Tag Archives: Travel

(ON TOPIC) Goodbye America, Hello…Somewhere Else

Part 2: My Cousin Who Travels the World (And Why She’s a Voice of a Generation)

When the subway rumbled from a world below, my knees buckled and I clutched my red-cushioned seat, the kind you’d expect to find in a movie theater. Behind me, two classmates discussed their favorite cafés in Paris. It was my first film class at NYU.

“That’s where Amelie lives!” I thought, keeping my mouth shut out of fear of revealing what I considered at the time to be an extreme naïveté.

You see, I used to think it was luck that allowed people to travel abroad; by those confines, then, I wasn’t very lucky. Now four years later, I believe it’s more a combination of choices and money.

This is Allyn. She's my cousin. Allyn likes to travel. A lot.

Meet Allyn. She’s my cousin! Allyn was born a gifted mathematician and is able to work short-term jobs that fund her travels all around the world. (“Swimming and math. Two things people pay crazy amounts to learn,” she says.)

Allyn got the travel bug after participating in Semester at Sea during college. She recently graduated and has been wandering the world ever since. Allyn has administered the treatment for schistosomiasis to 54 patients while volunteering at a free medical clinic in the Philippines, and she’s also been flown to a vacation island and put up in a five-star hotel by prominent Chinese businessmen.

In other words, Allyn’s life isn’t normal. She’s using her acknowledged advantages as a middle-class American to tackle the disadvantages of those in other countries. It’s ballsy. As someone who’s been eternally tied to the social clock and therefore crippled by the idea of leaving America with no plan, I respect her happy-go-lucky frame of mind. She left the country this year with a one-way ticket, while I hopped on a plane to California with a printed Google map of restaurants and bars in the neighborhood to which I was relocating from New York City. This makes sense given our respective life mottos:

Allyn

1. Don’t make plans.
2. Expectations reduce joy.
3. Travel is the only thing that makes you richer, so waste all your money on it.

Jonathan

1. Always make plans.
2. Always set expectations so you can work to exceed them.
3. Happiness is the only thing that makes you richer, so waste all your money on Beyoncé concert tickets.

It used to be hard for me to talk to my cousin while she was living abroad. I think it was my early NYU-self acting up. I didn’t like that I was jealous, but I couldn’t help it. I was in the middle of my ninth internship while she was frolicking on exotic islands with Chinese businessmen. But now I’m working at Pixar, and that’s pretty cool, too. My path makes sense for me, and her path makes sense for her.

But I digress.

To return to the original questions: Is our culture worse off than it was decades ago? And is travel the only way to fix it? I hope not. People are always going to long for a previous era. (Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” offers a telling example of our eternal fickleness. As Gil yearns for the 1920s, Adriana says, “I’m from the ’20s, and I’m telling you the golden age is la Belle Epoque.”) And how can you say we’re culturally worse off when, in reality, we’re only able to experience a sliver of culture throughout the entirety of our short lives? My friends at NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour discussed this topic recently. “You’re going to miss almost everything,” says Linda Holmes. Sure, traveling may open your world, but your acquired culture doesn’t necessarily make you better. And it shouldn’t induce a feeling of superiority over those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel. Allyn, for one, has been to dozens of countries but always comes back, evermore humbled and appreciative of what her home has given her.

It’d be remiss to ignore the obvious caveat to this conversation as I sit on my couch, MacBook Pro on lap while perusing Comcast OnDemand and NPR podcasts (#thingswhitepeopledo). I’m lucky to be able to ask these questions. We’re lucky. In addition to the inevitable limit on our cultural intake, there’s yet another fundamental human limitation that prevents us from maintaining a global perspective in every given moment. We can’t always think beyond our screens to notice how lucky we are. Sometimes I feel guilty and selfish when blogging about things like this. It’s so about…me. Blech. Every time I say “we” or “us,” I have no idea if this is actually the case for a whole generation of people. Of individuals, you know?

It’s comforting in moments like to these to think of people like my cousin helping patients abroad, or the people in a small town in Connecticut coming together amidst a disgusting tragedy that hit a little closer to home. Our culture hasn’t gone wrong, you see. There’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff both here and abroad, just as there used to be, and just like there always will be.

Before Allyn and I ended our most recent conversation online, she wrote, “Ugh I’m bored, idk what to do with myself.”

No she’s not. She just has a flurry of choices before her and has yet to make a decision. She’ll make a choice though, and then many, many more after that. And you will, too.

Carry on.

To infinity and beyond,

Jonathan

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(THE LONDON CHRONICLES) #1: Batman, Brighton, and The Night That Shall Not Be Named

Dear Reader,

There’s something very sexy about getting a handwritten letter in the mail, so I’ve decided to get all 21st century on your arses and reflect on my London semester via the next best thing: a digital blog post written in the form of a letter. Addressed to whom, you ask? You, of course! Yes, you. Please accept these in place of pretty postcards boasting Photoshopped images of London’s most famed tourist attractions. You’re welcome. I know we’re both so green these days.

Forgive me for being short, but there’s a lot to say about my first week but not a lot of time in which to discuss it because I must figure out how to access Netflix and Hulu immediately.

My trip here was relatively uneventful. I took a nonstop flight from Washington, D.C. to London Heathrow, during which I sat next to a woman who smelled like an old-woman fart. I caught the end of this excuse for a movie called “Source Code,” fell asleep, and then proceeded to be both financially and emotionally robbed at the London airport by the international conversion fee.

Beauty.

In short, my first couple days required very little adjustment because living in one city makes it easier to get settled in another. Also, London isn’t terribly different from New York. It’s just a lot more expensive and a lot more architecturally schizophrenic. I easily navigated to my first few days of orientation in a building that was used in the Batman movies. Moreover, I survived these few days of orientation by pretending I was an extra in these aforementioned Batman movies. This made things more exciting, as at any moment I could’ve been spontaneously attacked by the anarchist yet wickedly awesome Joker! I was also tricked into being cooked on a hot bus for five hours while visiting London’s big touristy sites, but the upside to the trauma is I got to go through all the pictures on the iPad of my new friend, Kelly. Then we became best friends.

This is Kelly. She likes striped pouches.

After an unsurprisingly otherworldly meal at IKEA, we had our first night out. We went to a club called G-A-Y. It was a gay club. As we arrived, I was quickly ushered to the metal detector on the right side like a celebrity while my female friends got held up on the left side. This was sexual discrimination in action, but I liked it. Then I danced around like a drunk girl and befriended Michael, the security guard outside who introduced me to my new favorite show, “The Only Way Is Essex.” (Think “The Hills,” but in the UK and with a pig named Mr. Darcy.)

Heaven.

My second night out was…well we don’t talk about this night. It’s lit-ra-lly [said in a British accent] a non-memory. The next day I took a redemptive day trip with my Kelly and my new BBC friend Juan. We took the train to Brighton, where it was grey and rainy and so “Never Let Me Go.” I loved it. We survived a roller coaster,

"It's Turbo Time!"

jumped on trampolines, and got to see the bachelor pad of 21-year-old King George IV. He had dragons on his ceiling like a pimp! We also enjoyed an Italian dinner with profiteroles that were otherworldly but not of the same other world as the IKEA meal because the IKEA meal was better.

Melancholy.

Then classes started. So far I’ve only had Writing For TV, which is taught by a wonderful British man named Archie. Today we pitched our ideas for the pilot of an original TV show. It was bullets of fun. I’m also in a class called Arts and Theater in London. In addition to going to a museum and a theater performance each week, we attend lectures about lots of things and stuff. Today we received a packet about the Normans and the Plantagenets! What a funny name!

Calm down, you. I know what you’re thinking. So, as a person, how have I grown since moving across the pond? Good question. Kelly took me to the local grocery store and taught me how to buy food, so basically I won ten Maturity points. I can now make a salad out of spinach leaves, dried cranberries, feta cheese, and two teaspoons of anxiety.

Anxiety.

My apologies for composing this blog post (read: sexy old-fashioned letter) with the literacy of an elementary school child.

Until next time…

Humbly yours,

Jono