“If You Catch Me at the Border I’ve Got Visas in My Name:” Songs for International Travel
Updated: Nov 2, 2018
Because sometimes a gal just needs to get outta town.
Katie J: International Woman of Intrigue:
This is first playlist I made before I went on the best vacation I ever took to Cambodia and Bali. It got me psyched to be the world traveler I knew I was but hadn’t been for a while. I reclaimed that identity with “I’m a Lady,” “Who’s that Girl,” “Isobel,” “QueenS,” and “Bad Girls.” Other songs had exotic sounds that reminded me of places I’d never been. “You- Ha Ha Ha” and “To You” sounded vaguely Indian. “1977” is in Spanish and thus seemed exotic. Listening to “Apply” with its thunderous drums and handmade instruments had me picturing myself—dripping in gold jewelry—atop a swaying pachyderm, plunging through the deepest jungle and arriving in a war-torn village. Would I be welcomed by the natives? That unknown is the beauty of travel. And I love “The Riot’s Gone.” It reminds me that the best way to get out of a head-space is to get out of a familiar physical space. It was a beautiful, simple thing to be the world wanderer I once was—even though I knew I had to go back to my day job. For those 18 days in Southeast Asia the riot in my head was gone, and the drums played on.
The previous playlist has a deep, soulful, feminine energy. But I wanted more. I wanted a playlist that was a little bit bad-ass. Something that would make me feel like Mic Jagger slipping through security in a leather jacket with just a guitar over my shoulder. Something a lot like the “Almost Famous” soundtrack. So I googled “standard cruising altitude” and made 30,000 feet. With the songs to get you pumped to fly (“Sparks,” “The Passenger,” “Live and Let Die,” “Road to Nowhere,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” and “Baba O’Riley”) and others to induce tearful reflections on your travels (“Southern Cross,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “That’s the Way,” “Girl from the North Country,” “Tangerine,” and “The Wind”), 30,000 feet goes the distance. It was the music I played when I boarded a plane to Cambodia, knowing there would be no one to meet me on the other side. I listened to 30,000 feet every night in my hotel room in Siem Reap. After a hot, dusty day at the temples, I’d shower, slip into my hotel robe, and walk across the tiled-floor feeling freer than I had in years. The last day in Siem Reap—after I’d gone to yoga and opened my third eye—I came home, turned on 30,000 feet, and for the one- minute-and-seven-seconds of “Phase,” cried tears of… life. I had never felt more like myself: 30,000 feet high with two feet on the ground.
A year after my trip to Southeast Asia, I booked a trip to India. “Raj to Taj” obviously needed a lot of sitar. I also wanted to feel like the Beatles in Rishikesh, so I included Beatles and Beatles-esque Tame Impala peppered with backpacker-inspiring Shearwater and Andrew Bird’s peaceful plucking. Then I added songs that captured the somber notes of travel (“In the Hearts of Men” and “Wait”) and those that make us feel like throwing confetti in our highest highs (“Phantom Limb” and “Young Blood”). The most important song is “My Sweet Lord.” I listened to it on an epic six-and-a-half-hour (that was supposed to be four-hour) train ride up to the Shimla hill country. That beautiful, gentle strumming and tambourine nudged our little car up the mountain. I enjoyed every second of that journey, taking it as a metaphor for life. George Harrison’s chanting of “My sweet lord,” “hare Krishna,” “hare hare,” reminded me that the most important journeys take time and effort. After years of plugging away, I’d recently gotten a writing job I was excited about: I had climbed my own mountain.
En route to India I had 30 hours in Tokyo—my soul city in my heart country. I spent my junior year abroad in Tokyo. It’s where I learned to appreciate art and photography. Where I joined an ex-pat writers’ group and first identified as a writer. Where I learned to flaneur—wandering the city for hours, falling in love with the urban beauty and ennui of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi, beauty in imperfection. So of course I wanted this playlist to be perfect. I wanted to channel my 19-year-old self, zipping through the subways listening to Bjork. So there’s a lot of Bjork. I also included tracks from the “Lost in Translation” soundtrack to evoke the lost listlessness of being abroad. My 30 hours in Tokyo were not what I expected. I was sleep-deprived and got lost trying to return to my old haunts. The only way to get found was to return to the meeting spot of my study abroad program friends. Looking up at the neon signs, I was once-again an optimistic, young, city-girl. Like Mary Tyler Moore tossing her beret in the air, except I was listening to Bjork in the heart of Tokyo.
On to the western hemisphere. When I booked a yoga retreat in Quitana Roo, Mexico and another the following year in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, I’d never travelled south of the States. My, what I’d missed. Mexico was just so easy. Of course everything’s easy on an all-inclusive, ladies retreat on the beaches of Tulum. This first playlist captures the beachy vibe with the soft sounds of James Taylor, Paul Simon, Rodriguez, and Linda Ronstadt. I walked along the white sand to Jon Secada’s “Just Another Day” and sipped pina coladas to “La Isla Bonita.” It was nothing short of paradise. Pura Vida is also warm and relaxing, but a bit more modern. Many of the artists I chose were unknown to me at the time. I wanted it to feel like a chill beach lounge, an ethereal head-space to reflect on the day’s flow yoga, meditation, and sound journeys. I wanted it to take me even further than the warm waters of the pacific or the retreat center’s expansive pool. Indeed it was a restorative journey of the spirit.