UPDATE: I’m currently inviting you to share a new story of connection from Asia here. I can’t wait to read your stories!
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“Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”
— Augustine of Hippo
Last Friday, I set up what I expected to be a very simple giveaway on the blog. As a [very honored and excited] contributor to the latest Lonely Planet Travel Anthology, I’d received two copies of the book from the publisher, and to help share in my excitement for being part of the collection, I decided to give away one of the copies here.
I kept the method of entering the giveaway fairly straightforward—I merely asked people to leave a comment on the post, answering the following question:
What was your favorite travel experience?
I wrote up a quick post to announce the giveaway, snapped a few photos of the anthology to use across social media, and hit ‘publish’—after that, all there was left to do was wait.
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For the rest of the day that Friday, I was supposed to be working on an Etsy painting commission—but I couldn’t help taking frequent breaks to refresh the post and see what comments had come in. The last time I ran a giveaway here on the blog, reading people’s responses had been my favorite part of the process, so again my curiosity was high.
And again, my curiosity was not disappointed. Within minutes of publishing the post, there was a comment from my long-time online friend Pauline, sharing about her time on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail through northwest Spain:
“I have SO MANY amazing travel experiences. If I have to choose just one, I think it would have to be from the Camino. Our group of walkers all checked into the same albergue in Los Arcos. Come dinner time, we decided to go to a tiny bar in front of the cathedral. We ended up taking every single seat and keeping the bartenders busy the entire night—it was like our own private party in the middle of Spain. I loved every moment that night, and I’m always in awe of the connections you can make despite language barriers and cultural differences.”
By 10 p.m. that night, the post had around 45 comments. This was about the same number of entries my last giveaway had received, so the quantity wasn’t too surprising—but what did leave me altogether astonished were two other things.
First—the sheer breadth of places that you all mentioned. As I read through the comments, it felt as though I were almost flipping through an atlas: You wrote about Canada and Cambodia, Slovenia and Sri Lanka, Scotland and South Africa. Other memories were from Mexico, Morocco, and Mongolia, and from Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Botswana. It seemed like there was no corner of the world you all hadn’t traversed—from Peru to Portugal to a remote jungle village in Papau New Guinea; from Estonia to Easter Island to the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia.
Although I still had a little work left to do on my commission, I couldn’t help but set it aside one more time and pull out my notebook, which I normally reserve for to-do lists and schedules. With a ballpoint pen, I drew the most hastily drawn map the world has ever seen, settling for the mere suggestion of a continent’s shape instead of the exact shape itself. Then, with a blue highlighter, I went through each comment and placed one blue dot on the map for every one of your experiences.
By the time I was finished, I couldn’t believe what the map held—all in all, your favorite travel memories spanned 36 countries across five continents.
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But it was more than just the breadth of your responses that impressed me so deeply—it was the depth of the stories you shared.
So many of your responses went far beyond simply naming a place—you took the time to tell me why that place mattered to you, and I can’t tell you what an honor it was for me to read every story—once, twice, often three or four times, just to make sure I’d absorbed the details and little moments properly.
And as I kept reading through your comments (which soon tallied somewhere closer to 60 entries from six (!) continents), I was astonished by another thing: That while the location of your favorite travel memories varied greatly, there was one clear and common theme running through them, which had presented itself from the beginning in Pauline’s story about the Camino:
The power of connecting with others on our journeys.
Connection has become the very lifeblood of my vision and vocation, so it was a serious thrill to discover how many of you also place value on connecting with others. Here are just four of your stories that came to immediate life for me on the screen:
“In 1986, our Fiat Ritmo was traveling through Greece, fueled by my father’s love for classic history and my mother’s enthusiasm for beauty and nature. That old car of ours broke down twice, was towed, repaired, towed again, and didn’t manage to bring us to Mycenae in time for a visit. The archaeological site was already closed and the keeper was going home. When the man noticed my father’s delusion, he gave him a lemon as a present “for his little daughter.” To me, such a gift represents hospitality, friendship, and the value of little things.”
“Travel is such a wonderful opportunity to connect with people and one of my most amazing experiences was meeting a family in the village of Cassis in the south of France. My husband and I struck up a conversation with a woman and her young daughter at the train station, joined them and more of their family for coffee and patisserie at their home, stayed for drinks of the local liqueur and talk of family, genealogy, and local history, then returned the next day for a personal tour of the hillside neighborhood. It was such a lovely time, and we treasure the experience and the lasting friendship.”
“My favorite travel experience was on the overnight train from Zurich to Amsterdam this summer. I was leaning out the window in the corridor and a boy came up and joined me. We got to talking and I asked him if he would like to play chess, as I always carry a pocket chess set with me wherever I go. He said yes, and so we settled at the end of the carriage on the floor and played chess for the better part of the night!
I taught him a new version of chess my sister and I invested called anti-chess. I learned so much about Switzerland from him, and we talked about everything Swiss—Swiss cheese, Roger Federer, the Bernina Pass. Next morning, he asked for my name just so he could give me credit when he taught anti-chess to all his friends. We wished each other the best of luck and parted ways. I don’t know anything about him, except that he made one mundane train journey through Europe very memorable for me!
Both Zurich and Amsterdam were beautiful to me, but I feel on any journey, it’s the people that make the trip magical.”
“One of my favorite travel moments arose from disappointment. I had made my way to Iskenderun, Turkey, late last winter, following rumors of the possibility of passage to Israel via boat. No boat, so I decided to head back north. I had five hours to fill on my last day in town and there was this one view that had been on my mind since I had arrived.
I make my way to the pier and settle in to sketch the waterfront and mountainous backdrop. I’m getting into the groove, soaking in the sun, weeding through the details, and at some point between outlining the view in pencil and picking up my pen to start inking, I am surrounded by wide eyes, curious smiles, and Turkish chatter. A group of kids had snuck up and wanted to see what I was doing.
I smile back, apologize for not knowing what they are saying, and hand over my stack of finished, painted postcards as a way to engage without words. They love the one with the pelican from Izmir. I get an idea. I point at my pen, then at them, miming drawing in the air, and get a round of enthusiastic nods and wider smiles.
I dig deep into my pack for extra paper, the parents have drawn closer at this point, questions of where I’m from, am I a student? Nope, tourist. One-word sentences back and forth, their English better than my Turkish. Out comes the paper, I hand around pens, and we’re huddled around my bench sketching away.
At some point drawing turns into a language lesson, I learn the words for bird (kuş) and foot (ayak), and I am being called abla (‘sister’—I love this Turkish custom). Drawings are signed and gifted to me, cheeks are kissed, I thank the parents for stopping, grateful for the connection, disappointment at not finding the boat forgotten.”
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By the end of the weekend, I knew I had to do something—to honor your stories, and to thank you for taking the time to share them. And I decided that the perfect ‘something’ was to create a more finished version of that first messy map I drew.
Illustrated maps have long been a favorite sketching project of mine, but never before have I created one specifically for this blog. Usually, each red dot on one of my maps has the name of a place beside it. This map is a little different, though—next to each red dot below is one of your names, marking the location of your favorite travel experience. And each illustrated ‘vignette,’ or what I like to call the small sketches embedded in the map, also stands for one of the places you wrote about.
As I sat on the floor of San Salvador’s airport on Monday—painting the map during another seven-hour layover on my way back to Uruguay—I couldn’t help asking myself: Is this the start of something new? Perhaps we can all keep collaborating, sharing our stories and creating art that speaks to a real spirit of community and connection. (And if that sounds like something you’d like to see more of on this blog, please feel free to let me know.)
There’s a lot happening in the world right now that would lead us to believe how disconnected we are from each other—but if this map says anything, I believe it’s that connection is real, alive, and important to us all.
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