Paris has tacky billboards. Slightly less tacky than American billboards, simply because anything written in French seems more appealing to me, but tacky all the same. It’s this realization, which struck me on my first visit to Paris when I was 18, that taught me the unsettling truth about travel.
Travel cannot be controlled by even the most controlling of travelers. One must submit oneself to the flow of the journey, and the only promised outcome is that one will be changed at journey’s end.
I’ve thrown up from nerves in three different airport. I’ve lost my passport in Milan, Italy’s arrival terminal. I’ve toured Paris with a migraine as tour guide that showed me two Arcs de Triomphes and two Louvres. I’ve acquired intimate knowledge of Italian bathrooms while hiking five seaside villages during the first trimester of pregnancy. I’ve practically smothered a baby while trying to prevent the crying/hair-pulling/seat-kicking/dirty-diaper-smelling debacle that is travel with young children. Not everything about travel is pleasant, predictable, or perfection.
I’ve seen seven mountain peaks reflected in a lake so aquamarine in color it made all Pantone shades twinge green with envy. I’ve listened to Scottish music while charting a path between sheep-dotted verdant hillsides and a grey loch. I’ve felt the sweltering breath of spanish moss lay heavy across my sunburned shoulders. I’ve picnicked on a wood-grilled pizza that dripped with San Juan Island sunshine like butter.
It’s the completely un-anticipated lessons of travel that make traveling so addicting, so worth the frustrations, the unknowns.
But what I love most about travel is the way it reorders the rods and cones of my eyes, the ladder rungs of my DNA, the whorls of my fingerprints. I come back changed.
Maybe it’s how Peter Parker felt after being bit by that nasty spider. He’s the same. But different.
I’m the same, but different, thanks to travel. Because I can now travel without ever leaving home. The same “I didn’t know such amazingness existed” feeling I got upon my first February bite of a nutella crepe from a street side vendor in Paris pops up in my favorite Pittsburgh bakery as I sample a croissant aux amands. I’m thrilled to the core when tracking down a new playground twenty minutes from my house, just as I would thrill to discover a secluded Mediterranean beach. The greatest benefit of travel in my life has been “the change, deep and permanent in the ideas of living.”
No guidebook will ever tell you about billboards in Paris. To get the real deal, you have to get out and see for yourself. Just know you’ll come home yourself, but different.