A Summer Without A Passport

It was a cool, drizzly morning as I landed in Paris and as I caught my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, that was it – I was hooked. I fell in love with the city, but most of all, with adventure.

In the last six years, I’ve had the privilege of wandering the world. I’ve visited over thirty countries. Each summer I’ve packed my suitcase, booked a few tours and traveled abroad for weeks at a time.

I’ve slept under the stars on a cool winter’s night in the Australian Outback and the scorching heat of the Saharan summer. I’ve ridden a fat tire bike in the busy streets of Paris in the pouring rain. I’ve hiked the Cliffs of Moher and the Blue Mountains – also in the pouring rain. I’ve spent a lazy day in a hammock in Fiji and scuba dived with a giant sea turtle on the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve shrieked under the frigid waters of the Iguazu Falls.

I’ve watched the clouds part and the fog lift to slowly reveal Christ The Redeemer from a favela in Rio. I’ve prayed for a dying family member in St Peter’s Basilica on a Sunday morning and I’ve felt the softness of the carpet underfoot in the Blue Mosque. I’ve climbed the death stairs of a concentration camp and reverently wandered the attic that hid Anne Frank and her family in Amesterdam. I’ve touched what remains of the Berlin Wall on it’s 50th anniversary. I’ve watched the most incredible sunset from atop the White Palace in Pamukkale, Turkey.

I’ve walked the streets and figured out the transit systems in so many cities. I’ve barbequed kangooro and camel. I’ve tried haggis and I’ll gladly pass if ever offered any again. I’ve shared a glass of wine or two with new friends (and two cousins) all over the world. There have been so many amazing experiences – even the not so good ones make for great stories.

I’ve learned a lot along the way and I am so much richer for it. Of all the lessons travel has taught me, the ones that were most valuable, the most telling, the most enriching, were about myself. It has left me incredibly grateful. 

That first day when I arrived in Paris, I was texting with a good friend who knows me well. He challenged me to talk to three people each day. I thought the request was odd but agreed. I have a tendency to be quiet and reserved especially with people I don’t know. I think he knew that but I hadn’t given it any thought. It wasn’t until I boarded a tour bus full of strangers that I was completely overwhelmed and terrified.

Having come straight from business meetings in the U.S., I was distracted and I didn’t have time to allow the nervousness to settle in. My first choice of tours had been rescheduled leaving me no time in between which as it turns out was a really good thing – I probably would have talked myself out of it otherwise. Twenty eight days, fifteen countries and not a single person I knew. This was so far out of my comfort zone. Luckily it didn’t last long. A group of girls welcomed me to the tour and the panic quickly dissipated.

Travel isn’t always comfortable. In fact, it very rarely is. Before leaving on that first trip, someone told me that if I found myself wishing I was at home on my couch, I knew I was having an adventure. I’ve kept going, stretching my comfort zone even further, each summer picking a locale more exotic than the last.

Very few people know this about me, but the truth is, as brave as it may seem, I always completely and totally freak out the night before my summer trip. Last summer was probably the worst it’s ever been. I was at the airport on the phone with that same friend trying to convince myself to get on the plane. That trip in particular was by far the most incredible, the most life changing. I’m glad I had the courage to not only book it but to board that flight.

Often when I get to my destination, it’s tough to leave my hotel room. I have to force myself and it usually doesn’t happen until the second day. I blame the jetlag but if I’m really honest, I’m hiding. Sometimes even ordering room service is difficult. Eventually I get my bearings, figure out the currency, explore a grocery store and start getting comfortable with my surroundings, but it always takes awhile.

About a year and a half ago I did an exercise called the Five Happiest Days and in doing so, I realized that most of mine were days I’d spent travelling but not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the impressiveness of the sights that marked the importance of those days. It was a feeling that I had in each one of those moments… the overwhelming feeling of having accomplished something that scared me – that pushed me out of my comfort zone.

This summer, I have no plans to travel outside of Canada. The decision not to travel came easily. It feels right but I have to admit that thought of sticking close to home is a bit daunting. Truthfully, as incredible as my summer adventures have been, they were an escape. With all the changes I’ve made in the last year, I’m hoping I don’t feel the need to pack up and disappear. Time will tell.

So I’m embracing a summer in Canada. I’m walking every day and discovering my own neighbourhood. I’ve even attempted the transit system here a few times. I’m buying vegetables at the local farmers’ market and I’ve been making good use of my balcony and an outdoor pool, which with the summers away, I haven’t had as much time to enjoy in years passed.

I’m reconnecting with friends and family. I’m overjoyed to be spending a week with my niece Mila and I’m attending a family cottage weekend that I haven’t been to since before I moved to Winnipeg fifteen years ago. My sister surprised me with tickets to a summer festival… all things I would normally miss during my summers abroad.

I used to leave my driver’s license at home and only travel with my passport. I always loved the break from driving but I’m switching that up too. I’m driving out to the East Coast. You would think that someone who spends as much time on the road (usually in traffic) as I do would hate the idea of a seventeen hour (one way) road trip, but I’m looking forward to it. In the past, my goal has always been to get to my destination as quickly as I can without stopping. I’ve challenged myself to stop as often as possible – to not only enjoy but appreciate the journey.

Elaine Turcotte