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Why we travel

Editorial: “That sign says ‘Welcome to Massachusetts,” I say to my daughter, Jessica, who is the one holding the map while I drive.

“No it can’t say that,” she replies. “Massachusetts is south and we’re supposed to be heading north to Montreal.”

“Well, this exit is for Boston and I’m pretty sure Boston is in Massachusetts.”

And so goes another mother-daughter road trip. Once again we’re lost but we know we’ll eventually get turned around and going in the right direction. It’s been our pattern over the years, repeated in many different countries, as are the songs we sing as we drive along, listening to music we never play at home.

This trip to the USA was spontaneous, dreamed up during a sort of  “Why Not?” moment. Our passports were up-to-date, the Canadian dollar strong, the duty free allowance had just been increased, and my birthday was coming up.

I love unplanned road trips because you decide where you’ll go as you drive along. We chose Freeport, Maine as the first place to stop, famed for its shopping outlets. It also happens to be on the ocean (watching the waves roll in is always uplifting) and near the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, which appealed to the gardener in me. At dinner that night the waiter suggested Portsmouth, New Hampshire for our second stop and down to Rye, which was a great recommendation for the coast there is much less crowded than the one in Maine. So that’s how we spent three days in September.

While I was putting this issue of Riding the buses together, it struck me that not everyone choses to travel in such an unplanned way. I happen to be a proponent of the Pico Iyer way of travel, who in his classic essay, Why we travel, says that for him travel is not just a quest for the unknown but for the unknowing, a return to a more innocent self. He, in turn, references George Santayana’s essay, The Philosophy of Travel, where the Harvard professor speaks of travelling “in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment…”

As much as I embrace this philosophy, I’ve been thinking that sometimes I travel too close to the edge. Certainly my hike along the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China—solo and once again lost—was insane and with hindsight something I would not do again. There is an article about it in this issue so you can make up your own mind. But I’m starting to wonder if my preference for unplanned travel has gone too far.

People do travel differently, of course. Barbara Reinhardus is a planner and this month she takes us back again to Mexico, this time in the company of two young children. We also take a look at the same destination but see it through the eyes of two middle-aged women. Following the road trip theme, we follow the annual one that a Canadian couple takes each winter to the American south in their quest to escape the worst of the Canadian winter.

Many journeys, different approaches.


Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2012

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