Saturday 24 December 2016

Sharing the gift of travel on Christmas Eve

Last week I was one of six travel writers asked to write about "The gift of travel" for Fairfax Traveller. We also had to say where on Earth we'd send someone we love, if money (and holiday leave) were no object.

Kids playing on the jetty
at... Christmas Island
I love assignments like this: one brief, six totally different stories. They were all published today as a cover story called A gift that keeps on giving.

Here's mine, my gift to you. Happy giving-season, everyone. Be kind to each other.

Stepping into the unknown
by Louise Southerden

It happens every time. Boarding a flight, to anywhere, I feel the rush of possibility I felt the first time I travelled overseas alone.

You cross a threshold when you leave home soil. Step into the unknown. It doesn’t matter if you’ve booked hotels, made reservations, arranged tours.

Just as an obituary is not a life, an itinerary is not a trip and even the most demanding schedules have room for unplanned encounters, unchaperoned moments and other cracks for the light of chance to shine through.

That’s one of the gifts of travel. Another is freedom, the opportunity to shrug off our lives back home, for a few days or forever, and face the world just as we are.

Travel gives us simplicity, by stripping life back to basics. You don’t have to go trekking with everything you need in a pack on your back or spend two weeks alone in a cabin in Norway (though I highly recommend both). Just staying in a hotel can be simplifying (no cooking, no cleaning!).

And aren’t the days so much longer when you’re somewhere else? When time resumes its natural dimensions and there’s suddenly enough of it to “waste” lingering over a coffee and writing notes in a journal, getting lost in the lanes of a strange city and embracing the magic of everyday life that passes us by at home?

Travel can give you a dose of human kindness or natural wildness when you need it most. And landscapes so grand they break your heart. It can make us more at ease with the world and our place in it, even while that place shifts under our feet. Nothing lasts forever anyway. When you understand that, hotel rooms and departure lounges aren’t so different from houses and driveways.

For all these reasons and more, travel is the greatest gift we can give ourselves – and our offspring. I don’t have any of my own, but from the moment I held my newborn nephew in my arms 11 and a half years ago, I’ve been mentally bookmarking trips for him and his two younger siblings. Trips that would widen their eyes and impress upon them the bare beauty of the world.

Where to start? Perhaps with a road trip between Uluru and Alice Springs to show them what most of Australia looks like and meet some of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Or a homestay in Japan, a place at once otherworldly and, outside its megacities, incredibly earthy. Or a trek across the Mongolian steppe to remind them we all depend nature, and each other, to survive.

In the meantime, this might be the year I slip three copies of Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt into their Christmas stockings.

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