Flying in full color: how to travel without getting divorced

Travel tip #1 : get good at waiting I'm a travel junkie.

I want to go everywhere.

I don't care to spend money on jewelry or shoes or a new car. Just give me Southern Africa or Honduras or Tuscany. When I check into some tiny, dimly-lit hotel that is run by a little family and their mangy dog -  that's my happy place. My husband and I are starting to make some international travel plans for this year, so I thought I'd share my hard-won travel tips.

For the sake of preserving your relationship with your partner, it’s important to expel any preconceived romantic notions of traveling.

The actual traveling - the airport, plane, train, bus and taxi -  is about as romantic as bedbugs. You will not have bathed, eaten properly, nor slept a reclining position in an inordinate amount of time. You will be uncertain of what possessed you to leave your own zip code.

He will be worse.

He will smell like a sweaty donkey and will make stupid jokes to the guy at the check-in counter. He will not stop bouncing his leg.

I don’t recommend watching those old movies with the soft, dreamy, black and white travel scenes on ships or trains. It will skew your expectations. In reality, you will not be wearing one of those pillbox hats with the net thingy over your face. You have no hankie to wave. It will be nothing like that. Watching those films and thinking it should be like that, will just break your heart and cause you to wonder why your spouse is not acting like Cary Grant.

You did not marry Cary Grant. You did marry the live man that is standing next to you in the Munich airport, giggling at the prevalence of German porn.

But don’t go thinking you are some great prize at the moment, either. Your pants that still have something sticky on them where you sat on something sticky at the train station. Your underwear, (not the fun “vacation panties” that you have stashed in the bottom of the suitcase) will be the same underwear you have been wearing - if you have calculated time zones correctly - for three days.

So if you must, go ahead and watch the romantic travel films of the 1930s and smile smugly because you know it’s all a big myth. Because the sooner you get to that place where you smile kindly when the stupid jokes are made and the taxi driver uses twine to keep the passenger side door shut -- the better your world will be.

Because then, without resorting to murder or divorce, you arrive at your destination and are confronted with all the wonderful and terrible experiences that come with being in a foreign place and needing to learn how to use a composting toilet.

That’s when you understand who you really are.

Being removed from everything that is familiar uncovers aspects of you that lay dormant at home. You look at your Not Cary Grant and watch him come into his own perfect focus.  You're able to unabashedly adore his floundering attempts to use Pimsleur’s Beginning Italian to talk his way out of a parking ticket in Lucca. You will respect his willingness to try the pile of "meat" that the street vendor in Cape Town just offered him. The conversations that arise while enjoying trdelnik at the Prague Christmas market have a different depth than the ones occurring in real life, which tend to be interrupted by the need to switch the clothes from the washer to dryer.

Travel strips you down. By removing the veil of habit, routine and conventional existence, travel reveals who you both truly are.

So go, even though travel can be uncomfortable and dirty and exhausting. Forget how you think things are supposed to go and embrace the unknown. Go see the world - go get lost and get found.

There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind.*

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Go well, Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela died today. As I always do when I'm heartbroken, I write. I find myself tongue-tied and not sure what to say, so I'll just start at the beginning.

When I was 15 years old, I pasted this in my journal:


I felt connected to South Africa and South Africans, for absolutely no reason. I had never been there. I didn't even know anyone who had ever been there. My love was completely illogical. And it was so deeply rooted that my toenails ached for a place I had never seen.

I auditioned for The Power of One and when they didn't hire me, I cried. Not because I didn't get the role, but because it seemed like my best chance to get to South Africa. No such luck. My love affair would have to remain long distance.

When I quit acting and moved to Virginia in search of myself, I got my GED and at the age of 28, I started college. In 2008 I had the chance to study abroad. I finally had my chance to go to South Africa. I was ecstatic as I took my antimalarials and set foot on the land that felt as much like home as any place I had ever been. I studied environmental science and anthropology for four weeks. We traveled around the country. Johannesburg, Venda, Kruger, Bushbuck Ridge, Blyde River Canyon.

I found myself in South Africa.

I stepped out of my old self - the former actor, exhausted from an 18-year career in the film industry, feeling lost and ill-prepared for real life. I learned how to be brave there. How to connect with people. How to live from my heart with an authenticity and an honesty that had always terrified me. I was stripped down there. For the month-long trip, I had one small duffle-bag that contained four T-shirts and two pairs of jeans. I had no room to carry my fear and insecurity.

And I got to walk in the footsteps of Mandela, the man who had changed the world. A man who reinvented himself, time and time again. Who admitted his weaknesses and believed that we can only be strong together. His feelings on community and justice and truth burrowed into my soul and made a home there. His tireless efforts for peace and compassion became my inspiration.

When I got home from South Africa, my only regret was that my husband hadn't been with me. Within 7 months we were back on a plane to Cape Town. I wanted to see Robben Island, the prison where Mandela had spent 18 years of his life. I stood there and wept. Not because I was sad, but because I was overwhelmed by his enduring faith in humanity. I cried because I was overwhelmed by the beauty of his existence.

robben island 2

I remain overwhelmed that I got to live in the world at the same time as this great man. I got to breathe the same air and see the same sky. We are all connected through Ubuntu, Mandela's guiding philosophy: I am because we are.

I am because he was.

I am able to pursue my dreams because he demonstrated astonishing bravery. I'm able to forgive, because he forgave on the deepest level. I'm able to contribute to the world, because he demonstrated that one person can make a difference. I'm able to cause a little trouble with the unacceptable status quo, because he was a total badass.

I strive to move through the world with a tiny fraction of his presence.

And now he is gone and I'm heartbroken.

I always found it so reassuring to know that he was in the world.

But someone like him can never really die. The impact Mandela had will live forever. And although I keep crying, I know that most of those tears are in gratitude for the fact that there ever was a Mandela to miss.

Go well, Madiba.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others"

- Nelson Mandela

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