published Friday, August 17th, 2012

Leber: Travel and pursuing a quiet mind

As most of you are reading this, I am likely somewhere in Seattle, probably being sneered at by some skinny-jeans-wearing hipster because my organic, slow-roast coffee selection isn't cool enough or because I'm so lame as to still use words like "cool" or lame."

As you read this, I am finishing up a nine-day holiday that has taken me to Portland, Ore.; Seattle and the San Juan Islands in Washington; Victoria, British Columbia; and back to Portland again, via Seattle, once more. As I write this, I am at my desk, exactly 26 hours before departure from the Atlanta airport. It's a little like that movie "The Lake House," except far less maudlin and without Keanu Reeves in a turtleneck.

So I'm going to write as though something is about to happen, because on my timeline, it is, even though on your timeline, it already has. Really, I'm picturing the god-awful haircut Sandra Bullock had in that movie.

You'll have to forgive my babbling, because honestly, I'm a little nervous. Not about flying, although it's not my favorite thing in the world. And not about traveling alone, which I will be doing for six of the nine days I'll be away.

I'm gleefully excited, but also, oddly apprehensive about traveling alone in the United States. OK, and Canada as well, but mainly in North America.

It's not a safety thing. I've got a good combination of street smarts and caution that make me able to handle myself pretty well. It's the reduced ability for escapism.

Let me back up. I love to travel. I love to travel alone. I've been fortunate enough to have several opportunities to do so, but every time before this I've been on another continent.

Outside of the States (and parts of Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia), my ability to understand people is vastly reduced. My ability to communicate is also vastly reduced. I have mediocre abilities in French but am not remotely bilingual. I know maybe 30 words of Italian, and it's all downhill from there.

I've learned I can fare very well in a foreign land by learning how to say a handful of polite words, speaking in a low, calm tone, to avoid being perceived as obtrusive, and otherwise keeping quiet. Unlike my loquacious daily existence, alone in a non-English-speaking country I speak only when absolutely necessary. Not being able to understand the conversations around me means I can really focus my energy on taking in the scenery and obtaining a sense of quiet in my head. Being the proverbial stranger in a strange land is an incredibly cathartic experience.

However, I've never actually spent more than about 24 hours traveling on my own in the United States. I fear being able to understand all the conversations around me will make me feel lonely, while simultaneously being able to engage in conversation will prevent me from being able to achieve the sense of peaceful renewal that travel often brings.

See what I mean? My brain is way too overstimulated. I am definitely one of those people who would benefit from a month at an ashram or convent.

Hopefully, a few days gazing at Puget Sound will do the trick. Or, in real-time now, will have done the trick.

I'd say to remind me to drink the decaf hipster coffee, but you'd be too late.

I'll send myself a text alert.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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