I remember being 25 and sauntering off an airplane. I remember wearing a red sweater with bell sleeves, dark jeans with a subtle sparkle, and my favorite black, lace-up boots with rubber heels—the ones that my Chinese best friend had to wait forever for me to take off whenever I visited her home. I remember wearing a maroon velvet hat, bought some 10 hours earlier at Heathrow Airport. The hat probably didn’t go with the rest of the outfit, but I didn’t care. I felt good. I walked nonchalantly to the arrivals gate and found my parents’ faces.
“You look different,” my mother told me. “I almost didn’t recognize you. I saw this elegant woman walking toward us and thought, ‘That can’t be Diana, she’s not that tall.’”
I nodded, knowing that my mother had noticed some meaningful change in me that I sensed, but didn’t fully understand. Now I realize the accuracy of her remark: I looked bigger, because I was bigger. In some unexplainable way, I had expanded.
That isn’t the only time traveling has done this for me. In 2010, when I returned from a two week tour of Ireland and Scotland, I again felt enlivened—by people, by scenery, by possibilities. This trip, as with any of my traveling adventures, was not perfect. Nor was it without heartache and tears. Amid the many wonders and joys I experienced, I also felt loss and confusion and desolation. Some of this was fueled by my fear that this would be my last big trip anywhere—that this was as good as it was going to get. Even so, I returned to American soil ready to try, to work, to become. I believe it was on the strength of this energy that I completed my first novel and began to play the harp.
Now, having returned from a much closer trip to the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in Parsippany, New Jersey, I again feel that creative energy, that desire to be more—or, not more, but myself, completely—no bigger, but no smaller either.
This, for me, is one of the gifts of traveling—the opportunity to find out who you are when you’re not among familiar, accepted surroundings and situations. It’s the freedom to allow yourself to see the hidden parts of yourself—and perhaps, even begin to cherish them, believe in them, and act from them.
What are the gifts of travel for you?