Road Trip Guide - Page 6 - At home on the highway continued

Road Trip Guide
- Page 6
At home on the highway continued
could scrape together from every cup holder and seat-cushion crevice in the car.

This is how I learned to travel.

At the time, I didn’t really realize it was traveling. And if the traditional travel magazines and stories are to be believed, it wasn’t.

But these trips showed me how much more there was outside my little troubled neighborhood in Denver’s east side. I got glimpses of communities where the ways of life were completely different from what my entire experience had been thus far.

When we first ventured farther into the Rocky Mountains than I had ever been before, I watched out the window as we passed by towns that fit into little valleys between the mountains, like the open palm of a hand, and I imagined what it would be like to live in a place where you could make out every single house from the highway.

When we first approached the West Coast, I marveled at the first palm trees I’d ever seen and at how Los Angeles smelled. I hadn’t realized that a place could smell different.

Often when we traveled, we stayed for a while in the communities we’d ended up in. We’d talk to locals, make friends, develop routines, meander like we meant to stay and had all the time in the world to get around to the sights.

These travels with my mother across the country in a car named Betty may have been motivated more by desperation than by a sense of adventure, but they taught me so much about travel.

I learned to treasure the sight of those blue rest-stop signs along the highway, and how to block out the bright rest-stop lights so you can get a passable night’s sleep in the car (and how to get a passable night’s sleep in a car).

I learned how to stretch a dollar and extend the life of a tank of gas (like buying a loaf of bread instead of a sandwich and keeping a cruising speed in the slow lane). I learned how to read a road map and cope with a radiator leak on an isolated stretch of highway.

Most important, I learned that travel isn’t just for the jet-setting rich. It isn’t just about spring break trips, seeing “the sights” or checking off “must-see” items on your to-do list. It can be that too, but it encompasses so much more. I learned that while our society tends to conflate “travel” with “vacation,” travel is really about the many and myriad ways that we move around the world.

Travel can mean being the first of your family to make a new life in a new country. It can mean making a treacherous days long trek across a desert in search of a better life. It can mean chugging Big Gulps to stay awake while you haul goods across the country in a semi-truck. It can mean military service or chasing the job market. It can mean a single mother crisscrossing the country with her kids in tow, fleeing troubles that can’t be solved by mileage.

Ultimately, travel is more than just “going away,” or even escaping to a “destination.”

It is also arriving in someone else’s home, places with troubles all their own. Not to mention that when we travel, we bring with us all of our own biases and behaviors cultivated by the homes we are coming from.

When my family traveled, our truck full to the brim with our belongings, we were quite literally bringing our home with us wherever we went.

Growing up this way, poor and on the road, I saw wild differences and surprising similarities between communities just a hundred miles apart, and I saw the small ways that our arrival in these places changed some things and in some ways changed us.

Even if we stay in resorts designed to make us feel like we’re miles away from reality, we leave a footprint everywhere we go, for better or for worse — a carbon footprint, a contribution to economies or social dynamics, impacts on individuals, impressions about the places we come from or the demographics we represent.

While the travel industry remains very much dominated by a “go here, do this” model, I try to remember these lessons from my childhood on the road and look for stories that acknowledge all the ways people move around the world.