It's January in Lapland, and minus 25 degrees. I'm driving my own team of huskies. We're whizzing through the wilderness, riding bumps and slopes. I'm wearing silk thermals from neck to toes, a fleece on top and trousers that defy the cold. A coat, a balaclava and hat, and I could stay out here all day. And I do. I've learned that it's never too cold – you're just wearing the wrong clothes. Another January: St. Petersburg, it's minus 8. There's snow in the streets and ice on the Neva. I've been walking for hours. I say I'm gathering background for Galina, the central character in my new novel, Invented Lives, but actually I'm engaged in a more selfish pursuit. I am thrilled by the foreignness of this environment. I watch ducks scavenging on the iced canals, run my fingers over glazed Russian monuments, follow footprints in fresh snow, I am wrapped in the weird wintry light. I don't want to be anywhere else but here.
I've walked the lava plains of Kilauea in Hawaii, I've navigated a Zodiac around the icebergs of Antarctica, I've been swept up in the mesmerising Northern Lights, I've sat on a chilly beach surrounded by thousands of penguins on Macquarie Island, I've watched adolescent male polar bears spar together at Lake Hudson in Canada, I've waited for a group of elephants to amble pass, metres in front of me at the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Nature is endlessly wonderful and ever-changing. Your problems slip away. You feel grateful to be here, in this place, in this moment.
No phone, no traffic, no human noise, the solitude of wilderness, particularly a snowy wilderness brings the most extraordinary sense of peace. The trees, bent beneath ice and snow, create a fairyland, the white sky produces no shadows. I might be the only person in the world. The filmy light, the brisk cold, the crunch of the snow beneath my boots, those gorgeous gnarled trees, all slip into the imagination, feed the imagination. I've never been so alert, nor so tranquil.
Travel takes you into the unknown, it pushes you out of your comfort zone. Far from home and you are confronted with new places, foreign languages, unpredictable weather, untamed nature, baffling customs, confusing food, crowded cities peopled with strangers, all these – and more – require courage. Yet they bring unparalleled pleasure and rewards – particularly for those like me, who are constitutionally timid. Every trip makes me braver.
When you travel everything is interesting: people, places, landscape, culture. Your curiosity is aroused and it feels wonderful. I've learned to bring this heightened curiosity home with me. And with a sharper way of seeing, and an expanded way of being, home itself becomes deeper and richer and extraordinary.
Melbourne-based Andrea Goldsmith originally trained as a speech pathologist and was a pioneer in the development of communication aids for people unable to speak. Her novel The Prosperous Thief was short-listed for the 2003 Miles Franklin Literary Award and The Memory Trap was awarded the 2015 Melbourne Prize. Her new novel is Invented Lives (Scribe, $32.99). See scribepublications.com.au