A Simple Challenge Stirs Complex Emotions

Travel Photo Challenge as therapy.

In this time of Corona our lives have become unrecognisable. Few would have believed this was even possible six short months ago. Millions have died worldwide, freedoms so many of us took for granted have been stripped away in the interests of The Greater Good. Conspiracy theories abound and in affluent, Western societies there is much talk of Orwellian Measures and more. I suspect those living in poverty don’t have time for such things. Amongst other things, restrictions have brought travel to a halt. As I write this, we are permitted to travel only up to 50km from home and only for a day trip to visit another household. My entire family live more than 50km from us, so we haven’t seen them in months. No interstate or overseas travel is permitted, apart from exceptional circumstances with permits. Other parts of the world have even more severe movement restrictions.

Japan 2020 – just in time.

I was fortunate beyond measure to fit in a wonderful holiday in Japan with my husband and a couple of friends at the beginning of this crisis, when most of the world was in denial. Just weeks before international borders were shut down, travel banned, flights cancelled and aircraft grounded, we travelled freely through Japan and Taiwan and felt perfectly safe doing so. I count my blessings daily that we got this trip in when so many others have been forced to cancel theirs. My timing was, for a change, spot on. However, I had planned another trip, a mission trip with Operation Christmas Child. This was cancelled and I grieved the lost opportunity. It was something I’d been wishing for and praying about for many years and just as it appeared within my grasp, the opportunity vanished before my very eyes, stripped away in what seemed like an instant. One minute, we were going, the next we weren’t.

Celebrating 25 years of marriage.

Within the next 8 months, I have a 30th wedding anniversary and 50th birthday, both huge milestones which I am very aware many people who walk this planet never get to experience. They deserve recognition and celebration, they MUST be marked in a significant way. Our plans to celebrate, as they often do, involved overseas travel. We were to visit Europe this Christmas, exploring beautiful, straight-out-of-a-fairytale, medieval towns sans summer crowds. Although no bookings had been made, our minds were aflame with ideas and itinerary planning had well and truly begun – bring on the holiday spreadsheet! Very early in this COVID Crisis, long before borders were closed, I realised this dream and these plans would not come to fruition. I was devastated. We had celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, my daughter finishing high school with a huge family trip, visiting London, Paris and New York amongst other locations, and my husband’s 50th birthday exploring France and Italy. We’re not party people and travel IS our thing. Or at least, it WAS our thing. We live quite simply and happily curb everyday spending to enjoy travel to far off countries. (Living in Australia, the rest of the world qualifies.)

When travel challenges started popping up on Facebook, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Seeing travel photos usually excites me, bringing back wonderful memories, opening my eyes to parts of the world I hadn’t known existed or seen in person and inspiring future adventures. At first, these photos had the opposite effect, merely reminding me of what I was missing out on now and into the foreseeable future and making me miserable. I stopped looking at them.

Eventually, I got brave and started looking again, rather than scrolling on by. I even joined a View From My Window Facebook group and became addicted to checking out beautiful views from around the world, interspersed of course with more mundane views of blank walls and ugly fences. That’s reality.

Then began the Travel Photo Challenges, people posting 10 favourite travel photos over 10 days. Of course, eventually someone challenged me and I thought long and hard about participating. I’m not a huge fan of these social media chain letters, carefully selecting those that suit me to participate in. I decided to join in, but not tag anyone, instead offering an invitation for others to join in if they wished. I’m so glad I did and here’s why.

I approached the task systematically, scrolling through Facebook albums and choosing my favourite photos from each album. Sticking to Facebook albums simplified the task somewhat, as they were all in one place and tended to be ‘best of’ albums, but it was still a big job. This process ‘wasted’ an entire morning, but was actually far from wasteful. During Pre-Corona times, I would have considered it wasteful, but during the time of Corona Social Isolation, it filled my time and my mind with memories galore – wonderful memories, happy, sad, strange, sometimes unexpected holiday memories came creeping into my mind. Gradually, as I scrolled through travel adventures, the process became therapeutic. I (almost) managed to let go of my grief over planned trips indefinitely (perhaps forever?) postponed, choosing to focus instead on all the amazing trips already experienced and how they have opened my mind and the world to me.

How privileged I have been to look out over ancient ruins and mountain tops as the sun rises, to walk in the footsteps of history, to survey canyons and oceans at sunset, to visit remote areas and urban metropolises, sharing all these experiences with those dearest to me.

“Choose 10 travel photos that are significant to you and share them over 10 days, without explanation.”

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Deceptively so.

I soon discovered culling was difficult in the extreme. Even just in my online albums, there were hundreds of photos. They were ALL significant. Why else would I have taken and saved them? Many were favourites. How could I possibly choose just 10? Questions ran through my head:

Should I post beautiful photos with no real story or more ordinary photos with a wonderful story I wasn’t allowed to tell? Oh, how I longed to tell those stories!

Should I post beautiful photos with no real story or more ordinary photos with a wonderful story I wasn’t allowed to tell? Oh, how I longed to tell those stories!

Should I post one photo from each holiday or just stick to ten photos from a single significant trip? How could I possibly choose just one trip though?

Was I overthinking this? Of course I was.

Travel stories ran through my head, triggered by the leisurely perusal of photos taken on five continents over twelve years – the happy, the sad, the ordinary, the surprising and downright emotionally draining.

That’s when I remembered . . . several years ago, I had the idea of writing a travel memoir of sorts, telling some of the best stories of travel disasters experienced by my family. You know the sort of thing, travel expectation versus reality, disasters follow wherever I go, that sort of thing. They say the biggest mishaps often make the best stories. It’s true, isn’t it? Those travel-disaster-stories get told far more than the everything-went-to-plan stories.

But then I thought, why focus on the disasters, the stuff ups, the disappointments? Why not share the highlights, the times reality far exceeded expectations, writing about the highs and lows of travel, as seen through my eyes and the filter of hindsight? Taking readers by the hand, I could lead to places perhaps already seen but almost certainly not experienced in the exact same way as myself. I would face the same filtering challenges as in the photo challenge. Which stories would make the cut? What should be included or omitted? What would make for the most interesting read?

Of course, it will likely never be published. After all, there are millions of travel memoirs out there, many written by well known celebrities and accompanied by television series. I am a nobody, with zero connections, but that’s no reason not write it. I’ve decided to stop thinking about it and start this writing project to see where it leads. After all, it’s a brave new world out there and it’s time for me to step out of my comfort zone once again.

Anna xo

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