As my family slept inside, I crept on to the lanai of our hotel at a time of day when lanais don’t see a whole lot of tourists. After all, Hawaii looks just like the rest of the world at 5 a.m. in February. But it doesn’t feel like the rest of the world, no matter what time of day it is.
A decade ago, when I held a Hawaii driver’s license, I saw 5 a.m. for other reasons. On this day in 2021, my first trip since the pandemic began, I rose before the sun for a pretty normal reason these days: to log onto a Zoom call being held from my home coast, where the temps were single digits and the flurries were flying.
I wouldn’t log into Zoom from Hawaii at the wee hours of the morning for just anything.
But I had a few moments to spare before the session started so I sipped my Kona brew (the coffee not the beer) and listened to the waves sneak up on the tired feet, the wired feet, making their way across the resting sand of Waikiki.
In the last seconds before the “Waiting for host to let you in” message disappeared, I had a thought that I scribbled in my best journalist penmanship. A thought I forgot about until recently going over notes I took during the Zoom class.
“The ultimate travel goal is this: Doing something you love in a place that makes you feel more alive.”
Not cramming itineraries, checking off lists that other people have compiled about a place, not anything but spending time with something that makes you tick. Brings you joy.
You know your portable hobbies. That’s the easy part. That’s me with this Zoom training. That’s the bare feet below resting a longboard on their head, waves beckoning.
The hard part? Ditching the need to constantly seek the place that makes us feel something. Sometimes, the doing gets in the way of feeling. Eat the shave ice- check. Climb Diamond Head- check. Take a hula class- check. Find a surf lesson- check. Ok, what’s next? And after we’ve checked box after box and we’re about to throw a shaka and utter one last Aloha to the islands … before we’re even flying away from the jagged green landscape, we’re considering what’s next. The next destination.
As a travel writer, I know this feeling all too well. The Zoom call had nothing to do with writing, though.
I had been visiting jaw-dropping destinations around the globe with the mindset of what’s the story here? Who can I pitch this to? That damn hustle mentality. She’s a houseguest who has overstayed her welcome, isn’t she?
Lucky for me, my storytelling roots share residence with another part of me that is also about connection, but free from the ego that trails bylines and boujee bungalows on the beach.
We hear about slow travel and sustainable travel but what about gratitude travel? What happens if we make it a priority to hold the gaze of those we meet? What if we took more time to acknowledge the natural beauty around us, giving a place the chance to slow our pace.
Instead of calculating miles, tallying countries and keeping tabs on our premier status, what if we took a beat to contemplate the feet on the ground? They are giving their time to welcome us to their homeland. Beyond pleasantries, what are we giving to them?
A part of our responsibility as travelers, as human beings, is to hold the gaze of another and connect in a way that will stay with them long after they punch out for the day.
Let’s start tallying the lives we are impacting not just by expressing sincere gratitude but by reigniting the passion in another. Whenever I’m about to fly (or check into a hotel), I say a silent sort of prayer asking that the pilot (concierge, housekeeper, bellhop, etc.) feel a renewed sense of joy and meaning in the important work they are doing.
If the ultimate travel goal is “Doing something you love in a place that makes you feel more alive,” then we need to make sure those we meet are also familiar with this feeling. We can help by letting them know they’ve made a difference on our journey.
As my Zoom class connected, I jotted down one last bit to contemplate: “Traveling doesn’t always have to be about finding the spirit of place, but finding the spirit of ourselves, not as travelers, but as a human beings.”
In Hawaii, I completed my Reiki master training over zoom and everything felt full-circle in the most beautiful way.