Why We Travel

Travel makes the ordinary suddenly become extraordinary. 

A trip to the grocery store means identifying what such a store is called, learning how to navigate the noisy streets to get there, recognizing products and discovering new ones, and fumbling at the cash register with unfamiliar currency.  Such a mundane, ordinary task becomes a pronounced victory, a savored moment of procuring nourishment in an unknown land.

I travel to remember what matters most to me.  Travel teaches and invigorates the soul, and tests the spirit’s ability to be a child again, abruptly unable to read or speak so that others understand.  When traveling, the elements of life’s simplicity are most clear, and allow us to connect both with others and ourselves.

Recently my daughters (ages 12 and 9) and I ventured on a twelve-day road trip west from Pennsylvania, circling clock-wise around vast Lake Michigan, using a friend’s small RV for the journey.  One dewy morning I woke early with our dog, eager to check out the crisply cool night’s happenings at a lush campground on the Wisconsin lakeshore.  The girls soon crawled off their thin RV mattress pads and grumpily hiked to restrooms, surprisingly clean.  Quietly, to avoid disturbing our neighbors, we packed up.  After a quick check around the RV, I started the engine, called out a seatbelt and dog check, and released the break, slowly rolling out of our campsite, eyeing the narrow, paved road in front of us. 

Suddenly, a horrific screech of metal on wood, banging and clattering from above, the RV shaking with a metallic clang and a final thud.  My heart sank.

I had neglected to lower the awning.

You must know:  I had never driven an RV before; for me, “camping” had always meant green canvas tents or, on a good day, a Motel 6.  So I had no idea that there existed an RV Community until out of nowhere, four families appeared, talking among themselves as to who had what tools, what the best approach would be to help, and a comforting grin that “all of us do this at least once.”  Within fifteen minutes, the awning had been pulled off the vehicle, hoisted to the dumpster, and a new-found friend had brought me a cup of coffee wrapped up with a hug. 

Would I want to wreck the awning of my friend’s RV again?  No, but I did discover an unexpected surprise at this campground on Lake Michigan:  deep humility, and the profound generosity of others.  I travel not to escape the world, but to become that much closer to the people living within it.

Stephanie Aculasek