Elaine writes: What makes people decide to travel? Given that I am primarily a hermit, I am drawing on my own perspective to understand what keeps many of us at home and away from the airport. Well first, I feel safe in my familiar spaces. Always knowing where my two favorite places are, the bedroom and the kitchen, gives me a feeling of security. There is no planning required for my basic needs like food, water, shelter and the company of loved ones since I don’t wander very far from any of them. I usually don’t feel a great need to socialize so I don’t feel I’m “missing out” on the world by maintaining my privacy and avoiding strangers. And, if I feel a great need for the exotic, there is always Netflix, Amazon, TED talks, iBooks and take-out Chinese restaurants.
So what am I doing here on a 800 km pilgrimage in northern Spain? Why did I leave my cushy job as a psychologist and a beautiful house on the water in a place that Barron’s Magazine called “The Best Place to Raise a Family in 2011?…the name even says it all…Niceville, Florida!
I know it’s important to have a partner who pushes me out of my comfort zone from time to time, but that can’t be the whole reason. I wouldn’t feel so happy on this pilgrimage if I were purely doing it for someone else. Oh, and I do feel happy. I sing on this Camino every day with a zeal and outright abandon I had no idea I was capable of–especially since I have a lousy singing voice. It is noteworthy that many of the other women I have spoken to on the Camino de Santiago also sing at the top of their lungs (at a safe distance from the others) and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” seems to be an all around favorite. Another added incentive is cost which, given Spain’s economy and the declining euro, is very reasonable. Joe and I do like some of the finer things in life. For him it’s fine cuisine and coffee, and for me it’s a quiet, private place to rest and unwind at the end of a 20 km-day. Despite these somewhat stringent requirements by Camino standards, we are spending less than 100 euro per day. Some who are traveling with us are spending less than half that because they are staying at the communal albergues everyday for 5-10 euros and buying food at local grocery stores for an average of 25-30 euro per day.
I am learning that not just every day, but every hour can be a new adventure. Today we trekked up a mountain, walked through a forest that smelled of fresh pine trees where we stopped for a picnic lunch and listened to nature’s equivalent of a crowded housing project with about a hundred birds in one tree all singing/chirping at once. And that was just the morning! After arriving in the small village of Atapuerca (the “birthplace” of European civilization 900,000 years ago) we sat and discussed politics with some Brits, Germans and an Australian. One of them asked, “is it true that 90 percent of Americans do not own a passport?” I couldn’t answer that question, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true. I personally did not obtain a passport until I was 45! So I guess this brings me back full circle. I am not sure why some people have the wanderlust and take to traveling like fish to water. Is it in the genes? An uncommon level of curiosity? Confidence in navigation and problem-solving skills? A desire to meet people of diverse thoughts and cultures? I imagine it is probably “all of the above.” I still don’t know for sure. But, let me say, as a person who can speak from first-hand experience, that you can start out with “none of the above” and still find yourself singing “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” for 200 kilometers in a totally unfamiliar country with complete strangers and surprisingly love every moment of it! I guess it’s true that “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”