My passion for travel really began because I grew up with an urge to put on makeup and find the brightest lights possible to stand in—which did not bode well for a 6-year-old in rural Vermont. The one stage that we could find, other than at the high school, was also a Masonic lodge and the Odd Fellows Hall, and I remember I would ogle the costume closet and put on the bomber jacket and dream of being an aviator. As I started stepping out, even just up to Montreal, I began to notice just how different the rest of the world was, and I set off on a quest to figure out whether different is better, worse, or just different.
That led me to Spain when I was 15, a journey that was fundamental in establishing my understanding of the world, my understanding of my strength in myself, and also my respect for what I do not understand. I went there for the summer. I think my parents had completely had enough of me, and they said, “Listen, if you can earn the money for the plane ticket, we will send you with $350 spending cash.” That was the only money I would have for the whole summer.
I went and lived with what I call my Spanish family—my mother had stayed with them years before, when she was an AFS student. Mercedes, the grandmother, was half-Filipina and half-Spanish; she had great pride in her heritage and made a point of blending Spanish and Filipino cooking and culture and art. She was just a fine woman in every way. She would say to me things like, “Grace, you are rude, and your feet are dirty. You want to be on the farm, you look fine; you want to be in my house, get something shiny and put some heels and lipstick on.” So I immediately felt like I fit right in.
I was in Madrid at the beginning, and then I went down to Segovia with my sisters from Spain, Inez and Christina, to visit friends of friends; I was just along for the ride. In midsummer, the family would always go to Mercedes’s house in Mallorca, a beautiful high-rise apartment right on the water. I saw my whole future right there—not as if I would live there forever, but as wider, grander, more intense and passionate and complex than any slice of life that I had been exposed to up until that point.
The trip made me realize that it’s important to be humble, to honor every single culture, to listen to the locals and hear your way through the language, even if it’s not a language that you speak. There’s so much context and so much generosity within every language—within body movements, within hand movements, within the tone of voice—and the messages can be received in so many other ways. Do not be afraid to listen, and you will be guided in beautiful directions. Even if I wasn’t able to conjugate every single verb at the beginning of the trip, by the end I was speaking fluent Spanish. I was dreaming in Spanish. I was absolutely a different person.
Going back to Vermont, I remember landing in Montreal, and my mother was at the airport waiting to meet me. She looked at me and said I looked five feet taller. I had a confidence and an air about me. That trip really was a powerful experience that informed the rest of my life. After that, I always felt, when in doubt, if your finger is itching, book a plane ticket. Just go somewhere—anywhere.
Grammy Award–nominated recording artist Grace Potter’s fifth studio LP, Mother Road, comes out August 18 on Fantasy Records.