The Wanderlust


"Travel is like adultery: one is always tempted to be unfaithful to one's own country. To have imagination is inevitably to be dissatisfied with where you live." ~Anatole Broyard


I haven’t set foot out of the United States of America in more than nine years. Which, seeing as I am a born American and vote in American elections and carry an American passport, doesn’t appear as shocking in nature to my casual acquaintances as it really is. In fact, I live and work in an area where people are born, raised and die without ever setting foot outside the state… let alone the country. They don’t understand me and my flippant, yet deeply seriously, remarks about needing to leave the USA from time to time, if not permanently. I am okay with that. I certainly don’t understand why they feel the need to live within a stones throw of all their “kinfolk” from the time they enter this world until the time they leave but I don’t judge them for it and, for the most part, I am not judged in return. Traveling, it appears, is not for everyone. For me it is vital.

The first time I was on an airplane I didn’t even have to set foot on it. Seeing as I was a mere four months old and incapable of walking, my parents did that for me… stepping on board with me in their arms or cradled in a piece of cloth and slung across my mother’s back African style. That’s where we were headed, by the way: Africa. Kenya, to be exact. My parents and older brother had already spent four years making a home there as missionaries. I was simply the new addition. In the month between December 1, 1974 and January 1, 1975 I was initiated into the ranks of world travelers around the globe. We trekked through five states, six countries and nine airports. I spent my first New Year’s Eve on an airplane over the Sahara Desert between Rome, Italy and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

From that month of my life until age twenty I was a regular globe nomad. Every four years we returned to the States for a year (give or take a month or two). My father arranged our itineraries so that we stopped in different countries leaving and returning to Kenya. We also never seemed to spend that period of time in the same state. I have come home from school in Mississippi (Kindergarten), West Virginia (Fifth Grade) and Louisiana (Tenth Grade). To me, a childhood of perpetual motion was a gift and I will be forever grateful to my parents for it; however, those memories and experiences often serve to heighten the discontent I experience in my current all but stationary life.

My last trip home to Kenya was over sixteen years ago.

Eleven years ago I became a travel agent. I did it in part because I knew I would be good at the job, partly because I could live vicariously through my clients and partly because I thought it would also afford me the opportunity to get on an airplane or a boat or a train and go anywhere. But travel agents don’t receive the perks that people seem to think they are afforded simply for doing the job. There are a few… here and there… but the perceived floodgate of free travel for agents is a myth.

In 2001 a bunch of religious radicals decided to hijack several airplanes and use them as missiles against Americans. In the midst of the carnage, anger and pain I shared with my fellow Americans, I also had to cope with the realization that my time in the travel industry needed to come to an end before the agency where I worked closed its doors. In 2002, two months before leaving the agency, I took advantage of my one and only travel perk and went to Bermuda for three days. It was a business trip, a familiarization tour of the island in order to better sell it to my clients, which left little downtime for exploring the off-the-tourist-trail parts of a new destination that I adore discovering. But, I did get to enjoy the country and it was another stamp in my passport. It was also the last.

My passport expired in 2003. I didn’t renew it because future travel was not a blip on the radar of my life and I preferred to have an expired passport with visa stamps from varying countries than a valid passport which would have remained blank. An empty passport is just sad. The other stark reality? I simply couldn’t afford the renewal cost.

NOTE: The above was composed as the beginning to a potential autobiographical travel journal rediscovering, as an adult, the places I had explored in childhood. I was planning a trip to much beloved England at the time and the entire piece was constructed solidly in my mind... before the trip fell through. Therefore, my passport remains expired and I remain stateside and the book remains 3.15 chapters long and entirely unfinished. 

7 comments:

  1. Good post. Like you, I love travelling. My last big trip was last year from Australia to Scotland and back again. The one continent on Earth I haven't visited yet though is the Good Ole USA - It's top of my priority list - I want to get one of those Winniebago (spelling?) things and just take my time from coast to coast.

    Rory

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  2. Thank you, Rory. Ironically, were I to prioritize my wanderlust list (impossible task), Scotland and Australia/NZ would be #1 and #2 respectively. ;) There is much of the USA I have yet to experience as well; but, with gas prices as they are today, that won't be happening anytime soon either.

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  3. Come to England, dear Beth, land of buses and public footpaths, where wanderlust can indulge itself without the curse of the motor-car! Your illustration suggests you have thoughts in that direction.

    Well, Scotland if you must.

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  4. I envy you your childhood, but I wonder if you fully appreciated it at the time?

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  5. I know exactly the feeling you had when you didn't renew your passport. I've come close to renewing a couple of times "just in case". But have yet to pull the trigger. I love that the passport is stamped on more pages than it isn't. Chances are if I were to renew, it could sit empty until it expires. (so now that forces of nature are gonna cause me to do an expedited renewal soon) ;)

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  6. You are as good as any paid writer.
    Always love my visits.

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  7. Vincent: If I make it that way I'll be doing both England & Scotland. Best use of airfare, I think.

    Megan: By the age of 11 or 12 I had a rather good grasp on exactly how blessed I was. I like to think I didn't take it for granted.

    Eric: Sigh. Let's go to England.

    Frances: Luv, you are always so full of encouragement. I thank you most sincerely.

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"Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?" ~Walt Whitman

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