Jeff’s Travel Origin Story

Jeff and friends at the Berlin Wall, 1988

I have the bug bad. I also know when I caught it.

It helps me to think of travel and destination a little differently from each other. Travel is planning and executing a journey – not just going to the airport and taking a flight, but the various acts that make up movement away from home – sure, that flight, but also the taxicab to a hotel you’ve never stayed at, or the Tube trip to an unfamiliar neighborhood. Destination is all the quirks and characteristics and mystery and majesty of where you’re living for 2 or 8 or 16 days – where you’re staying put away from home, as it were.

When I was kid, going on family vacations, it was all about the destination and less about travel. We’d pile in the car and drive for never more than one very long day and fight and be bored and end up in Orlando or Marquette or Rehoboth. From arrival till departure it was then merely a destination we had arrived at, separate from our home. Then we’d reverse the drive. As a kid, I was disconnected from the process or actually involved in any meaningful way in the travel portion of the trip.

My first few trips with friends were like that too. Get to the place, immerse in a very limited sense of destination as being a thing different from home, get back.

Then, while nearing the end of my undergraduate college career, I undertook the travel that became my travel origin. Two friends and I did the undergraduates-backpacking-across-Europe staying-in-hostels blowing-the-budget-on-beer trip. It transformed my idea of travel as the process of undertaking a journey and destination as a sense of place that meant far more than merely not being home. From the first discussions we had about that trip, I was immersed in a very grown-up concept of travel (and would soon experience the sense of destination) that would inform the way I approach trips to this day: a mix of tightly and loosely planned destination activities (we have to be at the airport or the car rental place on this day at this time, but need to go from Madrid to Barcelona sometime three or four days later); careful research and surprising discovery after arriving; careful packing followed by the thrilling disappointment of forgetting something and learning to do without – and the happy surprise of remembering you’d packed something you thought you hadn’t; and the grinding practicality of arranging travel with a calendar and a credit card followed by the magic of the empty first page of the travel journal the instant you step off the plane.

From that initial grown-up trip I learned to go back to places I love and to venture further afield outside of my geographic and cultural comfort zone, and to embrace the new of the travel no matter how familiar or exotic the destination. I didn’t know what to expect before and during that first trip to Europe – and I am happy that thirty years later I continue to take trips where I can say the same thing.