cloudy weather. I walked around the city thinking it was awfully dull and boring. Mind you, I’d had about four hours of sleep and was sad at leaving friends in Australia, so I wasn’t at my best.

The next day, after a good night’s sleep, everything looked different. The sun was shining, I spent a fantastic morning at the International Antarctic Centre (which is the reason I had gone to Christchurch), then took a punt down the river, which was one of those things I’d read about in books and always wanted to do. It was amazing how much more I enjoyed Christchurch than I thought I was going to.

After a couple more experiences like that, I realized that travel isn’t usually one peak experience after another. Transit can be (usually is) tiring, my mood  deteriorates when I haven’t eaten at my usual times (as colleagues, friends and travel companions can attest), and dehydration is more likely when I’m in transit, which also contributes to the malaise. As much as first impressions can be valid, I make it a point to recite the mantra when I arrive at a destination and instantly wonder why I bothered.

On the other hand, my sister said something to me during our Skype work session that first night in Perugia:  it’s okay to not like a place as much as other places or to not like it at all. She’s right! It’s easy, when you’re fortunate to have the chance to travel, to feel you have to like everything to justify the time and money invested in the experience. In fact, it’s always been one of my big fears – especially with more expensive travel like a safari – that I would not have a good time and feel like I’d wasted the money. I haven’t let that fear stop me from booking the travel, but it’s always there, even though most of my travel experiences have been positive. (Well, there was that time I got a severe case of food poisoning while on safari, but I did have a couple of good days of elephant and lion sightings.)

I was reminded during that Skype session of an article that has become a touchstone for me. The article appeared several years ago in The Boston Globe Magazine. Written by Louise Kennedy, it’s titled “A Switch in Time.” In the article, she talks about being in Vence, France, choosing between two restaurants for dinner and realizing as soon as she sits down and orders that she is in the wrong restaurant. After trying to pretend to herself that it isn’t so bad, she pays for her wine, gets up and goes down the street to the other restaurant, where she has a wonderful meal and evening. Ms. Kennedy writes that she’s told herself that story many times since to get herself out of situations that she had chosen and were a mistake, but that she thought she had to settle for. I have to remember that sometimes it’s okay to say “I’m in the wrong restaurant.”

As it turned out, I liked Perugia and had an interesting, adventurous time there, so I was glad I recited my mantra that first night instead of getting the first possible train back to Florence!

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