What it’s Like to Travel with a Literary Mind

This we know: to travel is to unravel. It is to unveil things about yourself. You might find certain qualities heightened, others muted. You also discover these same things about the people you travel with.

Things I knew about Sue before we took off to Thailand:

  • She’s a really good writer
  • Her dad absolutely adores her
  • She has a penchant for the absurd
  • She’s wary of prolonged, uphill hiking (and thinks I’m kind of insane)
  • She was basically born with dreads

Beyond that, I knew we had two mutual friends encountered on two separate trips across the world from each other. We were in the same place on two subsequent trips, about a week away from each other on our respective itineraries. We’re both deep in the yoga world, around 5’3″, and we’re both Vancouver transplants from Toronto who write fiction in their spare time and read books incessantly. After we met for the first time at a café, I left thinking we were essentially the same person—except her hair can’t be brushed.

But after being by her side for three weeks, I’ve learned that while Sue and I share many qualities, she has so much to teach me.

Sue doesn’t just write prose, she thinks in it.

She is constantly drawing analogies to interpret the world around her. My favourite example of this was when we first set foot in Bangkok’s heat.

Whew,” I exclaimed probably five octaves too loud for 1 a.m., as the airport’s sliding doors parted like theatre curtains and we stepped onto Bangkok’s sweltering stage. “It is hot.”

“Yeah,” Sue said, before offhandedly soliloquizing: “Don’t you feel as though Bangkok has cupped you in its sweaty palms?”

Yes, Sue. So funny you say that. That’s exactly what I was thinking; you took the words out of my mouth.

This habit is not only responsible for the living, breathing, coughing, choking imagery her writing conjures, but also what makes her such a thoughtful human being.

Sue tightropes the backpacker experience and an immersive one.

Yes, like all travellers do, we spent some time on Khao San Road. And yes, we got #basic. Sue got a tattoo (the closest Thai word to ‘stupid white girl’—“because it’s ironic,” she says) and munched on a scorpion, and while we did indulge in a single banana pancake (how could we not?), on this particular work trip, we skipped the obligatory vodka–Red Bull bucket.

With the lightness of these exploits on our current trip, and those described in her memoir, which chronicles the tumbles, stumbles and bumbles of her first backpacking trip, you might take Sue for an average backpacker. But in reality, she’s incredibly complex.

“Are the elephants treated humanely?”

“Did I overstep my boundary in that interview?”

“But what are the logistics behind the Hill Tribes peoples’ participation in tourism? I refuse to endorse a human zoo.”

These are all questions she, rightly, asked. And if the answer didn’t satisfy her ethics, she would do what she does best: she’d write about it.

The thing that didn’t surprise me at all about Sue was the thoughtful way she sees the world. You see a rock, she sees the sediment that composes it, a foot that trudged over it. You see a monk, she sees romanticized infallibility. You see the world, she sees entire lifetimes’ intersecting… or wait, no—to “pull a Sue,” as it were—she traces one thread as it weaves back into the seven billion threads that make up humanity’s overlapping tapestry.

While I would sit and ruminate, trying to find analogies to adequately describe what I’m seeing, Sue comes by that naturally. As she shared her thoughts and pondering with me, I feel I’ve not just become a better writer, but a more thoughtful person.

From her, I’ve learned so much.