Arts & Culture
I went to Boston in search of real life and Transcendentalism and the wisdom of the seasons -- the grit of a tough, small, resilient red-brick city -- and I was never disappointed. I'd grown up between my parents' home in California and my schools in England, and when I graduated from college, I wanted to see what might be in the middle, not quite wide-open and not quite cloistered. Where better to land than Boston?
In honor of International Day of the Girl, we've asked five female travel writers to write a letter to a younger version of herself, telling the girl tales of the experiences she can look forward to, and the lessons she will learn from travel.
A small-town girl's big dreams eventually lead her beyond the library to Russia, Slovakia and Paris, always Paris. Read letter>>
A passion for language opens doors around the world -- and comes in handy when the writer drives a borrowed car into a cornfield ditch in Spain. Read letter>>
A child's early attempt to dig a backyard hole to Africa is later answered with a real life lessons in a Tanzanian village. Read letter>>
A girl concerned with following the expected course discovers freedom when she later chooses a life on the road. Read letter>>
A family connection to travel affords the writer a childhood of unique experiences -- a tradition she later continues with her own children. Read letter>>
I came across this photo of you, and that little face of yours made me smile. It wasn't just the chubby expression or the pink swim cap, but the tongue darting in delight and determination, the in-it-to-win-it glee of a fearless 4-year old. That our travel agent mom is at your side is perfect because she's the reason you were on yet another vacation (this one at Wet-n-Wild, Orlando, circa 1978) and the reason travel will inspire your life as it ultimately does.
Here's the thing: You're going to drive a borrowed car into a ditch in a cornfield outside Altamira, Spain.
You are not going to get hurt, though you are going to feel like an idiot when you realize what you have done. You will have to go get help, which means you'll walk into a tiny country bar where there are two big farmers in blue overalls having an afternoon break. You are going to explain to them, in your halting Spanish, that you can't get your car out of a ditch in a nearby cornfield and ask them if they could come give you a hand. You just need a little . . . push.
You're just a tiny girl, sitting on a tree branch, reading about someone's adventures far away. Your world is your family and house and school, and you can't imagine it will ever be any bigger than that.
Right now you get to go to town -- to the library -- and that's where the world opens up, ever since the first book you checked out with your brand new library card. You devoured "My Side of the Mountain," and you've thought ever since about that boy who made his own way. You make your way in the old apple orchard and creek and field across the road, but you know there's more to the world out there.
If only you knew how much of it you will discover.
I see you cruising down I-95 in the family station wagon. You're wrestling with Janet and James and crying out, "Are we there yet?" Your parents are in the front seat singing along to Bob Dylan and blocking out the mayhem.
You don't know it now, but this is the start of a life full of adventures. Relax, settle in and enjoy the ride.
Those summer trips to the Outer Banks were your first step into the greater world. For a young girl raised in the privileged suburbs of Washington D.C., North Carolina was a wonderland of beaches that breathed danger and adventure with frothy riptides and tow-headed surfer boys from faraway places like Florida.
So, you're feeling stuck in your hometown of Last Chance, Idaho, where cows outnumber people, and you're forced to share a tiny room with your sister Amy, who won't let you touch her porcelain doll or her new rock tumbler.
People from all over the world pass through your town to get to Yellowstone National Park to hang out with bears and buffalos and see Old Faithful erupt. You're curious about their peculiar accents and the way they dress.
You want to be a world traveler just like them.
We spent our days like this, Ernest and I. His job was to shuttle around a group of grad students from Harvard-in the morning, to the government ministries where they interned, and at night, back to a gated, barb-wired compound where they slept. When one of the interns urged her little sister to come join-just pitch an article and come research it-Ernest was saddled with a 25-year-old white American who had places to be only if she could arrange interviews, and zero grasp of what "post-conflict" means for travel.
I had struck up a conversation with Ernest when I sat next to him in my hotel lobby, waiting for my room to be cleaned so I could check in. Before I could ponder why he'd compare Vancouver to, say, Ciudad Juarez in Mexico or Cairo, he added, "Now China, there's a place I wanted to go. But Berta here" -- he nodded over to his wife -- "she put the eighty-six on that one."
I had spent three months in India the year before, three months during which I fell hopelessly in love with the country while also becoming intimately familiar with the ailment that most often befalls its visitors.
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