Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works writes “The same details that make foreign travel so confusing – Do I tip the waiter? Where is this train taking me? – turn out to have a lasting impact, making us more creative because we are less insular.” Jonah agrees that international travelers experience a influx of creativity, an open-minded approach to problem solving, and that the distance from their normal stomping grounds allows them to solve issues that had been bothering them for weeks or years. (Read more from Jonah Lehrer.)
Custom Coastal is now redeveloping two of our trips to Baja and is launching Spain as a new destination shortly. I am thrilled by the challenges faced in adding new destinations. Here is a brief snapshot of my journey through Spain:
Six Solo Weeks in Spain – No GPS, No Itinerary, One Country Map
“Aren’t you scared” was the most common response when told of my trip plans to visit Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Greece all by my lonesome. Runner-ups were “Why?”, “Who’s the guy” and “That is so cool.”
After living in Baja for five years leading groups of tourists past old missions built by the Dominican and Franciscan monks, eating tacos al pastor and seeing panocha sugar cones in the Mexican markets I moved back to Texas. Soon I realized that I wanted to explore the origin of the Spanish influence I had seen in Mexico. I was overcome with curiosity – of Europe, of travel, of occupations, of romance, of being alone a foreign land. I figured I had at least six weeks, maybe even more. I bought my ticket to Spain to leave Texas exactly two months after I arrived.
At the airport I bought a National Geographic Traveler and Scientific American. I started with the travel mag and opened it from the back to see a full spread titled “What am I Doing Here” by Andrew McCarthy, and it started with “In the middle of northern Spain…” I was not scared of my trip to Spain, I knew the language after living in Mexico, I was confident in my judgment of people and I was excited by the adventure. A friend asked me why I was in Spain, I replied that I was looking for castles, history – like when you touch a whale or dive into the water, history has a way of making you feel small. I was looking for solitude because many times we do not pay sufficient attention to who we are, what we want, and where are we headed in this life. I was looking for adventures because the very best have no map, no guide, and no predetermined route. I was looking for wine and on the wall of a wine store in San Sebastián I saw a quote that filled me with smiles “Si los amantes del vino y del amore van al inferno, vacio debe estar el paraiso” or “If the lovers of wine and love are bound for hell, the heavens will be empty” (Omar Khayyam, 11th century).
I roamed from city to city on trains, buses, and planes. I rented a little black Fiat that took me to some of the most remote and interesting towns. I had moved to Denver CO, Galveston TX, Catalina Island CA, Folly Beach SC, Costa Rica and to La Paz MX but I always had a mission – this time, Spain was my mission. It was in Spain that I learned to be alone. When I was lost, I asked for directions (I talked to a lot of strangers, as anyone who knows me can tell you that I get lost in my own home town every time I visit!); when I was hungry, I grabbed a tapa; when I was thirsty, I ordered a glass of wine. When I found a place I liked, I stayed. Soon my aspirations to visit Greece, Portugal, and Morocco were overshadowed by my comfort in a country where I spoke the language and where women traveling alone would not be challenged. And I still didn’t see all of Spain.
I was lonely, in fact when I purchased the audio tour guide at the Alhambra in Granada, I started calling it my ‘little amigo’ because after so much time wandering the streets of unknown cities and exploring the castles, museums, parks, and churches alone, I finally felt like I had a buddy who was telling me stories. I stayed in seventeen different cities in twenty-eight different beds. I sprayed gasoline on myself, I got a speeding ticket and I almost ran out of gas in the middle of Spain. All of these tribulations left me thinking “What am I doing here!”
I heard songs that brought me to tears or that connected me to my past life – Mexico Lindo in the Metro in Barcelona; Cielito Lindo in a picturesque town of Montoro outside of Cordoba; Express Yourself (it’s not what you look like while you’re doin’ what you’re doin’) in a rock n’ roll bar in Sevilla. I made up my own songs – ‘Totalmente perdida en Sevilla’ set to a flamenco rhythm; I met an architect in Barcelona; a sommelier in San Sebastian; a group of Italians in Granada; a security detail in the Grand Canaries and so many friendly people along the way. I quickly stopped the FaceBook updates, I didn’t read my Don Quijote, and it wasn’t until the return flight home that I finished my Scientific American where I read about the travelling salesman problem – say you are traveling to five cities and you want to know the number of possible routes, easy – 12. If you visit ten cities you all of a sudden have 180,000 possible routes and with 60 cities the number of possible routes is more than the number of atoms in the known universe. This problem is yet unsolved because of the exponentially more possible routes per destination.
This life has so many possible outcomes, sometimes it is necessary to step back from them in order to take a closer look. I realized that my family is with me always; that there is more of this world to explore. Sure, roots are good, but if you don’t know where you want to be, why sow the seed? Now think of your life, where do you want to go? What do you want to see? What do you want? Where are you headed? You don’t have to take a trans- oceanic flight to figure it out, just take a break, go on a walk, listen to the birds, open yourself up to strangers and escape your comfort zone. When we let go of fear, an exciting new door opens and we realize that we lead our own life, we control our destiny, and if you are unsatisfied with your life only you can alter its course. If not now, when?