The Allure of a “Big Trip”

One of my most evocative travel memories is from our visit to Mo’orea. It stays with me not because of the location (although it was beautiful) or because I was doing anything unusual (although I do love a nice swim in a warm protected lagoon).

The memory stays with me because it is a memory of a feeling — the feeling of freedom. It was at the start of our “big trip,” when we spent four months on a Circle Pacific airplane ticket traveling around the Pacific and Asia. Mo’orea was our first stop, and we were still getting used to budget traveling. We’d taken the slow ferry from Pape’ete, instead of the fast one the owner of our accommodations assumed we’d be on, and then struggled to connect with her and get to the simple beach house we were renting. We hadn’t realized we’d need her to drive us to the market to buy food, and weren’t prepared with a shopping list when she offered to drive us to the shops.

So I was feeling a little off-kilter. But one morning, I swam out into the lagoon directly in front of our little beach house and I had the most extraordinary feeling of freedom. I remember thinking “we have four whole months of this ahead” and feeling almost giddy.

A beach and a turquoise lagoon
The view from our patio in Mo’orea

Of course, the next four months weren’t all blissful swims in picturesque island lagoons. But they were pretty good and different in kind, not just length, from other trips I’ve taken.

Frangipani with turquoise water in the background
The view from another beachfront accommodation. This one was a little bungalow in Ko Ngai, Thailand.

The memory of the feeling of freedom I had on our “big trip” came back to me recently, as I read a fascinating book called Rowing to Latitude, by Jill Fredston. The journeys Fredston and her husband take make my four months of budget travel look like a luxury tour. They pack their gear and food for months-long expeditions into rowing boats and paddle Arctic waters. Reading Fredston’s descriptions of their trips, I knew I had no desire to undertake an expedition like theirs. But I also knew I’d love to undertake another expedition of some sort, perhaps like that Circle Pacific trip. It is not feasible right now — we have school-age children, a mortgage on a house we want to keep, and myriad other commitments that keep our vacations to the two-week variety.

But someday… someday I’ll have another trip that is more than a vacation. I struggle to explain what makes a “big trip” different than a vacation. It isn’t just the length of time, although that surely plays a role. I think it has something to do with that feeling of freedom I had in the lagoon in Mo’orea. As Fredston puts it:

Departure, though, means freedom. Freedom from the tyranny of lists, the daily ritual of adding more “to do” items to the list of things still undone. Freedom from hearing the phone ring, let alone answering it. Freedom from choice, and temporarily, from a culture that equates success with having the greatest number of possessions, friends, and commitments to choose from.”

Although my preferred sort of expedition is quite different from Fredston’s, that sense of freedom is the same.

But even that isn’t the full explanation for why I feel the lure of another “big trip.” I think all travel teaches us about ourselves, but there is something about undertaking a longer trip that intensifies that effect. Our Circle Pacific trip helped me better understand my weaknesses and learn how to make some compensations for them. I am still prone to impatience with incompetence, but by the end of that trip I had learned to pause and look at different perspectives before diagnosing incompetence. The trip also gave me more confidence in my strengths, even the ones other people sometimes poke fun at. When my husband and I were laid flat with a bad case of food poisoning in Chiang Mai, my “excessive planning” is the reason we had oral rehydration salts in our first aid kit.

A Thai wat with golden decorations
Wat Pan On, in Chiang Mai. One of the sites we managed to visit before we got sick.

Perhaps even more importantly, though, I came home from that trip with a clearer knowledge of what matters to me in life. As Fredston explains in the introduction to her book:

In the process of journeying, we seem to have become the journey, blurring the boundaries between the physical landscape outside of ourselves and the spiritual landscape within.

That is not something you can get from most two-week vacations, but having experienced it once I can tell you it is wonderfully perspective-altering — and perhaps a bit addictive.

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