The Zen of Travel and BEING in the World Book Review
By Chantal Blake
In a world of glitch fares, shameless selfies, and country-hopping, it’s easy for travel to lose its meaning. What was once significant, unpredictable, and purposeful has been swapped for just-add-water instant trips and calculated formulas for social media success. In the dizzying whirl of jet setting to and fro, it’s easy to forget that travel is more than what you do but rather who you become. When I sit down to do my own country tally, it’s meaningless to me because I can’t even begin to quantify how much I’ve expanded in thought, heart, or experience since I first crossed the Atlantic Ocean almost eight years ago. But, when I recently read Global Insights: The Zen of Travel and BEING in the World by Dr. Nicole Monteiro, my inner wanderer felt affirmed to know that when travel is your way of life, the journey never ends.
I’ve followed Dr. Monteiro’s writing since her Global Insights blog began many years ago. Each of her travel stories were layered, intersecting destinations, relationships, experiences, and ideas. Her genuine curiosity and professional prowess blend harmoniously to show how traveling for study, work as a clinical psychologist and personal interest can’t be separated from one another. In each excursion she meets new people including the self she is becoming. A laundry list of her travels would’ve proved interesting enough, but instead she conscientiously curated handpicked tales and tips to illustrate not where to travel but how to travel.
Picking a favorite essay from The Zen of Travel is a challenge but a few stories stand out to me. Dr. Monteiro’s trip to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake was eye-opening. In the torrent of devastation, when many physical needs are obvious, mental health challenges that ravage the affected, the survivors, and the aid workers can be easily overlooked. Understanding the role of a psychologist and therapist in the midst of eminent tragedy was insightful, but hearing her articulate the lessons and wisdom she took from the people of Haiti at such a vulnerable time was humbling. Her own faith was strengthened by the indomitable spirit of Haiti.
A significant personal journey shared by Dr. Monteiro was her trip to the birthplace of her grandfather, Brava, Cape Verde. He migrated almost 90 years prior by boat and Nicole retraced his journey by air. However, she couldn’t escape a humble ferry ride from Fogo for the last leg of her journey. She wrote so vividly that I could see her little boat bobbing in the Atlantic Ocean and feel her fear of being capsized. Thankfully, she lived to tell the story and connect with her ancestral roots in a meaningful and powerful way.
Perhaps what I love most about The Zen of Travel is how Nicole was able to trace her relationship with travel from childhood to the present. Growing up in Philadelphia, her family was intentional about exposing her to various cultures and encouraged her first study abroad experience in Eastern Europe for five weeks at the age of 13. Followed by decades of personal and professional travel, Nicole seamlessly communicates the role of travel from her upbringing to her own family life and culture. Her cross-cultural marriage and introduction to motherhood while navigating expat life in Bahrain and Botswana emphasize the transformational and educational value of travel in her life and that of the two daughters she raises with her Senegalese husband.
Even though many of the stories were familiar to me from Dr. Monteiro’s personal blog, I lost no interest rereading them again. Some accounts left me wanting more, especially more details of her travels to Far East Asia, but other stories were new to me, like her study abroad experience in Orvieto, Italy where she had her first taste of truffles and bought her first handmade leather shoes. Other more challenging experiences she detailed include mistakenly interrupting a Santeria ritual in Cuba, befriending a traditional healer in Botswana, and interviewing a woman in a polygynous marriage in America. The sum total of The Zen of Travel is personal and valuable lessons of how to really be in the world and embrace our every interaction with new people and places as an opportunity to become better than we are.
A complimentary book was offered for this review. All opinions are my own.