My grandma, Barbara Pavitt, lives in Juneau, Alaska, in the same home she raised her family of 7. She still travels extensively, hikes the mountains in Juneau, and kicks my butt in yoga at 82. I did a phone interview with her yesterday afternoon about her thoughts on travel.
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Barbara: There’s so many other places in the world that I want to see. My motivation is usually someone says, “Hey, you want to go to India with me? or I hear about a local group that’s going somewhere. Just because places are there, is why I want to go see them.
Jamie: What was your favorite trip you’ve ever been on and why?
Barbara: I hate that question! I would probably say India with Road Scholars. It’s not just being a tourist, we heard lectures by local people about the culture and different aspects of the country. We visited the Taj Mahal. It’s nice because you don’t feel like a tourist, you’re more like a guest. We got to actually meet some women in the village and they talked to us about politics and education. They still have the caste system even though it’s illegal.
Jamie: Were the Indian women what you expected or did what they say about politics and education surprise you?
Barbara: Well I didn’t have preconceived notions of what they would be like, so no. But I also realized it was a select group of women, not necessarily representative of all the women in India.
Jamie: How do multiple stories about a country change how we see them?
Barbara: It gives us a broader view of a country. We know with our own country there’s a lot of different cultures. You hear about hillbillies in the south, eskimos in the north. If you’ve never heard anything about a country, and you only hear one story you only get that one side, it’s incomplete.
Jamie: In my Travel Writing class we watched a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie “The Danger of a Single Story.” She says: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (12:57).
Barbara: Yeah that’s what I said!
Jamie: In your travels where did you get most of your information on the local culture?
Barbara: I’d like to say talking with people but It’s usually from the tour guides. You’re kind of shielded from the people when you’re on a tour. I did this backpacking trip in Switzerland, we were on our own, the four of us. That time we stayed in hostels so we talked to people that worked there and other travelers, met people on the way. It’s more personal and interesting when you actually meet people and exchange names.
Jamie: Why is it important that we listen to different stories or go to different countries?
Barbara: Well I think the more we know about other cultures the more we can all get along. There’s more understanding, we’re less likely to think of other people as enemies when you go those countries and you’ve met them.
Jamie: Is there anything else you want to share about your travels?
Barbara: I went to France [80th birthday trip] and stayed with people that knew the area, met some locals. One day your Aunt Bernie and I took a couple busses and went to a little café, sat there and watched people, it was fun, that was the way I thought it was going to be in the first place [before scheduling all the sightseeing tours], doing whatever we wanted to do.
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When I reminded my Grandma this morning that I wanted some of her photos from her travels, she said she was getting ready to leave for a hike so she would send them later today. I hope I am that active throughout my life!
There used to be a time when women were not the normal travelers, it was a break in the norm. Mary Suzanne Schriber said “Travel rewrote home in new and more appealing terms.” I think for me, my reasons for travel usually involve wanting to break out of my normal routine and see something new, so that I can come back home with fresh eyes. But I suppose if someone said “Hey, you want to go to India with me?” that would be a good motivation to travel, too, right Grandma?!
Modern advances now allow travelers to enjoy comfortable accomadations throughout most of a journey, allowing for both young and old to travel extensively. In the 19th century things were very different, and that’s just one of the reasons that women didn’t often travel. Here’s an account from “Traveller’s Tales: North America” of Isabella Bird (1831-1904), an English woman traveling to the American West. Here’s an excerpt from her travels:
Wagons with white tilts, thick-hided oxen with heavy yokes, mettlesome steeds with high peaked saddles…There, in a long wooden shed with blackened rafters and an earthen floor, we breakfasted, as seven o’clock, on johnny-cake, squirrels, buffalo-hump, dampers, and buckwheat, tea and corn spirit, with a crowd of emigrants, hunters, and adventurers; and soon after re-embarked for Rock Island, our little steamer with difficulty stemming the mighty tide of the Father of Rivers [the Mississippi River].
Honestly, if that’s the way I had to travel now, I would just turn my suitcase into a flower planter and never look back. Luckily, even the cheapest modes of transportation available now are far superior to riding wagons pulled by oxen while snacking on squirrels.
More photos coming soon… as soon as Grandma is back from her hike!
Update: Grandma made it back safely from her hike and sent me pictures as promised :)