When I was a kid, I spent most summers with my relatives in northern Michigan. They lived in a charming old town, where visitors admired the ornate Victorian houses, and enjoyed the stores and restaurants along the town’s main street. But one of my favorite things to do was, well, a little different.
I’d casually stroll behind the dress stores and the ice cream parlor, and then, like a detective, I’d stake out decaying things that I could photograph. I was fascinated by rusted fire escapes and the sprawling weeds that snaked between striped concrete parking barriers. I felt like there was something innately beautiful in these things that most people didn’t notice, or would rather change or destroy. I loved trying to make the beauty show through in those photographs. Later, when I learned about the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, the art of finding beauty in imperfection, it felt like an old friend.
I hadn’t consciously thought about wabi-sabi in quite a while. But this past month, my kids and I took two road trips. Long hours in the car gave me opportunities to notice how hard the parent-child relationship could feel sometimes, with its misunderstandings and disappointments. And I also saw how the unexpected surprises that are part of any journey added to that strain.
But then I thought about those photos from my childhood, and I realized that there are times when looking at the hard parts of parenting is a lot like seeing those weeds and rusting fire escapes—the beauty is there, we just need to shift the way we’re looking at something. I saw that there are many times each day when a good dose of wabi-sabi vision can buoy traveling families. In relationships, wabi-sabi helps us look beyond what we think we know. It helps us maintain a sense of humor and learn to ask good questions. Here’s a handy chart to get you thinking about how you can look at travel-parenting moments in a Wabi-Sabi kind of way:
Even if you aren’t traveling with children, wabi-sabi can serve you. Think of all the things that can frustrate us as travelers: delayed planes, cultural misunderstandings, ATM machines that won’t accept our cards, needing to leave a place when we’d rather stay….
No matter where we find ourselves in the world, each of our days has aspects that seem mundane. Noticing the beauty in small interactions, simple tasks, and ordinary moments can help us add richness to our lives.
How has a wabi-sabi mindset enhanced your travels?
Hi, I'm Deidra
To me, transformative travel means traveling in a way that connects you to places and people in a profound way., being real and present with what is happening while you travel and recognizing the impact travel has on your life beyond your journeys.