Jessica Nabongo: How to be an “intentional” traveler
Jessica Nabongo shares her travels and top tips on her blog and upcoming book, The Catch Me If You Can.
Staff video, USA TODAY
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One of the main reasons I was offered this opportunity was because no one else wanted to do it.
It was April 2020. The pandemic had just started and I was suddenly considered an “essential worker” invited to travel around the country. Usually, the idea of traveling conjures up images of checking out fun restaurants and unique places, meeting friends or family, or meeting new people—none of which were even options. Most businesses were closed. The idea of even booking a hotel was difficult because each city, county and state had different regulations on who could be there. Everyone I knew stayed home and enjoyed a small circle of people to quarantine with while I got out of the house and experienced new places.
I thought I had beaten the system!
My climb up the coast was breathtakingly beautiful. I had finished work in California and was driving up the Pacific Coast Highway with a planned stop at Redwoods National Park the next day on the way to Oregon. It was getting late and I needed to find a place to sleep, so I booked a hotel on my phone and stopped at the small military town of Fort Bragg. I grabbed my bag and, half asleep, entered the hotel to check in.
“A check?” asked the man from the motel.
“Yes, I have a reservation.” I handed him my ID.
“Do you work in the city?”
“Yes sir, I just finished and I’m on my way north.”
“I need proof that you have a job in the city, otherwise, unfortunately, you won’t be allowed to stay here,” he said.
“I had work to do. I finished it before I checked in,” I explained, showing him my work order.
“Unfortunately, if you don’t have a job here tomorrow, it would be against the law for you to stay here.” They sent me away. Apparently Mendocino County didn’t want me to stay the night, so instead I had to sleep in my car tucked away on the side of the highway.
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I was completely alone and isolated. The excitement of the trip quickly wore off.
That rip current sign was in my head again. It said, “If you need help, shout or wave for help.” Spending time alone was going to be the biggest challenge I ever faced. Most people have family and friends around them during these times of transition in life. Everyone I knew was miles and miles away, self-isolating with their loved ones.
Making my way north through Portland and Seattle, I discovered that artists in almost every city were putting murals on the plywood that businesses surround their buildings with. Everywhere I went there were more plywood murals and I started photographing them in every city. It gave me something to take my mind off the need to be my best friend and try to enjoy my own company.
The pandemic has made so many major cities seem like empty, post-apocalyptic shells of themselves. They were depressed, empty and dangerous. They looked like how I felt inside. While society was going through a difficult transition, so was I. But these murals were something else, a sign of hope. I began to see them as a sign that even in times of transition, we can still make the best of things and create something beautiful.
My creativity has been in hibernation for a long time. I had bought a camera a few years ago in an attempt to share a hobby with my wife, who was always organizing elaborate photo shoots. I didn’t even know how to use my camera, but I started experimenting, walking around these abandoned cities and capturing this historical moment in time. I couldn’t help but wonder if these cities would ever return to their former glory.
Will they be better than before? Was there a chance that everything, including my life, would be better in the future?
This is an excerpt from Going Places: Soul-Stirring Essays About the Travel That We Change Us,” published on September 22 by Sulit Press. Author Jason Furstenberg was freelance travel writer and photographer for over five years based out of California.