Elizabeth Gilbert has written several best-selling books of fiction and nonfiction, but she is best known for Eat, Pray, Love, her 2006 memoir of travel and personal discovery in Italy, Indonesia and India.
To celebrate the book's 10th anniversary, Riverhead Books has published Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It, a collection of 47 essays written by people inspired by the book. Following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Gilbert.
Which elements of travel seem to resonate most with people you encounter?
The theme I see again and again when people talk about their travels or travel dreams is that, unless it's just a holiday, it is a combination of the desire to run away matched with a yearning to discover something out there, like a running towards. I'm fascinated by which impulses drive people.
One writer in Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It realised a teenage dream to visit Dublin after a broken engagement, the travel version of seeking out a youthful romance. Is this a good idea?
Sometimes that more innocent and true version of yourself gets pushed aside in adulthood, and travel can be an important way to revisit that part of yourself you left behind. It could even be the best part of yourself.
Several essay writers described how adventure can come in many forms and does not necessarily take money or even much time. Do you agree?
Absolutely. My favourite moment in the book is where a newly divorced mother with children for whom travel is impossible starts to take better care of herself. She wrote: "The gym was my Italy, a weekend away with girlfriends was my Indonesia and spending quiet time reading or running or just going for a coffee was my India." That is the epitome of finding answers to the questions.
Another writer started travelling at age 50 and now celebrates every year with a road trip. Do you meet people who start travelling later in life?
My mother, for one. She was 55 and finally had the freedom and the means, and she woke up to the reality that my dad's not a traveller. Now she and her sister-in-law do a trip every year. They've been to Chile, Turkey, Thailand, up the Amazon River. They are really adventurous. Fifty is the age women start to become invisible, but the flip side of that is: Invisibility is a super power - it makes them safer to travel.
What are some of your recent travels?
My husband's older than me and he has grandkids in Australia. We took the family of four to Tasmania and also spent two months in Australia and New Zealand. I've also started this ritual where I take my mum travelling every year. We've been to Greece and London, and this year we're doing a walking trip through Wales. Although my dad isn't a traveller, he does hike, and I took him hiking in the Dolomites.]
You and your husband sold your import shop Two Buttons in Frenchtown, New Jersey, last year. What are your plans now?
We want to travel more and enjoy the fact that we can. My husband's been travelling his whole life and I have too, but there are just huge parts of the world we haven't seen yet. I've never been to Japan, Iceland, South Africa and other places that it would be a pity to miss. I'm getting more comfortable with the idea of not necessarily living anywhere. I do need to sit in one place with a book, and my plan for this autumn is to do that with a novel I'm working on.
Your essay in Conde Nast Traveler in March encouraged people to travel, especially in light of world events, saying: "I am not afraid of the world, but I am afraid of people who are afraid of the world."
Generally speaking, I feel like I want to encourage people to have the most expanded version of their life they can possibly have in every way - spiritually, creatively and geographically. That's the bell I keep ringing: to live a bigger and broader life. The smaller your world gets, the smaller your mind gets, and the more your fear grows and the worse your decisions get.
NEW YORK TIMES
• Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It is available at Books Kinokuniya for $22.42.
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