~ By Marilyn Brant
Note: This post originally appeared here.
There are dozens of reasons why I love to travel. The sensation of being en route somewhere. Of simply moving from one place to another. The fun of seeing sites in person that I’d only read about. Of tasting foods that are new to me, more unusual than I’m used to, spicier or sweeter. Meeting people with backgrounds quite different from mine. The mental, physical, emotional and social challenges of dealing with circumstances I’ve never before encountered. The thrill of forging connections between prior experiences and new ones. The pure adrenaline rush of novelty.
And I love all kinds of journeys, too: Flights to foreign lands, cross-country road trips, train rides through mountain passes and even the occasional river ferry.
But the thing I love the MOST about traveling is that, for a writer (or for anyone, really), it’s a master class on point of view. I had a chance to observe this firsthand and somewhat dramatically when we took our son, who was 13 at the time, to England and Wales for a short visit last spring. It was his first trip abroad. His first passport. His first time buying anything with a foreign currency. (As an avid coin collector, this made a huge impression on him.) There were a lot of firsts.
A year and a half later, his “Mind the Gap” t-shirt is almost too small on him and his memories of the British Museum have faded a bit, but he still talks about that one older gentleman we met on the sidewalks of Chester. A man who spoke with an accent so thick that my Chicago-born son couldn’t understand more than a few words. “And he was even speaking in English!” our resident teenager still declares with awe and amazement. “He was so nice, and he was trying to be really helpful, but I had no idea what he was saying!”
Because it was our job to try to understand. We were the foreigners there. We were in his country. And the man’s kind words to us (whether we decoded more than a handful of them or not) were a tremendous gift. I can no longer recall if his directions ultimately helped us find the site we were looking for, but his attempt to share something valuable with us was greatly appreciated — both for its own sake and because it firmly planted the realization in my son’s head that our little Illinois suburb wasn’t the center of the universe. That this 70-something gentleman thought we were the ones with the accents. That, no matter how well we might be able to navigate our way through the American Midwest in our Honda, we were just lost tourists wandering on the cobbled streets of his English hometown.
Above all, our short, pleasant conversation with that lovely man became a tangible event that I could point to when I later spoke with my son about expanding his worldview beyond the confines of his junior-high environment. Trying to help him see that every single person is the hero or heroine of his/her own story, and that we relate to the people and situations around us through our own unique lens. That we need to strive to keep this in mind when we interact with everyone.
No parental lecture on the subject ever worked as well as that 5-minute live demonstration, though. My son remembers that guy in Chester — quite probably, much more vividly than the kindly old gentleman remembers us. But the experience underscored something so important to me as both a mom and a writer: That being masters of viewpoint is at the heart of our job. To help our children see the world just a touch more perceptively. To help our readers experience our characters’ lives as if breathing the air along with them. To give both our kids and our audience a clearer window into the journey of someone else…so they’ll be better equipped to describe their own.
Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy, and mystery. She won RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award for her debut novel, ACCORDING TO JANE, and was named Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict/music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. Marilyn’s coming-of-age romantic mystery, THE ROAD TO YOU, was a Top 100 B&N bestseller and an homage to Historic Route 66. Look for her upcoming “Mirabelle Harbor” contemporary romance series, summer 2015! Visit her website :www.marilynbrant.com