when we travel, we leave so much behind, wherever we go- a sense of fear and doubt, indiscernible footprints, pieces of our soul. and less poetically, we leave behind hard-earned cash, some dignity (#whathappensinibiza) and likely more than a few “necessities” we realize immediately that our backpacks and bodies can do without.
so much is given and taken, from our bodies and into our souls. and hence the desire is strong to somehow embed a bit of that experience on your skin, forever.
a traveler i once met on a plane who become a fast and forever friend of mine, shared with me early in what would become so many wine-infused conversations that people get tattoos for one of three reasons.
– those that you want people to see and ask about everyday. this should be a story you love to tell, a description that is rarelyfar from your lips, words that to you sound sweeter than any others. this may be the only thing anyone comes to know about you, and it may be the first thing of so many deeper things that more than scratch the surface. tattoo those things in places that are rarely covered, subtle but noticeable. and then share openly and honestly, and often.
– the tattoos that people are only privileged to see, discover, and ask about when they’re gotten close to you. something intimate to share with someone you trust, and even then, you reserve the right to divulge it’s meaning. these should be hidden to most people, yet to be discovered. a private secret, shared with steadfast reverence.
– the tattoos that you tell the meaning to no one. they represent a private battle, an intimate moment, a reminder of how and why you keep going. these should be somewhere that you see everyday, but few others will notice. it greets you in the mirror first thing in the morning and flashes in your mind before you sleep at night. it’s your silent vow, your constant reminder something so present in your mind but it is yours, alone.
i realized that these reasons are also so parallel to why we travel. sometimes we are seeking adventure; to stay in hostels, to meet and to share and to document every moment of our experiences for others to learn and gain from.
some trips are personal journeys, the meanings to which we will tell, but only to deserving and kindred spirits. met on an abandoned trail or silently observing the sunrise. those we know will share a connection with forever, if only physically for a few significant moments.
and some trips are taken because we need to heal, to reset, to remember who we are and why we are here, why we move at all. and what may look like a vacation to outsiders or an easily interpreted symbol, to us it is the last step we feel we were able to take. we need to simply walk to a coastline or to a rooftop and let our regrets go with the tides and into the winds and inhale. and close our eyes and remember that moment as only ours.
so think of your travel tattoo on these terms.
this is a memory, this is a moment, this is a feeling, a journey, an experience, a truth. an eternal stamp on your passport as well as a personal call to action. do not forget, ever, the reason you got it. hold on to it, encompass it and be guided by it.
be moved by it and moved because of it.
one of mine, of course, was part of a word i wanted to say everyday. barcelona. i never wanted a day to go by without those beautiful sounds rolling off my tongue- and to tell people, with a subtle intensity, that it was where i became the person i will be forever. it was the first place i ever traveled abroad, the first time i ever experienced being completely alone, it was my first time living in a city. it made me realize everything that i wanted in my life, and that there was so much more to discover.
the other is relentlessly dimensional.
for a powerful quote from a relentless lyricist,
if love is not madness, it is not love.
that we should all be driven mad by our love, by our passion. that a passive connection has never and will never be for me. for that is not love.
and the iconic words from our beat pioneer and avid wanderer
the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.
this description that fits so well everyone who inspires me.
and of course… it stands for my favorite destination on my boarding passes. MAD. a city and a transition in my life. it was me quitting my job and leaving my life in new york i’d worked so hard to create for a completely unknown future. it was me simply knowing i needed to seek more. that i needed to leave to find what i wanted, to remind myself who i was. it was me ignoring so many people who told me it was a dumb idea, who asked me ‘what are you running from’ or who tried to convince me that all of my ‘problems’ would still be here when i returned. they, of course, had no idea why i seemed to be running, be it towards or from. and this tattoo, here, on my ring finger, stands for that madness and passion that i am always, insatiably, seeking.
(also there’s this futbol team that i fucking love.)
tell me about your tattoo, be it for travels or otherwise. send me a picture, and tell me what it means to you. i want to know and i’d love to have your permission to share.
seek on, dear travelers. for you are what makes this world so insatiablydiscoverable.
traveling solo has endless benefits, but when it comes to packing, it becomes way more intense when you can’t rely on borrowing your friend’s toothpaste/toothbrush/undies/entire wardrobe. while i rely on extensive packing lists and reliable essentials, i never leave without my talisman. you know, my talisman. oh you know, those charming little soul keepers that keep you safe and seeking. you do know, don’t you? ah well, keep reading friend. and never, ever leave home without it again.
inevitably, the reason why we travel is to collect experiences, ephemera, … and to leave pieces o our souls upon cobblestone sidewalks and in the warm air surrounding a sunset and in the smeared imperceptibly into the rims of wine glasses. and while a talisman helps to bridge that gap between what is kept and what is left. the keeper of secrets and pieces of our souls, an object that witholds the subtle power of where we’ve been and where we’re going, and with this power, relentlessly fights against evil spirits that may cross our paths, no matter where those paths lead us.
they are objects, yes, and more often than not some non-kitschy souvenir or significant piece of ephemera collected from our travels. a talisman’s power is said to increase with intention. they are often not chosen by us but chosen for us, given to us, or sometimes they choose us. that undeniably spiritual connection is felt as soon as such a tiny little soul keeper is spotted, in a hidden shop in morocco or at a festive holiday stand in venice or sitting beside your sunday sangria in a plaza in madrid. the ones that i’ve held close inevitably have a story behind them, and stories ahead of them. and a raconteur i will always be, i’ve jotted these tales below for you to discover and uncover and reveal, at just the right time, what your talisman will be.
the first was an old coin from morocco, that i kept around my neck as a reminder of the palpable magic and mystery of the country and the week i spent in it. an old coin that i strung around my neck just outside of a tricky little oddities shop in a coastal town along the west coast of the country. it kept me safe, arguably, from a blinding sandstorm while surfing in the eastern side of the atlantic, from the aggressively audible whispers heard among a passerby in the souk, telling me “i could kidnap you right now and one one would know”, from a winding and endless cab ride in what turned out to be an illegal taxi that got pulled over and offered its american passengers to the cops as payment without hesitation, and from a drug deal in the streets of taghazout that went very very very badly. when i left africa, unharmed and enlightened, the coin stayed on me, continuing to ward off evil spirits and keep me safe and searching. when i returned back from the US, it helped keep my wandering spirit alive and alit when it felt dulled, lost, and stagnant. my first talisman.
the next, this charming little italian man that i picked up in the christmas markets in venice. traveling during the holidays always pangs me with a bit of homesickness, and something about this cheery, charming little yarn man reminded me both of the tiny little bear stuffed animals i preferred as a child, and brought me back to receiving gifts on christmas, and also added a little bit of playfulness to my photography. he was my muse.
he came with me on another solo trip through the south of spain, and somehow snuck away from me at a 100-bed 8-floor hostel in sevilla. ok, so maybe i had something to do with it in my rather drunken state… however, i realized he was missing as i hastily packed, threatening to miss my train to granada. pepito!!! i exclaimed. i blurrily remembered having him last in the common area. i ran in and rummaged through the couches, looked under every table when someone asked me what i was looking for. “um, it’s a little italian yarn man. you know… a gondola man? who works on a gondola? …presuming his is also made of yarn??” i didn’t know what i was saying and time was running out. “oh yeah! yeah! he has a hat?” the guy asked me. this, to me, was a dumb question. “he was on the table last night and a girl was playing with him. a girl with brown hair.” he informed me.
“ah! does she still have him? where is she?”
“yeah she does. um, i think she’s staying on the 4th floor. or maybe the 6th? it’s one of those her name might be elena but i’m not sure.”
holy shit. it was 8am on a sunday at a youth hostel and i had 7 minutes to leave and this is what i had to work with. i sprinted up the stairs. i knocked on every door on the 4th and 6th floors. if someone answered, i gave them my disjointed story. “hi. i’m looking for a girl with brown hair named elena maybe, and she might have this little yarn man that means a lot to me? a little gondola man? answers to “pepito”? currently boatless and probably a little frightened?”
nope. other than a bunch of groggy and crazy looks, i got nothing.
finally as i closed the last door on the 6th floor and began descending down, it opened again. “hi, is this what you’re looking for?” a sleepy-eyed brunette in her hostel-version of pajamas held pepito in her hands. “YES! yes! thank you thank you! you found him!” i ran back up the stairs. “i wanted to keep him…” she said. i had no time for this. “he means a lot to me. you can get one, in venice.” with that i snatched him and ran to grab my pack, a cab, and ultimately a train to granada with my talisman and travel buddy kept close this time.
while pepito occupies a very important spot on my shelf and in my heart, my talisman since 2010 has been a tiny little elephant figurine procured from a street seller in madrid. it was a hungover sunday and i was sharing sangria and stories from the night before with my best friends. a peddler approached us and began his spiel and before we could all answer in a prepared and collective “no, gracias” he had placed an adorable little elephant in front of each of us. “we will each have one,” i said, and no one fought back. 4 euros later, we each had a bit of that city, that experience, and the souls we connected with during that year that would transcend boundaries of time and distance.
hence, “phanty” is perhaps one of the most well-traveled elephants to ever exist. with thousands of kilometers, all under his thick patterned skin, he now will set off with me to the motherland, our home country together, on another trip. where the solo portion will be highlighted by this little reminder of so many wonderful people, places, and experiences, continuing to ward off evil spirits and to keep mine strong and searching.
tell me about your talisman. share with me a story about the keeper of your wandering soul.
what is it about being on an airplane that makes you want to write? i think it’s the charged and temporary captivity. you’re moving yet nearly immobile, you’re up there, you’re somewhere, you’re a little scared and maybe these will be your last words. maybe they won’t be. maybe they’ll just be words written on airplanes. i’ve compiled some such tales below, snippets from trips, simple plane text. come along with me.
I always eat everything on the little airplane meal. every fucking bit of it. I use all of the butter on my bread. I pick up and scarf down every single grape. I scrape around the perimeter of the little cup of salad dressing with my finger and make sure u get it all. I eat the dessert right away, I save nothing. This is mine. and then i package it all back up into the little boxes and secure the little flaps and am painfully content with my compact little meal.
Why do they create a new time zone on the plane? It was 10am in New York and 4am in Hawaii and in 2 hours they served us dinner. The lights were out and they ordered all the shades such tight. We were to be quiet. We were to sleep. Breakfast was served at 2pm Hawaii time, 7pm New York time. Breakfast. Do they know some sort of jet lag equation I don’t know about? Because this feels like forced adult nap time and I do NOT like that.
the sky here is vast, eternal. its liberation hangs heavy, smothering the landscape. breathing life into rolling hills,flat plains, shallow rivers before settling slowly and heavy between buildings, over rooftops, streets, park benches. it colors I. The gray, the sidewalks and stone with tones of orange and red, altering their natural state to be part of this sunset, this experience. An opening and a closing. A slow drift toward the night. It gently touched my skin, kissed my cheek, penetrated my soul as I stepped off a plane 7 months ago. weary and excited, displaced, it embraced me. It grazed my summer-tanned skin. It lay before my uncertain feet. it filled my heart with light and lightness, a tangible warmth, an intentional deterrent from any former plans. and it will stay with me, additional baggage as I handover my boarding pass and step onto a plane. it will fill in the gap as my soul splits again, leaving behind the jagged ephemera of my being, to hold and be held, to be guarded and used. it will occupy this space.
Just plane sleepy.
The guy behind me is yawning audibly in such a melodic way I don’t even want to listen to music. my headphones are in but the sound is off. he sounds like an adorable little bunny desperate to notify anyone with earshot that he cute but he sleepy.
Plane Short Story I haven’t finished.
“I’ll get us fired up,” he said with easy confidence as he rolled away his black suitcase swiftly. Dunkin donuts was supposed to open at 5am, everyday. all they had to do was put the donuts into the case, donuts that had been pre-made in an industrial kitchen in queens, and fill the coffee filters with grinds and turn on the machines. that’s it. those simple activities, by 5am, every morning. Here it was 5:18 and he was waiting in an ever-increasing line with his co-pilot. Not his life partner or partner in crime, his actual co-pilot. The man with whom he’d flown over 700 times, each trusting the other at the helm as himself, knowing the others’ actions and reactions, anxieties and (excitements) before they even occurred. So, he’d get the plane fired up while Jim got the coffees. Fuel for the pilots so they could fly the plane that would take us all out of snowy New York City right to south beach. It see me like a glamorous job, jet setting around the world, seeing the sun rise and set over the horizon in any number of countries each year, appearing and disappearing out of sight through the lens of the windshield as if you were the last person on earth. And that was definitely the draw at first- that freedom, that independence. But now, what kept him in the air, flying from destination to destination, arriving, departing, was the sense of complete control. Of importance, of discipline. The constant routine and processes that were now second nature- they were his refuge, his sanctuary. The buzzing machines and beeping gauges sung like soft, calming hymns as he meticulously prepared for takeoff. Jim would come back with the coffees and maybe some sort of sweet confection that he always hid between them until they were about to taxi down the runway. “Hey-” he’d say, his eyes sparkling mischievously. “There’s a little something else here for ya, maverick.” and playfully punched him in the shoulder. Jim was only 5 years his senior but this was their dynamic- the playful, caring older brother type. And so he played along. It have them a sense of family which was often missing up in the air. Which he felt more than ever now.
I love you.
in each of our languages, a confession, a promise. in three words or two, a feeling shared, a joining of our hearts that won’t be broken by time or distance. a beauty in the blending of his culture and mine. a steady embrace. an imploring stare. an impenetrable sadness. a goodbye.
at the terminal gate I look in his eyes, my hand cupped softly around the curve of his jaw. Feeling he warmth of his skin, so familiar. and with hot tears swelling in my eyes, I finally squeeze his arm and walk towards security, knowing that with each step, we will grow farther apart. he watched me from the other side. he gave me our secret wave and an assuring smile. I blew him a kiss and my heart ached. It begged me not to go. when I finally looked back and saw that he was gone my heart waited, waited, inhaled and finally receded back back far beneath to the place it was before. waiting finally for him, until he appears again, until I can run to him, can hold him, can grab his hand and kiss his cheek and show him that despite the time and distance, that I’m his. and he’s mine. that from the other side it will still be I love you, te quiero.
Plane Tale from 2009.
9am wednesday. RIC airport. gate 9.
justin is a physical therapist in seattle. and i’ll never forget him.
you know, i don’t think he’ll forget me either. not anytime soon.
his kids are jake, and finley, 5 and 8. his girlfriend, maxi, is in germany. just before we parted ways i gave him a richmond postcard i’d been saving for just such an opportunity, in exchange for a promise to buy an international stamp and send it to her. they met when she tore her ACL. “she had her eye on me for a while… i had no idea.” part of me believed him. he was reading ‘Chicken Soup for the Lover’s Soul’. i was the only one who would verbally make fun of him that day. his simple justification: ‘well, i’m in love.’ they took the most beautiful photo at dawn on charles bridge in Prague. he said i looked czech with my high cheekbones and bright eyes.
it’s funny, now that i think of it. overhearing my response as to why i was going to colorado. ‘i have no idea,’ he laughed and forged a uniquely cliche introduction– ‘what’s your story?’
and here i am, writing his.
Plane Pretzels, 2016.
I challenged myself to eat the entire snack mix packette before he returned with my wine. I can do this, I thought, I can eat this entire fucking thing. come on, I encouraged myself as I uncomfortably stuffed dry pretzel rounds into my adult mouth. COME. ON. I demanded, my mouth dry, eyes panicky as i watched his slow and graceful return. NOOOOO. I fumbled with the remains of the snack packette. I tried to act cool with the thick pouches of wet pretzel tucked between my gums and my cheeks. Nooooo. I handed him my debit card. Defeated. He asked me if I wanted a receipt. Do I loom like I’m traveling for business? I’m so full of pretzel I can hardly enter my pin. No, I smile. Your wine glass is just below your water cup. He smiled flawlessly. I shift my gaze toward the double stacked plastic vessels sitting deep and cozy against the shallow rim of the tray table indentation. Oh! I exclaim. Lovely, I tell him. And as he turns I empty the snack pack into my mouth victoriously. thinking of how much I don’t even want it. Just the sweet and salty victory. The dry mouth of a champion. “Victoryyyyyy” my crumb filled tight lipped solemn and pronounced war cry.
what is it that leads us, draws us to a place? to a person?
is it the magnetism of the soul, is it the curiosity of the mind, is it the fleeting nature of the heart.
is it a sight unseen that we crave again.
is it words unspoken that gently drip from our tongues.
to seek, find, lose, and rediscover love. in all of its captivating complexity.
because stagnation is so definitively isolating, we move, we travel, we seek love- in a city or person that will deeply connect to our souls, immediately and relentlessly. and to find this is something unique and unshakable. you hold on to those moments where your heart is warmed, your soul is illuminated, so much so that you can only put your hand to your chest so it absorbs the energy and keeps it from nearly bursting. those moments, that inexorable magnetism of the soul, the insatiablecuriosity of the mind, the often fleetingnature of the heart- that connect us deeply, if often momentarily, to a kindness in a person, the exactness of a place, a sight unseen that we will always crave again. it’s those moments that that move us so viscerally that we know our hearts and bodies will never leave.
but as explorers we are, travel on we must. and to leave, to experience this melancholy of departure is a pain that is all too familiar to lovers and travelers- sharing one last look, one last touch, a few final words that will inevitably seem to fall short. the beautiful tragedy of goodbye. be it to a person or a place, a moment or an opportunity. and the only tangible thing left in your hand and your heart is the inevitableuncertainty as to when you will feel that next- what road you will be on that it will hurt so badly again to have one last look, one last inhale, one last goodbye. and the hopeful certainty of returning is often the only thing often that keeps our feet movingforward.
and to finallyreturn, to that city or those arms, after being apart for an indefinite amount of space and time. a boardingpass in your hand, a once-familiar destination in your heart, you’re filled with the desire to embrace the experience still containing that same wide-eyed curiosity, exploring every enticingcurve and stubbly imperfection of a cobblestoned street or lover’s skin. and you can’t help but desire to relive the love you had- to walk down the same streets, hand in hand. to witness sunsets from such great heights, to taste food, to sip wine, to gaze endlessly at intangible vistas or into familiar eyes longing to dive in or to sit and absorb the view from afar, with your heart and your mind only slightly ajar. while retaining a deep, impenetrable connection that is transcendent, always, of a moment or a distance.
and even months later, to get a roll of film developed and realize that you know every angle that lies steps beyond the narrow view of what the shutter captured, or just how a pair of shoulders feel beneath a t-shirt now draped in black and white emulsion. and equally with a melancholic longing and a satisfying warmth in your heart, you know that no part of it will ever leave you.
and that, is why we travel. to seek, find, and rediscoverlove. to loseourselves and find eachother in the process, in the ebb and flow of insatiable exploration. to leave a part of our hearts in each place, knowing that it has also gained so much, that it can only move on stronger than before. and that finally our heartbeats will populate and empower so many city streets, so many strangers’ chests, so many nights and days and moments and lives that our own will exist to seek cadence beyond our humble chests.
i don’t really believe we were built to withstand the cold. we were created without fur covering out skin, but with legs that will move us wherever we want to go, an internal compass that tells us which way is south, and an affinity for beach-side margaritas. this is not a coincidence, this was god’s way of saying “no need to be a martyr- plan a winter escape.”
so let’s all uphold this inherent prophecy and get the hell out of here, for a long weekend or for the season. i give you my relentless, imploring blessing and the below list of travel essentials, for your winter escape. warm up, brooklyn.
1. the essential t-shirt, in black and white.
this is your canvas. slip it on as a second skin. build upon it or revel in its simplicity. let it complement your favorite scarf, your signature necklace, your sun-tanned seasoned–explorer skin. but most of all, let it be the last thing that gets in the way when you see the sun threatening to break the horizon without you witnessing it from a city’s perfect vantage point- just grab it, slip it on, and go.
pack lightly but with a purpose (or with a porpoise!) (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.) (…don’t try it.) choose accessories that bring color to your basics, a background to your story, a rhythm to your song, a gravity to your presence.
i rely on bright, blanket scarves from theodora and callum, bold eugenia kim headbands, my cryptically-engraved giles and brother railroad spike cuff, and any foreign coins that can be strung on a chain and remind me of where i’ve been, what i’ve seen, and the relativefutility of currency.
3. a crochet bikini top.
why? because it doubles as an top. and there is nothing more simplybeautiful. opt for handmade- check out etsy makersJayblue from LA and SolDreamer’s, out of australia.. and, well- watch out for the big waves i suppose.
i get lost every time I stand in the presence of this painting by giorgio de chirico, “gare montparnasse” or the melancholy of departure. the stark, industrial angles, the dark shadows, the nondescript perspective that equally places you in the middle of the scene but also never exactly being able to get lost in it. and then, finally, while contemplating the gravitas of the title your eyes wander to two dark shadows in the right middle ground of the painting. their bodies nearly indiscernible but the intimacy between them palpable, you realize finally the magnitude of this title. two people, parting ways. departing from a trip or from home. sharing one last look, one last touch, a few final words that will seem to fall short. a moment all too familiar to lovers and travelers. the light of the day casting elongated, dramatic shadows behind these two invokes the knowledge that the moment and memory is fleeting. that the idea of them and memory of them will exist long after their presence is gone. that they are victims to the passing of hours, to the setting sun, to the reality of time as we all are. these two beings, their slight, dark silhouettes among the only rounded, and lifelike shapes in this painting, convey a sense of realness and humanity among the industrial landscape. a glimpse of hope amid chaos. a beauty in the turmoil, of significance in the desolation, a melancholy in the departure.
for your love, I was a passenger. I was invited in, full of uncertainty and excitement. I checked my bag, I chose the seat that seemed practical yet would offer the best views- chances to see my familiar world from above, quiet and whole and tangible. and breathtaking. I relinquished my sense of control to see how high you’d take me. I breathed deep through my nerves and trusted you as we took off, the feeling both familiar and new. and when we settled at a sensible altitude I relaxed, I melted into my seat, I forgot all my fears. I was no longer a passenger but a part of this journey. and there was turbulence, of course- rough patches that made me question why I came, that made me grip my seat and close my eyes tight and believe in my blind trust for you and try to remember the advice I’d received in the beginning- how to react if everything came crashing down. but then my relief would swoop in as we straightened out, with just a few residual bumps I could ignore, I could breathe through.
and with his comfort I was surprised with the announcement- that we had begun our initial descent.
It was my first experience really traveling alone. it was weird leaving my hostel and not planning a route with someone else, not asking if anyone was hungry, not checking if we should stop for coffee, just popping in wherever. And this was nerve wracking not only because I was alone, but because Sevilla is laid out as if an ADD spider wove a web as its streets and I am utterly directionally-challenged. Upon my initial excitement the first day I let myself wander aimlessly and excitedly for about 5 minutes and realized I had no clue what direction I’d come from and sat down and looked at the map. After days of exploring the city somewhat aimlessly, every time I returned “home” at night, a new friend who worked at the hostel would always ask me if I’d finally gone to Plaza España. I would have to admit I hadn’t made it there yet… and he would insist, “you have to go Liz. Tomorrow- prometeme.” When I asked why, he just said “trust me, you must see it.” And so I’d promised him I would. View post