I was bitten, I suspect, by the wanderlust bug as a child playing in the backyard in my bare feet in early spring. While my physical body was bound by fences and threats from my mother not to leave the yard, my nimble imagination was free to explore every corner of this piece of earth. And so I constructed homes for crawly things – an entire metropolis for a colony of ants, plucked dandelions and sent their seeds on magnificent journeys with the force of my exhalation and laid on my back proclaiming clouds to be animals and other familiar objects on which I could ride.
Then while still in single digits, I was put on a plane by myself to go visit my grandparents. I earned a set of Eastern Airline wings and a visit with the pilot. Airline travel posted strongly in the win column.
Still the bug lay mostly dormant, incubating, building strength, protected by the safety of youth.
As a high school graduate I insisted upon attending a university out of state, but I suspect my reasoning at the time had more to do with proximity to the crumbling structure of my family unit, than to travel.
I have always wanted to move. Go somewhere new. Never live in or visit the same place again. And so most of my life this satisfied whatever need I had to roam and experience newness. But it all felt very safe. The bug grew restless.
Then I met and fell in love with the man I would eventually marry (long after the first one I married, divorced and had an amazing son with). Three years into our relationship we bought a house which absorbed him as part of its DNA. He was a literal homebody or perhaps the house was. Either way, he is now content to putter and tinker, remaining safely within a 20-mile radius, except for the occasional road trip or to visit his parents an hour and a half away.
It took 10 years in this relationship to realize I could go places without him. Big places, faraway places. The bug, feeling tethered to the homebody, began to mutate and get jittery. It made me do awful things: pout, tantrum, whine about never going anywhere, until one day, that tiny bug finally made its way to my brain and unlocked a hidden door. I peered out into the void, saw possibility, compromise and adventure. I saw a freedom that would not jeopardize my relationship.
Until that point I had believed that certain things had to line up for me to see the world. I had to have money – admittedly very helpful and still somewhat scarce; permission – from whom I am still uncertain; and someone to travel with – preferably the love of my life, especially to magical places like Italy or France. But each time that tiny doorway opened it whispered, ‘this way, it’ll be okay’.
And so a formula presented itself. An event, a training or a seminar, in another town would become the impetus for travel. It started in Chicago. He came with me. He confessed how awesome it was to wake up in our own bed, have breakfast at home then suddenly find ourselves at a restaurant in another city for lunch. But he hated to fly, hated everything about it, packing, parking, checking in, waiting, getting in line, so this would probably be infrequent at best.
But that experience allowed the door to swing farther open and reveal more to me. I found a training in New York City – still my favorite place on the planet – that would take me there 10 weekends over 9 months and I simply had to go. There was no way around it. There were signs everywhere. When I casually mentioned it to him he commented on the expense and the distance and wouldn’t I have to get a hotel and wouldn’t that cost a lot, and what about the flights. But it rested there.
A few days later, after a few encounters with snakes (the aforementioned signs – they have a lot to do with transmutation or the birth-life-death-rebirth cycle and I was deep in that process) I told him I had no choice. He said he knew. And that was that.
Since then the door has been removed. It’s simply a portal through which I have an open invitation to come and go. The bug has found its fullest expression and rides unobstructed on the corpuscles freely coursing through my veins.
The now husband? He’s been to California a couple of times with me to visit family and to New York once, but his memories of these trips mostly thread through expense and discomfort, or sometimes more positively, food and baseball. Instead we have taken to the road. A 10-day trip up north and back, meandering through tiny towns on back roads, and a few long weekends by the same means to new places to explore. It’s the perfect balance for this wanderer and her homebody. Taking him out of his comfort zone, takes me out of my experience, and nobody wins, so we found our best way to travel together.
And apart. Without him, I am free to poke into the darkest corners of the globe.
Travel for me is less about seeing new places than it is about experiencing myself in new situations. I am putting myself in unknown territory. It is not that the places are unknown or infrequently traveled – there aren’t too many of those left, I don’t think – it’s that the exploration is internal.
In a yoga class you may hear, “it’s about becoming comfortable with discomfort.” I believe that’s what I’m doing. I’m finding my edges. And once they’re identified and I become comfortable with them, I step out a little further onto the ledge.
Who am I here?
It’s true I wouldn’t have to go halfway around the world the find comfort in discomfort, but travel has another secret it shares with those willing to listen: Compassion and understanding.
Sometimes this can only happen if your reality is knocked off its pedestal and you are faced with something like poverty so profound you’re stricken immobile. The demon is too big to face down alone and so you must confer with others, talk it out, cry a little, then accept before anything else.
Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing a meal and a conversation with a local.
India is such a place. It was never on my radar and I would not have known what to do with her until the first year I met her. I always thought I would go to Paris with the love of my life sometime in my 20’s, or maybe even meet him there. He would propose under the Tour Eiffel, I would say, ‘Oui, bien sur!’, and we would live happily ever after splitting our time between Paris and New York City.
I was not meant to travel young. It would have been wasted on my inability to stretch. Drinking my way through Europe and fulfilling the most clichéd proposal dream was the breadth of my imagination at that time.
I would have to simmer and season. There would have to be self-help books, religious exploration, sleeping around, and illegal drug use. There would have to be career roulette, self-righteousness, self-hatred and a failed marriage. And then self-acceptance, a settling of the bones and eventually yoga. It all helped. It was all necessary and I wouldn’t change a thing.
It was basic training. I admittedly made it harder than it had to be, but I’m nothing if not creative.
And so now I can choose a place like India, not to visit the Taj Mahal or go to a giant yoga festival (although I have done both) but to delve into the depths of who I am without the familiar. What can be deconstructed simply by observance and what will need a little shake? How will I be if I hurt myself in a place with questionable sanitation? What will I do if I miss my flight or my car and can’t seem to explain myself? Can I come from calm compassion rather than throw the whole situation into a comfortable framework and blame the blameless for my ignorance?
This is the work. But it doesn’t have to be drudgery. When met with curiosity, rather than stuffing things into the box of perceptions constructed by past experiences, problems seem to resolve themselves. People suddenly seem more kind and understanding. And it has nothing to do with other people.
My commitment to this work is why I sometimes balk a little when someone asks how my vacation was. I feel almost insulted, prepared to defend the work I have done. And then I remember the box, step outside of it and meet them there.
“It was really great, thanks for asking.”