In September of 2006, I packed a large backpack, boarded an Amtrak from Connecticut to New York City, and rode the subway to JFK airport. The next morning I was in Lisbon, Portugal. Alone.
I spent the first night in the hostel wondering what I had been thinking, embarking on a yearlong solo expedition of Europe and the Middle East. Self-consciously, I ate dinner alone. Smart phones didn’t exist yet, so I couldn’t hide behind my e-mail. My hostel room was full of noisy Germans. I felt pathetic and stupid. And alone.
My fear of spending the next year in the maddening solitude of my own brain lasted exactly one day. The next night, I was drinking Port over ice with fellow travelers in Lisbon’s excellent bar scene. Two days later, I made my first friend: an Austrian surfer who happened to be sitting next to me on a bus to the coast, where I was heading to commence life — fully outside my comfort zone — as an organic farm volunteer. The next two weeks were spent working on a farm by day and sleeping on bales of hay in an unfinished farmhouse by night, broken up by jaunts over the dunes to the ocean and boisterous communal meals. Those became two of the best weeks of my life.
Sure, travel has its ups and downs — my stay in a tent at a Spanish raw food farm didn’t last long, and I could have done without spraining my ankle in Athens and getting groped in Turkey. But in moments of self-doubt, loneliness, and fear, I reminded myself: not all who wander are lost. Over that year, I made friends from around the world on buses, on farms, and as a guest in strangers’ homes. I got to spend Rosh Hashanah in Casablanca, harvest olives in the Peloponnese and taste the first batch of oil, ride feluccas down the Nile, eat pomegranates and drink sahlab on the sea in Sinai, and make goat milk cheeses on a kibbutz in the Arava desert.
That’s why I’m excited to share with you this travel edition of Jewish in Seattle. We know you need to get out of town once in a while, and surely some of you have Pinterest boards full of dream destinations. (Or do I speak for myself?) Whether you have 36 hours to spend in Portland or Vancouver, or three weeks to traipse around Europe, there’s always something Jewish to see. And when there’s a Jewish community around, we’re all a little less alone.
Emily K. Alhadeff