This morning I met a young woman named Claudia. She was checking out of our hotel, and I was preparing to sit in the lounge for the day, drinking mint tea while I battle a stomach bug. Claudia reminded me why I travel.
She grew up in Switzerland in the 1990s. I grew up in Canada in the 1960s.
While she was waiting for her travel companions, she started talking to my husband Julian who was sitting on the stairs doing up his hiking boots. The hotel Douar Samra is a quirky place run by an equally quirky woman named Jacqueline. Meals are takenn at a set time at tables pushed together in a room filled with brightly coloured Berber carpets and cushions. The intimacy quickly breaks down any barriers.
The dining room at Douar Samra
Claudia and Julian established that she had lived for a year in Vancouver while working in tourism. When I approached them to wish him a good day, he introduced us. He had told her I’m not feeling well, so she gave me a packet of herbal tea labelled “Women’s Energy.” She told me that she didn’t feel well either the day she arrived in Morocco, but she felt better after drinking the tea.
Julian left for his hike, and I stood talking with Claudia. She has a sweet, gentle and wise manner that drew me to her. I asked where she’s from, and she patted her backpack and told me, “Home is where the heart is.” She explained that she is travelling the world while she gains experience for a career in tourism. Her plans at this point are unformed. She goes where her heart leads her.
I told her that when I left high school, I also went travelling for an extended period of time and it changed my life.
She asked what I’d experienced that had had such a profound effect.
My gap year was a long time ago, and I had to think for a moment to give her the genuine answer her question deserved.
I explained that the world was very different now than it was in the 1970s. My parents were English. They had lived through both the Great Depression and WWII. My father had served in the war. I told her that they were lovely people, but that their experiences had made their outlook on life narrow. My brother followed the track they set out for him. But my travels had shown me that there are many ways to be in the world.
Oh, she exclaimed. Switzerland is narrow too. Her brother also seems content to follow the path that has been set out for him. Her parents struggle with her choice to travel, but her mother is gradually coming around. Instead of feeling ashamed because Claudia isn’t married with children, as other mothers’ daughters are, she is opening up to Claudia and their relationship is changing.
Her travel companions arrived. They were ready to leave.
Claudia said, “I don’t want to go back to the way it was.”
“You won’t.” I told her. “You can’t.”
Spontaneously, we moved together in a hug. “Let it change you.” I told her.
“I will.” She promised.
It has been a long time since I’ve thought about my first experience of travel. It’s been a long time since I’ve acknowledged that travel changed my life. To an outsider, it may seem that I’ve followed a conventional path: education, career, marriage and child. The change is on the inside.
Travel fed my curiosity about people and life. It taught me that to be different is not to be wrong. It taught me to accept change and the unexpected. It taught me to value connection wherever I find it
Claudia and I had spoken for no more than ten minutes.
Moments like this are why I travel.