meaningful travel

The way of meaning

by Steve Brock on September 25, 2014

Artist Tools

A quick trip over to dictionary.com gave me two definitions of the word, “meaning:”

1)     That which is intended to be, or actually is, expressed or indicated.

2)   The end, purpose or significance of something.

Both apply when we talk about meaningful travel. And interestingly, neither imply that for travel to be meaningful, you have to travel far.

Case in point: This last weekend, my wife and I headed up to Edmonds, WA, about 15 minutes north of Seattle. It’s far enough away not to seem overly familiar yet close enough to reach without concerns of it being a “big trip.”

Why go? Because that weekend 23 different artists’ studios were open to the public. This, we found out from one of the artists we visited, is the 9th year they’ve done the tours of the studios. I’d call them more open houses than tours, but why get picky about terms? The result was that we were able to meet dozens of artists (some studios hosted multiple artists), see their works and get to know the art scene there better.

We also had a wonderful lunch, wandered the extensive farmer’s market in downtown Edmonds, visited some favorite stores and overall had a great day on the last (and glorious) day of summer.

All well and good, you might say, but why was it meaningful?

Let’s go back to the second definition of “meaning,” “the end, purpose or significance of something.” What was the purpose of our trip? To visit artist’s studios and see art. But here’s the real question: What was the significance of it?

That’s harder to answer, yet more important. Significance is often not something that is readily explained.

Think about the people or experiences that have mattered most to you. Can you summarize quickly and succinctly why they matter? Chances are, you have to think about it, reflect on it and even then, your answers may feel either overblown or inadequate, like trying to describe the color yellow or the smell of a rose.

Often what matters most to us is what is hardest to express to others. Meaning isn’t always translatable.

Regarding our trip this weekend the short answer – at least for now – is that our time was meaningful because it reminded us of how important art is in our lives. Not just individually, but to us as a couple:

  • Our first date was to an art museum. Make that three museums. In one day.
  • I knew on our third date – in the garden of another art museum – that this was the woman I was going to marry. The fact that we were surrounded by the beauty of nature and art didn’t lead me to that realization. Or maybe it did in ways I’m only now understanding.
  • Our oldest son is a graphic design major in college. He called last night to talk about how to balance a passion for art with ministry and serving others. Our words to him? Whoever said they weren’t or couldn’t be the same thing?
  • As I passed my youngest son’s room a few minutes ago, I see that he is deeply engaged in his latest art project.

So why was our mini-trip to visit artists’ studios so meaningful? I can’t tell you more than I just did. But perhaps, as is the way of meaning, that’s enough.

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Go ahead, dream

by Steve Brock on June 19, 2014

Rothenburg StreetsThe photo above is a familiar scene to anyone who has been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the most popular of medieval towns along Germany’s famed Romantic Road. My guess is that if you look up the city name in Google Images, you’ll see more shots of this one Y shaped intersection than of any other scene from the picturesque city.

I like the shot (which I augmented with textures to give a bit more of the feel of the place) , but in part due to its popularity, it is far from my favorite of the many photos I took of the town. I have others like these below that I prefer because they bring me back to the exact time and place. All the associations, even of light and temperature flood back when I see these photos because now, they are highly personal.

Rothenburg Fountain

Rothenburg Gate

Rothenburg Sunrise

Yet the location captured by so many others still has a special meaning for me because that was the image that was imprinted in my mind before we visited the town. It was, in short, the image of my dreams.

If you’ve read The Meaningful Traveler for any time, you’ve likely detected the ongoing advice to “live in the present.” On a trip, the present is the trip, the real-time experience you have there. Be present to it with all your senses, and you’ll derive greater joy and satisfaction from your trip.

But before the trip? That is the time of dreaming, of looking to the future with longing. I once read of a woman who’d never left the state in which she was born. Late in life, her adult children decided to take her on a cruise to the Caribbean. They booked the trip a year in advance and over that year, the son noted a profound change in his elderly mother. For the first time in years, she had something to look forward to.

When I read that story, I must confess, I thought it sad that something like a trip was all the woman had to look forward to. But as I get older (and more aware of grace in all aspects of life), I see her anticipation of the trip not as sad, but as beautiful.

I have long recognized that anticipation before and reflection after a trip can be the most meaningful aspects of the journey. But now, as my own family has undergone a very difficult year and my wife and I plan out a trip for next year, I’m reminded of how powerful that anticipation of a trip can be.

We now are entering summer when many of you too will be traveling or looking forward to traveling. As you plan your trips, you’ll find iconic images like the popular one of Rothenburg that will define the place for you in your imagination. Once you get there, you’ll likely notice that the image is close, but not exactly like the reality before you. And that’s fine because the image has served its purpose. It gave you something tangible to hold onto as you think about your trip. Anticipate what you’ll discover. Imagine the wonders you’ll encounter.

So go ahead, enjoy your trip now, before you even finish packing your bags. Enjoy the anticipation. Let it be something you look forward to. Let it forever be a special part of that special trip.

Dream.

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Forgetting what you love

by Steve Brock on April 25, 2014

Landing in Salt Lake CityLast week I was in Chicago for work. I had an early morning return flight, so I was up before the sun and walking into the terminal a little after 6:00 a.m. As I did so, I turned and looked out on the pinkish glow of the morning sky. “Nice light,” I thought, the photographer in me about as awake as the rest of me. Then I turned and walked into the terminal.

Even as I waited in the security line I wondered this, “What has happened? A year ago, I would have had my camera out and would have found something – anything – to photograph here.” Even in the terminal, waiting to board, I looked out the large windows near the “L” concourse and thought about taking a picture.

“Nah,” I reasoned. “Too much of a hassle. Plus, I already have a ton of airport shots.” At that point, I headed to the gate to wait and to forget I even had the brief desire to photograph.

Two days later at home, I’m on my desktop computer where all of my photos are stored. For some reason, I toggle through the screens and end up on Lightroom, the program I use for processing and organizing my images. The photo you see above was displayed. I have no idea why. I hadn’t been looking at it or any other photos taken around the same time. But Lightroom can have a mind of its own sometimes.

It’s not a great shot. In fact, I added some texture to it in Photoshop to cover the reflection from the inside of the plane cabin that occurred when I took the photo one evening landing in Salt Lake City on a stopover heading home. But I just stared at it, entranced by the colors and the clouds and the reminders that images can bring to you of trips past.

It made me sad.

Why? Because it made me realize that in the busyness of the last several months, I have let photography slip away. I had my trusty point and shoot camera with me in Chicago and the camera on my phone is quite good and always with me. It’s not like I lacked the means. I just lacked the desire.

We can become so busy with things, often very good things, that we let others go. It’s natural in a world where we cannot add even a second to our daily allotment of 24 hours. But last week made me realize that in the inevitability of limited time, I don’t want to lose what matters.

The funny thing is, my busyness right now is mostly spent on other things that matter a great deal. It’s not like I’ve become addicted to video games or watching marathon sessions of House of Cards. In life, we will always have to make choices not so much between good and bad – we’re usually OK with that – but between good and best.

So here’s my question for you: What’s your best? What brings life and joy to you? And are you spending time with it, whatever that might be? Are you investing in what you love or are you allowing the distractions of life to pull you away? What, in your heart of hearts, do you miss right now?

I think I’m in a season of rest, a pause from photography. I’ll still take a shot here and there, but I think there will come a time when the longing to create a powerful image overwhelms me. I will at that point do whatever it takes to take whatever it is that moves me.

But how about for you? Are you in a season of rest? Or have you simply let slide that which fulfills and satisfies you? Listen to those longings. Heed them. After all, you only have 24 hours each day to do not just what seemingly has to be done, but what should be done.

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Remembering what we don’t understand

by Steve Brock January 27, 2014

Why we remember aspects of trips long after the event is a mystery. We don’t have to understand them. But we can reflect and thereby enjoy the trip anew.

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The one less traveled – Part 2

by Steve Brock January 17, 2014

A journey to Arches National Park reveals that it’s not the way most or least traveled that matters, but how you respond to the path you’ve chosen.

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The one less traveled – Part 1

by Steve Brock January 8, 2014

Listening to Robert Frost read his familiar poem changed for me the way I perceived the poem, how I think about travel and how all of us might learn to see beyond the familiar.

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Coincidental travel

by Steve Brock November 21, 2013

When we meet strangers on a trip, it’s easy to assume those are just chance encounters. But we may be wrong about that assumption…

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