Today when we travel we consciously decide how connected we need to be with the world we leave behind. Do we take ipad, iphone, haggle for free wifi, update Facebook and Twitter or simply let go and let the world revolve without my input for a week or so.
Not so twenty-five years ago when I started travelling. Phone calls were expensive and reverse charges for emergency only. Mail was sent post restante or to American Express offices. English language print material was prized, and I remember literally sharing a novel with fellow backpackers by ripping chapters out as they were finished and passing on.
Stepping into a strange world meant leaving constant contact to the familiar and reassuring behind. No Skype to parents, no tweets to friends. Information was limited and came from one-time published books not constantly updated websites, drawing on international communities.
I wonder if I was therefore more available to the experience of being somewhere strange. Was I more open to what was going on around me, more present and less conscious of seeing with fresh eyes? Without the literal and symbolic lens of the digital age around me was I more able to connect to the people and places around me?
The answer I suspect was partly yes and partly no. Even without the filter of a thousand opinions around me I still carried my own knowledge and expectations. I went to Italy looking for beautiful things, romance and adventure. I found that, but when I let go of what I thought should be there I found so much more.
In letting go I found friendship in fellow travellers, the joy of sharing simple food, the pleasure of a good night’s sleep after hiking the mountains all day. I felt the warmth of late autumn Mediterranean sun and the intense chill of mid-winter. I experienced the delicious calm of serenity of being in Florence when it is blanketed in snow and the gritty intensity of the heat of day in Rome.
I also faced the fear of being without money and totally alone in a strange city and the exhilaration of making it through that situation on my own. I got used to feeling slightly lost and out of depth most of the time, and the surprise when someone would still ask me for directions and which way to go. I found resources within me that I did not know were there – an innate friendliness, an ability to solve problems, a capacity for great patience, and my intuition that kept me safe.
Today as a sensible woman in my forties the opportunities to drop and let go are not as many as I would like. I resist giving up my comfort, my experience, my knowing of how the world should be. I am afraid to appear foolish and uncertain. I am scared to take risks because there is more to lose. I no more want to appear vulnerable before you then I want to be naked.
But sometimes there is exquisite joy in simply letting go.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need. – Tao Te Ching