wanderlust: noun 1. a strong desire to travel
fernweh: a German word that is similar to wanderlust but with more intensity. It describes a feeling akin to being homesick but instead of long for home, a person is farsick, longing to see distant places.
I can pinpoint the moment (more or less) that my traveling bug was activated. But let’s back up. As a family, we traveled around the Midwest quite a bit. My mom’s parents live in Michigan and so during major holidays we made the trek up north to Monroe. At some point, my aunt and cousins lived in Florida and we took a trip to see them. We went camping in area campsites, traveled to Norris Lake as often as we could, and found ourselves on a lake most weekends when the weather was nice (or what my dad qualified as nice). I remember taking a trip to Arizona to visit family friends and see the Grand Canyon. The most vivid memories of that trip include waking up to 6 inches of snow (I was very confused since we were supposed to be in the desert) and the overwhelming anxiety of my dad standing too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon (probably where I realized my fear of heights). In 5th grade, we went on a cruise for spring break and while I enjoyed the tropical beaches, I was too young to appreciate the countries I was traveling to. I was more concerned about getting my hair braided, the ultimate badge of honor for a tween traveler.
While those trips showed me a lot about having adventures, it was actually a class project that started my fascination with traveling. At some point in elementary school I had to do a research project and I researched London, England. I read book after book on life in London and became totally preoccupied with Big Ben. I cannot explain the logic of my gradeschool mind but I just had to go and see this giant clock tower. As I grew older, I held on to this desperate desire to go to London, and it was only spurred on as I studied British Literature and fell in love with the classic language and dark landscape. In high school, I looked up airline prices and searched for tours. When I started looking for colleges, they had to have a study abroad program that included studying in London. I even tried to talk about studying abroad during high school. I just wanted to go out and see what existed across the pond. Unfortunately, none of those plans ever panned out. In high school, I had the opportunity to tour Greece and Italy with my art class and I figured- what the heck. It wasn’t England but it was new and it was across the ocean.
This trip fueled my curiosity. I travel because I’m a curious person. I think I have pretty well established that I love to learn, and, for me, traveling is the ultimate classroom. When I travel (international or national) I get to meet new people, and most are more than willing to share their story, experiences, talents, and knowledge. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, speaks on the danger of the single story in this TedTalk. She talks about how we can become narrow minded in our view of the world if we always accept what is present to us. One way to fix this issue is reading challenging texts, but another way is to actually go out in the world and see the diverse perspectives people have to offer. It’s like the old saying goes, you need to walk a mile in a person’s shoes before you can fully understand his story. Before I went to Australia, I read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country which pretty much terrified me and made me never want to step foot in Australia. Besides the intriguing historical and political information, he clearly spelled out that everything in Australia is out to kill you. He described in detail the spider situation and as a person who gets her cat to kill spiders instead of facing them herself, I was immediately regretting my decision to go. However, I went anyway. And yes, there were some spider situations, but I also experience the beauty of the sunburned (and sometimes forgotten) country. His book prepared me but reading about Australia is not the same as actually going there. Traveling provides me an experience that reading cannot always give me.
Instead of just looking at a picture of the Cliffs of Moher, I got to feel the wind whipping across my face as I watched the waves crashed against the rocks-continuing to create this craggy formation. Instead of reading about the Sistine Chapel and viewing sections of it, I got to stand underneath it and have my breath taken away by intricacy and enormity of this monument of history. I got to walk to streets of Granada hand in hand with a great friend. I also got to have that same friend laugh at me and help me up when I tripped over one of the pomegranate statues that line the streets of Granada (seriously though- those things are shin height-I can’t be the first to have done this). I had the chance to learn (and taste) classic Australian food from a good friend and award winning cook. I also got to share some of my own American food with that friend (Pulled chicken sandwiches, baked beans, biscuits, and s’mores). On several occasions, I got up close and personal with kangaroos and koalas.
Now, if you can believe, I have yet to step foot in England. Not even in an airport for a layover to somewhere else. The one place that inspired this expensive hobby has eluded me for years. I’ve been blessed to see parts of Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Australia. However, this summer, my roommate and I are visiting the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, and…England. I’m finally going to see the place where it all began.
I find it hard to articulate what travel means to me. Traveling is such an important part of self-discovery and I believe is a cornerstone of lifelong learning. The world is too big and too beautiful to let it go undiscovered. The best way I can sum it up is to steal a song from my favorite Disney princess, Belle.
I want adventure in the great wide somewhere
I want it more than I can tell
And for once it might be grand
To have someone understand
I want so much more than they’ve got planned
*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/28/2014