In my life, travel is everything. It is how I live, how I survive. I am one of those rare people who is forever grateful for my parents’ divorce. My mother and father were illsuited, but separately they were capable of providing a spectacularly balanced and full life. With my mother and step-father, I had a stable environment. I had a home; a place where I learned the value of consistency, loyalty, and safety. This provided me with a base that was grounding and allowed me to safely explore the black and whites in life (and eventually find my greys). But the times when my father’s path weaved with my own were technicolor. Our time together was always a sporadic whirlwind of activities — new cities, new people, new experiences. He instilled in me a sense of adventure from a very young age.
Growing up in a small mountain town at the south gate of Yosemite National Park yielded many wonderful opportunities. My imagination was always encouraged, the chance to be active and to explore were just outside our door. My earliest memories of my father include his visits to California, usually sitting at a campfire, in view of the VW bus he would borrow from a friend whenever he wished to swing by and take my sister and me away on an adventure. For all the charms of small town life, diversity was not something to which we were often exposed, so my father made a point to show me as much of the world as possible. From the age of four, I was flying as an unaccompanied minor, visiting him a few times each year in his ever-changing home towns. Each visit led to another mind opening experience. I was constantly surrounded by art, good food, people of varying backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, and sexualities. My most formative years were undoubtedly the near decade he lived in New Orleans, pre-Katrina, where we were immersed in a lively, varied culture every day.
Honestly, I struggle to pinpoint a specific story that details the lessons my father taught me. When it came to learning about the importance of embracing culture, we never had a Mr. Rogers style educational sit down. Rather than spouting platitudes, my father led as he lived, with an open heart and a curious mind, and simply invited me to do the same. The highlights rush through my consciousness like a montage of Baz Luhrmann clips: bright, energetic, and full of new and interesting characters. My mind jumps from the wonder of viewing Mardis Gras floats being created, to the panic of encountering my first live alligator in the bayou. I remember the lingering taste of powdered sugar on my lips as we exited Cafe du Monde and stopped to engage with the street musicians, and the group squeals as we sucked the juice from the heads of crawfish. I recall wine bottles collecting on the counters during long dinner parties, and telling jokes to the tenants whom I would run into in the backyard. Amidst all the escapades, a few of my favorite memories were the simple family nights, full of Marx Brothers movies, reading aloud, and dancing together to Paul Simon albums. What I can’t tell you, specifically, is what ended up not mattering at the end of the day. When I think of the people who filled out each adventure, my memory fails to distinguish between the businessman and starving artist. I can’t tell you the race, religion or sexual preference of the people who, as extensions of my father, helped shape me. Nor can I summon specific pearls of wisdom that they shared. Upon reflection, I believe that is exactly the point. What I learned was not merely a motto, it was a way of life.
I was raised in church in California, something I value to this day. But my constant exposure to the world outside those hallowed walls refined my understanding of grace and acceptance. My travels revealed just how much truly loving people means learning about, accepting, and simply sharing life with them, no matter the lifestyle. My father never wanted our world views to be closed just because we didn’t have access to the world outside of our small circles. Thanks to his efforts to expose us to all walks of life, balancing my mother’s efforts to raise us with a rooting faith, I feel that I have been taught how to love more fully. I love to travel because I love people. I love their stories and the greater picture that is viewable as I engage with a new culture.
My greatest passion is to seek out the everyday grandeur, to document it, and to share that narrative with others. My father is an excellent writer, and I know that my storytelling soul – both in nature and nurture – comes from him. My time with him not only shaped my desire to travel, but made me passionate about the way that I go about it. I am not content in merely seeing the highlights to check places off a list. I want to walk away with a better understanding. I know the worth of seeking out off the beaten path locations, and I love hearing the stories of those I meet along the way. My father is a living example of the value that genuine connections add to life, and it is his heart for story that makes me most proud to be his daughter. He taught me how to immerse myself in a culture, which has manifested in widely varied but equally fulfilling ways: Epic treks amongst the peaks of the Scottish highlands juxtaposed with the solitude of simply sitting on a patio for hours with a glass of wine, allowing my senses to engage while absorbing every nuance.
I have witnessed quiet grace within the canvases of my favorite paintings in Europe. I have been humbled and warmed by the laughter of children in Filipino slums. Everyone has a story to tell and a mark to leave behind. My father gave me the experience in life that allows me to feel at home in any situation, with any people, because I am able to get to the core and connect. I am so grateful that he taught me to love like that.
My nomadic heart has baffled people at times, particularly the way I approach each day on the road. Even my closest friends tease me and ask what I believe can be gained by traveling. My short answer: It depends on how open you are. But here is what I know can come from a bit of wide-eyed wandering:
Empathy. Education. Self-awareness. Beauty. Compassion. Growth. Inspiration. Questions, always. Answers, sometimes. Perspective. JOY. And friendship. The friendships are what I value most, as it is through people that one gleans these aforementioned benefits. I was simply fortunate in that one of the first people I met after entering this bright, bewildering world was a man who would not rest until I learned that valuable truth. My pocketbook might wish that he never instilled a spirit of wanderlust in me, but what I have gained is worth every penny.