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The Best Souvenirs

I used to bring home T-shirts when I traveled, mostly emblazoned with the name of whatever city I had visited. My plan was always to use them as running shirts, but then they felt too “special” to get them sweaty, so they sat in my closet unused. I moved on to notebooks—with graph paper inside whenever possible. Most people couldn’t tell that I’d bought them at Gibert Jeune or Bon Marché in Paris, but I knew, and that was enough. This trip, we found a wonderful little store called Paul Art & Design, and we bought several tiny things to remember the cleverness of the place—and the fact that Paul himself sold them to us. Still, as I was packing to come home after a month of traveling, I realized I had purchased very little to commemorate the trip.

There’s comfort in feeling like I’m in control of my schedule and my plans, but the power of navigating something unknown and unpredictable can be life-changing.

The real treasures are in my head and my heart. There are photos, of course, and they spark the memories of that afternoon in the wine shop, that late dinner on the night we arrived, or how it felt to gaze across the river from the house where we were staying. Reminders like these leave me with so much more than those T-shirts used to. I’m realizing now that the most valuable mementos are the discoveries I make about myself. I’m not sure why, but I often feel like I learn more about me when I’m out of my ordinary routine than I ever do at home. Maybe it’s just the lack of “noise” from my everyday life. No to-do lists, no getting into the rut of each day feeling the same, and no focusing on what I should be doing instead of what I want to be doing. Traveling and being out in the world is all about just being there, despite whatever else is going on.

The truth is, there is lots happening when you’re traveling, because you can’t just be magically transported from your driveway to a lovely hotel someplace beautiful. You have to make plans and arrangements—that may or may not work out the way you hoped they would—and you have to wait, and hurry, and try not to stress, and relax when you may not be ready to. What I learn about myself when I’m out in the world is how I handle all of that. The humdrum of daily life at home gives me one version of myself that I can do almost automatically. Even when I think I’m deeply engaged in my life, I’m often not as present as I am when I’m travelling, and everything is new and different and even uncomfortable. In those moments, I feel more alive than ever, and it’s a feeling I don’t have very often in my regular, day-to-day life. It reminds me that I can do things that scare me, and that I can handle feeling anxious better than I would have guessed.

At 70, deep in my heart, I really do know who I am and what I can do, but it’s such a good thing to be away from the safety of home from time to time to remember how I am when everything feels new. I don’t even have to be far away. What I need is to break the pattern, the routine, the neat and tidy way that I’ve figured out how to do every single little thing in my life. There’s comfort in feeling like I’m in control of my schedule and my plans, but the power of navigating something unknown and unpredictable can be life-changing.

So, I’m looking at travel photos these days, remembering how I felt. I loved that thrum of uncertainty about what was going to happen next, of taking risks, and of being surprised at my ability to handle the outcome. I’m treasuring these souvenirs, and I'm looking at ways to open up my “normal” life a bit so I can lose some of the predictability and welcome new surprises.


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