During the two year period that Jason and I lived in Salem, we travelled to London, Paris, Cancun, Belfast, Edinburgh, London again, Oslo, Amsterdam, and Vancouver. We also made frequent small trips around New England, and down to New York, DC, and Florida.
For the most part, the adventures of 2009 and 2010 were not planned. I was fortunate enough to speak at a flurry of conferences; this enabled me to visit beautiful places I never dreamed I’d see. Jason was hired to film a bit for the cast of the Real World (which, considering Jason’s propensity for sunblock and sobriety, is hilarious); this brought us to Cancun. We visited friends up and down the east coast, and took our Buick LeSabre on weekend getaways whenever the mood struck us.
Since moving to New York last year, we’ve given up our car, so weekend trips are less convenient. I stopped contributing in a meaningful way to the web design community (something I hope to correct), so I’ve been invited to speak at fewer conferences (at least I think that’s the reason? Probably there are other ones too, like my breathless delivery and lack of speaking skills). Jason no longer does videography work, and his new career in iOS development involves few travel opportunities. These factors, and others, have resulted in a much more grounded existence.
At first I hardly missed all the traveling; moving to New York was adventure enough. Living here means you can experience much of the thrill, danger, and expense of travel without ever leaving the city. I’ve paid too much for mediocre food because I was confused, visited shops where English wasn’t understood, experienced culture shock and discovery and exhaustion. Now that I can navigate the city better, have a few good friends, and am on a first name basis with a couple baristas, it feels less dramatic and more like home. Which is wonderful; except that I’ve been desperate to travel again.
Last month I began researching potential destinations. I asked Twitter for suggestions, and was presented with an array of fabulous getaway spots. Iceland, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Vietnam; I wanted to go everywhere. I began researching flights, hotels, activities, rail passes for Europe, the wardrobe I would need, and the best brand of walking shoes. Five hours later when I emerged from the shame pit of online suitcase shopping, I decided to give up on organizing a trip; it’s too much work to relax.
During this marathon bout of travel planning, I began to think about all the hard parts of taking trips — all the terrible moments of stress, helplessness, and exhaustion. Here’s a small sampling of horror stories from our time spent abroad:
- In Amsterdam our luggage was lost, so we spent most of our money buying a new wardrobe. (I mean, I couldn’t attend a conference in my airplane sweatpants!) This, combined with an over-indulgence in amazing food, meant that by the end of the trip we were utterly broke. It wasn’t a big deal, since we had checks in the mailbox at home. Except we missed our flight home due to a fire on the train. With no money and no place to stay, we spent a miserable day wandering the airport like the exhausted and broke tourists that we were. We eventually checked in to the airport hotel using my Grandma’s “borrowed” credit card (sorry Grandma! We did pay her back when we got home). Also, PRO TIP: It’s good to, you know, have a credit card when you travel.
- On our Paris excursion (for reasons I’ll never understand), I was obsessed with seeing the Mona Lisa. I had a fit when we arrived at the Louvre too late in the day, and couldn’t have the perfect museum visit I’d envisioned. By the way, we did get to see the Mona Lisa, but we had to sprint through the museum, and it was blocked by a massive crowd of people. Also, it is really small, kept behind glass and ropes, and I felt incredibly foolish for sacrificing my sanity just to see it.
- Before the Vancouver trip I stayed up for days, taking caffeine pills and Keynote-ing like a crazy person in an attempt to make THE PERFECT WORKSHOP for Interlink. On the flight over I had a nervous breakdown because my seat-mate was constantly elbowing me, and Jason had to talk me down from a sobbing fit. Once we arrived, I developed a crippling flu, and barely made it through the presentation I’d worked so hard on.
- There was the horrible sea sickness on the ferry from Belfast. The bed-bug and mold palace in London. The endless exhaustion of getting lost, walking for miles, and cursing my dependence on GPS. Sidenote: I no longer know how to read a real map. Thanks, technology!
In spite of all these nightmarish memories, I know the benefits of exploration will always outweigh the negatives. Travel offers a a renewed gusto for life, and a respect for other cultures. It also encourages us to savor the moment, rather than coast through the monotony of routine. I could write another 1000 words about all the beauty I’ve seen, the beliefs I’ve gained, and the invaluable moments of joy experienced while away from home.
But instead, I’ve chosen to write about the bad times, because these are the stories that make me laugh. I know I was miserable while these difficult events unfolded, but now I’m glad for all the misery. The irrational tantrums, physical exhaustion, and rotten luck tested Jason and I’s resourcefulness, and our resilience as a couple. While away I’ve experienced the best and worst of myself, and these extremes are where our character is built. I’d do it all again. (Well, maybe not the Mona Lisa).
So even as I recall our horror stores, I’m still desperate to take a trip. I want to experience a new place, and all that it entails. I’ve been spending too much time browsing travel blogs, daydreaming about what glamorous things might happen to me while away from home.
When Misty got sick I realized we won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. As shamefully selfish as this is, I was disappointed when it registered that nursing her would mean spending every possible minute by her side. We’re afraid to leave her alone for even a few hours, in case anything should happen to her. I thought I might go insane spending all my time at home, watching her sleep, measuring her poop for consistency, and counting out pills.
Instead, I’m gradually learning to appreciate this settled state. I’m catching up on my reading. I’m finishing side projects. And I swear I’m going to practice guitar and cook more too. My day now revolves around morning coffee with Jason, lounging with the cat, and quietly working at my desk. It’s not glamorous, but it is fulfilling, and I’m learning to appreciate it.
I stumbled across this quote the other day, and I think it sums up the lesson I’m learning about wanderlust:
“For most of life, nothing wonderful happens. If you don’t enjoy getting up and working and finishing your work and sitting down to a meal with family or friends, then the chances are that you’re not going to be very happy. If someone bases his happiness or unhappiness on major events like a great new job, huge amounts of money, a flawlessly happy marriage or a trip to Paris, that person isn’t going to be happy much of the time. If, on the other hand, happiness depends on a good breakfast, flowers in the yard, a drink or a nap, then we are more likely to live with quite a bit of happiness.”
The quote is by Andy Rooney, who Jason reminded me was unfortunately a sometimes bigot, but I still like the sentiment.
As much as I crave the extremes that come with going away, I’m learning to see the joy in staying.
Sidenote: I’m anticipating some snark about first world problems and humble-bragging. So save your breath, anonymous-internet-commenter-I’m-preemptively-annoyed-with, because yeah I know.