I love to travel and to discover people and places. I prefer to travel light, with an open mind, and with a purpose.
The purpose might be to visit friends, to work on a project, or to present at a conference. Whatever the occasion, a purpose gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in another culture, to catch a glimpse behind the scenes, beyond the tourist’s gaze. Having a purpose opens serendipity; the most memorable moments are often unexpected.
Two examples come to mind.
After a conference in Milan, my host invited us to his place. It was a renaissance palazzo in the historic city. Past the private gate into the courtyard, I climbed the winding stairs to the attic. An elegant woman in designers’ clothes opened the door, light streamed behind her. She welcomed me and made me feel at home. A glass of Prosecco in my hand, servants brought delicious canapes in silver trays Their beautiful loft was adorned with original Piranesi prints of Rome and it overlooked the skyline of the Cathedral. It was like a movie.
More recently, I was in Hong Kong for a conference. I arrived early and was invited to join a studio working on housing. The social worker guided us to an apartment building in the neighborhood; past the elevator, we climbed more stairs to the attic. A woman welcomed us, she was candid. Five people in the family shared a room; the kitchen, bathroom and shower were all in the same space. it was an illegal apartment, with no fire exit. She worked across town and had a one-hour commute each way but could not find anything closer. Despite her poverty, she conveyed great dignity.
Freedom to travel is a privilege we, as Americans, often take for granted. I know better. As a child, I eagerly read old adventure stories by Mark Twain and Jules Verne; I longed to explore the world. From my dad, I learned to love maps and to imagine what the world was like. However, under Castro, we were stuck in Cuba, isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world. Luckily, we joined our families in New York City and came as political refugees to be free. As soon as I could, I set out to travel.
Enjoy your freedom and travel with purpose. It will enrich your life.
Miriam Gusevich is an architect - urban designer, scholar and teacher with a long list of national and international awards for her design projects and research.