I USUALLY WRITE “HOLIDAY” on my immigration card in the blank that asks for the purpose of my trip. It’s not a lie, but it is not really true. I have a secret mission. I’m not necessarily laying on the beach or sitting in bars sipping margaritas. Although I might be. I am there to gather intelligence. For one thing, it’s part of my job. That’s what I tell the IRS and it is true. As an illustrator it might be my business to know what almost anything in the world looks like. I might have to draw it some day. And the things I see while traveling do come up, in an uncanny way, months or years later in my job. So I leave as many footprints as I can and I make lots of drawings and photographs. I want to see what the world looks like and what it is doing. I travel to learn.
I think of it almost as a spiritual responsibility, like going to Mecca for a Muslim, except it does not really matter where I go. It’s an instinct to just go somewhere. Even if it’s in your own town, to a neighborhood where you’ve never been before. Traveling, especially alone, breaks things down, and breaks you down, in a good way. You slowly give up your cultural assumptions, control strategies, and false beliefs partly because they no longer work where you are. Nobody notices the concepts you try to project about who you are, the ideas you want people to have about you, like: I’m the famous but humble author, the involved working super-mom, the good and kind person, really, the fearless boat captain, the laissez-faire hippy, the philosophical traveler, the whatever. None of it is true.
Unless you can afford to stay in the best hotels and take taxis everywhere, and are able to insulate yourself from where you are, you will probably run into some challenges to your personal reality. You don’t have to, but the opportunity is there. If you do become honest with yourself, then you might have to treat others with the same openness and compassion you have for yourself as you come apart. You are likely to pay great attention to chance encounters, words, and conversations. You have to attend to very small details. You have an itinerary but are not too attached to it. The virtues one nurtures while traveling are those of a spiritual exercise.
Thoughts that occur to me has while traveling, especially out of the country, are worth a lot to me. I want to remember them before I get sucked back into the powerful gravity field of America. I may sink back into forgetfulness once I am captured again by my own cultural bubble of reality. So I carry a sketchbook and I take notes.
I don’t guarantee any of it except to say that it is an accurate and truthful record of what I experienced and saw. That is enough for me.