Thursday, July 9, 2009

Faraway Dreams

If there's a wanderlust gene, then there's no doubt I inherited it from my mother. Mom was a teacher, and every summer she'd join a tour to just about anywhere- Europe..the Caribbean..Scandinavia..the Far East. She'd been to them all.

When my mother came to live with us, I started organizing her mess of photos into neat little albums, hoping they would be a good Alzheimer's tool. While I was sorting through the pictures from her travels, I realized that in every single picture, she had a huge smile on her face, and her body language was telegraphing signs of pure relaxation and happiness- things we never associated with Mom, who always seemed to view life as a series of bitter, harsh challenges.

Sometime during the week of
shiva I observed after Mom passed away, I took out all those pictures, and as I was leafing through the travel album, I started to cry for that happy side of my mother that she had kept from us.

I knew then, that as soon as I could, I would start to travel. At the time, I found myself with an overriding desire to leave an album of happy photos for my grandchildren. Thankfully, in the two years since that week of mourning, I've realized that it's not a legacy of happy photos that I want to leave, but rather memories of a happy, loving grandmother who always had a smile on her face, a gleeful jump in her step, and an eagerness to see what was over the next hill.

So began my wanderlust.

For the past year or so, if I haven't been on the road, then I've been busy planning my next trip, and dreaming of the ones that will follow. Although I'll join them when convenient, I prefer to avoid the organized tours that were my Mom's standard method of travel. Instead, I strike out on my own, taking advantage of free or inexpensive walking tours to familiarize myself with a new city, and then spend the rest of my visit walking and wandering, chatting, and watching.

I've been to London and Paris, cruised on a very large ship, and also on a small refurbished ferry, have hiked in US national parks, and delighted in the decadence of Las Vegas.

I've found that I love waking up in a new place, enjoy fleeting encounters with new people, and equally prefer traveling solo or with a companion. But the most important thing I've learned about myself is that as much as I enjoy exploring new cities, it's nature that I crave. That lesson will be the one that steers my travel plans- I'll be balancing city touring with hiking, cruising, walking, and camping in the most glorious spots I can find.

Here are the places I've been to since I started traveling last spring:

First trip (after 2 weeks visiting my son and his family in Los Angeles): Las Vegas- Valley of Fire- the Grand Canyon- Bryce and Zion national parks- San Francisco- Yosemite- Big Sur- DC

This spring: Paris- New York- LA- a cruise to Mexico- hiking around San Francisco, and Point Reyes

In June, for my birthday, I took a 4 night cruise to Cyprus, Turkey, and Rhodes

I'm still planning my trip for this fall, but so far, this is how it looks:

LA- Sydney, Australia- South Island, New Zealand- Florida- NYC. And, I'll be adding a couple of short cruises in there somewhere (I'm starting to really like cruising- especially when I find a great deal!).

And, needless to say, I'm already looking ahead to next year, and beyond- for the next couple of years' travels, I'm eyeing: cruising the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, a Nile River cruise, Sedona, Arizona, Monument Valley, and return to the Grand Canyon, hiking in Petra, Jordan, and at least one trip somewhere in Europe. I have dreams of a South Pacific cruise, but that may have to wait another year or two.

There's an unexpected benefit that came with my travels: I had my yearly physical a couple of weeks ago, and my lab results were so good that my doctor actually giggled with delight when he reviewed them. He asked what had changed in my life, and when I told him I had started traveling, and felt stress-free, he suggested that I continue traveling, as my lab tests were at better levels than they had been in years. [One of my friends (half) jokingly suggested that I get my doctor to put that in writing, so that I could claim my travel as a tax deduction!]

[BTW- in case you're wondering how I've managed to do all this travel: my husband was a frequent business traveler for many years, and his accumulated pool of airline miles and hotel points has been my travel mainstay. Combined with a keen awareness of travel deals and how to find them, I've been able to cram in quite a bit of travel in the past year- and there's still plenty of points left to easily keep me going through at least the middle of next year (I'm already working hard at figuring out how to finance my travels once the points run out!) Please feel free to ask me questions- I'm always happy to help inquisitive travelers :-).]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Year End Wrap Up, part one

For as long as I can remember, I've had a birthday ritual: I miss a night or two of sleep before my birthday, and even when I tell myself that I'm not mulling over the past year, mull is precisely what I do.

I'm lucky in that I don't usually find myself lost in regrets. Don't get me wrong- I don't necessarily spend those sleepless nights patting myself on the back, either. I simply let my mind wander over events and emotions of the year, reflecting and smiling, wondering a bit wistfully, and dreaming of the year ahead.

Whether it's because I'm getting older, or because of the recent significant changes in my lifestyle, this year, instead of a sleepless pre-birthday night, I went to sleep early and slept soundly through the night.

So, the reflective birthday post I expected to write went out the window when I woke up refreshed. That was almost a month ago, and I think I kept waiting for some sort of delayed night of ruminations. Well, it never came, and while I've done some looking back and reflecting, I guess the bottom line is that I'm truly happy and well-adjusted, and enjoying life too much to take time out for serious ruminating.

Heck, I'm not complaining! Although, I have to admit that there are times that this pervasive and all-encompassing state of contentment I find myself in does make me feel a bit odd. But, those times only last a brief moment or two, because, well- I'm happy.

Maybe it has something to do with getting older, after all. A while ago I read an article that stated that as people age, they have a greater sense of peace and calm in their lives. While my closest friends may laughingly argue that 'calm' is a word they would never associate with me, I know that my core inner self is definitely engaged in calmness and contentment.

(You can find the article on aging and calmness here.)

I'm going to title this post, 'Year End Wrap Up, part one,' although considering how long it's taken me to finally write it, maybe I should have included it in the procrastination series I've been writing. In the next post or two, I'll write a brief wrap up of places I've traveled this year, and maybe, instead of a 'mulling' post, I'll dedicate one to plans, dreams, and hopes for the year ahead.