The Unfolding Perspective of Travel

25 Nov The Unfolding Perspective of Travel

In the hour before sunrise, I pick my way along a jagged outcropping of stones along the coast of Big Sur, California. Tufts of sweet alyssum flowers are scattered among my feet like bouquets among the rocks, their clusters of white petals still blue-gray in the pre-dawn light. Down below, dark waves fold over the shore. And out on the horizon, the hills are backlit in a premature glow.

I’m waiting for the world to light up.

I take a seat on a slab of stone. A soft wind whisks my back, and I consider that this is one of my last trips of the year. And what a year! I had my first trip to the African continent this year. I returned to the first country to ever steal my heart—Bolivia—for the first time in nearly a decade. I walked amongst New England’s sunset-colored leaves in fall; I kayaked beside mountains and beneath stars.

I want to sit here and reflect on all of these magical places, but the gulls are screeching, whipping in circles above the water, slapping into the sea in white flurries of foam. The sleek head of a seal slips above the waves, and I laugh to myself, because I know that when I’m out in the world, I can’t reflect. I can only absorb the details around me—like those street lamps reflecting orange in the rippling sea. I can only feel my body—like how bone-tired I am at 5:30am. I can only see the silhouette of my new perspective.

It’s much later that it all becomes clear.

seagulls circle above the Pacific ocean, Big Sur, California by Sabine Bergmann

Gulls circle above the waves as dawn breaks in Big Sur. Photo by Sabine Bergmann.

– – –

On every trip I take, I develop new perspective, and this year’s journeys were no exception.

Walking among the tangle of streets in the ancient walled city of Fez, Morocco, I tapped into a thousand-year sliver of the span of time that came before me. I unearthed an appreciation for the layers of history beneath my feet.

And speaking with the indigenous descendants of the Inca in Bolivia, I found I could forge a deep connection with centuries of oral tradition—even though that wisdom came from a foreign land and a foreign string of ancestors.

When I travel, I commune with the arc of human history; I admire the scope of the natural world; I gain a courage I never knew I had. But the bulk of this magic does not happen in the ancient cities, on the leaf-strewn paths, or on the outcropping of stones at the break of dawn.

It happens days and miles later, when I am cocooned in my studio away from the grand vistas—when I can sit with my memories.

seagulls at sunrise, Big Sur, California by Sabine Bergmann

Morning light reaches the rocks of Big Sur. Photo by Sabine Bergmann.

– – –

My journeys don’t end when I go home. I’ve found that the perspective of travel only comes into its full form when I look back at my trips and throw questions at them: What was that swell of emotion in my gut as I watched the gulls glide in the rising sun? What did it mean?

Sometimes the answers come quickly, and the connection between the heavens and my life coalesces into a neat epiphany. But more often, my questions simmer, bubbling through photo collections and countless drafts of writing.

Many of us understand how important it is to travel. Our trips matter. But it is crucial to ask ourselves why they matter. Maybe we can articulate how they bring us connection, awe, love, and appreciation for the miracle of our existence. This is part of our human condition: We explore, and then we must try to understand what it all means.

– – –

As the sunlight crests over the hills of Big Sur I feel a swell of emotion. It doesn’t make sense now, but when I look back, I will recognize that the feeling in my gut is the joy of living in a world that alights in gold every morning. It is the lift of the wind and the sea that is carrying the gulls and now carries me, and it is so freeing that I’m trying to catch the wonder in my held breath.

Days from now, and a hundred and thirty miles away, I will look back and feel that swell return to my heart. It will be clearer and stronger. The world will open before me, and bloom with warmth and possibility, and I won’t have to wait anymore.

The world will light right up.

sunset in Big Sur, California by Sabine Bergmann

The sun sets along the coast of Big Sur. Photo by Sabine Bergmann.

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Sabine Bergmann
Sabine Bergmann is the Adventure Collection’s Managing Editor. As a professional writer, traveler and conservation activist, she writes for a dozen publications, including Wired, Sierra, Ethical Traveler and The Best Travel Writing series from Travelers' Tales. She’s done some pretty crazy stuff, like mountain biking from the Andes to the Amazon, spear fishing in shipwrecks and serving in the US Peace Corps. She's based in a little yellow house in Berkeley. Read more about Sabine at
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