Monday, May 7, 2007

Catching the Travel Bug

A few weeks ago, my friend Jody of Eddybles fame wrote a fantastic piece. While titled Watermelon Mojito Wanderlust, it was a fantastic, engrossing piece about her grandfather and developing a desire to travel. Read it--you'll be moved and wish you could adopt her grandfather. It also made me reflect a lot about my own love of travel and what planted the seed in me.

I didn't grow up with family or friends who travelled internationally. We travelled more than most people I knew, taking many road trips to visit family in Illinois and Virginia, trips to the North Carolina and Texas coasts, spring break in New Orleans. It's funny to think now that there was a time when it never would have even occurred to me to travel to another continent.

The first time I almost travelled was during my freshmen year at college. As I waffled semester by semester between practical pre-physical therapy courses and impractical liberal arts, I flirted with the idea of doing some sort of study abroad program. I thought I found the perfect fit--an archeological dig in Australia in the winter. Not too intimidating (they spoke the same language, after all) and matched my longstanding interest in archaeology and anthropology. I even remember staying up into the wee hours one night to try and call overseas to get more information about the program. But the practical side of me stepped in and decided it cost too much money and would take me off track for graduating in four years. Travel was still something other people did.

My first trip abroad was for work. While working at the University of Washington, I got the opportunity to work on an Asian Development Bank project for training teachers from three rural regions in Indonesia. It meant that about 100 teachers came to Seattle for a month, but first we got to travel to Indonesia, spending about 9 days in Surabaya, on Java, and a long bonus weekend in Bali. Now, as first travels go, Indonesia could be really intimidating--hot, totally different culture, different language, developing world. But I had the buffer of work travel--fancy five-star hotel, business class travel accomodations--as well as a great group of well-travelled women to explore with. In fact, I was in Bali, about to fly home when 9/11 happened, and ended up spending a few extra days among sympathetic Indonesians before they re-opened air travel. That experience probably could put a person off travel altogether, but for some reason I took to it. In fact, while the luxurious accomodations were nice, I'm finding that I prefer travel that's less disconnected from local people. I'd rather be on the bus with poor air-conditioning and more stops that isn't only filled with other Lonely Planet-toting travellers.

My travels since then have been fewer and farther between than I would have liked: Paris, Prague, and Jamaica. But every trip I took only proved that, for me, travel was exhilerating, enlightening, and eye-opening. I can't pinpoint a specific moment when wanderlust blossomed. I guess a culmination of growing up travelling domestically, moving around the country growing up, and an interest in other cultures and anthropology eventually all coalesced to become something in me that wants to get outside the comfortable and known.

This trip has also put the difference in cultural ideas about travel and vacation in sharp relief. We've met very few Americans so far. A few here and there, sometimes more around the biggest tourist attractions like Macchu Picchu. We ran into a couple from California in Tasmania, and when we mentioned our trip they had the typical American shocked reaction: "Seven months?!" And to be fair, my longest trip before this was two weeks. But the Europeans and other South Americans we've met routinely take a month, two or three off every year to travel. This big trip we meet them on is only one of many, and fairly routine at that. Most find our seven-month itinierary a bit funny, a "whistle-stop tour of the world," or sympathize, saying something like "You do what you can, I guess."

Enough rambling and navel-gazing. I hope this can help you think some about travel and family and all the rest.


Jessi Flynn said...

You make me want to ditch the Monday Morning Cubicle Dance! Thanks for setting the tone and the path for us other-envious-wanderlusters...and for being such spectacular travel-bloggers. (i'm waiting for the book!) To think I was proud of 2 weeks, now I have the European 1month/year urge. Keep cool in the Delta

ambika said...

I had no idea your first trip abroad was your Indonesian trip! I'm amazed that given the circumstances (9/11), you kept with it.

Americans are really alone in how they allow themselves such little time away from work. That was a huge factor in my initial decision to abandon this culture in the first place--a 30 hour week and 4 wks vacation. Of course, their road trips take them to Croatia, the Alps and Ibiza, which can only sound exotic to people whose road trips take them to Cannon Beach, Victoria and Couer d'Alene.

Next Stop: Jamaica said...

People are scared to put their life on hold to travel - but they shouldn't be! I have just finished a year "off" and it was one of the best decisions I ever made! As you, I managed to get to not only Paris and Prague but also Spain and Italy ... Looks like Jamaica will be my next stop if I want to keep it even ;) Thanks for the inspirational post, best wishes.