By this time Wednesday night, I’ll be long gone on my way to China for holiday. Here’s what I’ve done so far to get ready: nothing. I haven’t even looked at my ticket. Not recently anyway. It’s all part of my travel “ritual” — I think about what I should be doing, usually for days, stress over what I should be doing, but do nothing. I can’t. I want to. But I can’t. On a recent trip I forgot to look at my ticket altogether and ended up going to the wrong airport. International flights always leave from JFK, right? Well, this one did not. That was an annoying lesson. I will look at my ticket tonight.
I have been traveling ever since I can remember. I love traveling. I love every single thing about traveling. Every single thing. I suffer from such profound wanderlust, it’s a wonder I can function in the real world. I’ve been to over 65 countries/territories and counting, and many places I’ve been many, many times. I want to go everywhere. I literally want to go everywhere. There is nowhere I won’t go. Some of my earliest memories are of traveling and crying when it was time to go home. I still cry. I cry at the end of every trip. Sometimes I start crying on the way to the airport. Sometimes I burst into tears at the airport or on the plane. Usually all three places. I always feel like I’m leaving some of the best part of me behind each place I’ve been. I’m never more alive then when I’m wandering aimlessly around a new country. I’m happy once I’m home again. I’m just really bad at the transitions.
I’m a super-casual traveler. I never stress out or get upset by delays or unforeseen circumstances. I relish them. I love getting lost. I like when things go awry. It’s always when the best adventures begin.
I made my first solo trip abroad when I was 12. I went to Mexico for the summer. Having grown up in Bethesda, Maryland, my neighborhood was full of diplomats and World Bank types. Very transitional. I made friends with a girl (name?) a few weeks before she left to go back home to Mexico. I barely knew her but I had a major crush on her older brother. On her next-to-last day, she mentioned in passing that I’d have to come to Mexico to visit her the following summer. WAY back then there was no email, or texting, or Facebook, or personal computers for that matter. And long-distance phone calls cost a million dollars. It was a dark and scary time, my friends. So a year later, after zero contact, I received a letter via air mail (remember those special envelopes?) inviting me to Mexico. And despite not knowing them, or having heard from the family in a year, my mom agreed to let me go.
I boarded a plane with nothing but an address — something-something-something, Mexico DF. The plane was full of Shriners. We hoped there would be a family waiting for me on the other end. My mom told me if there wasn’t, to turn around and fly back home. I said ok, but remember thinking that family or no family, there was absolutely no way I was coming back without exploring first. NO WAY. I never told my mom this, but I have a feeling she knew and let me go anyway. I’ve always done my own thing and she’s always trusted me. She’s a good mom that way.
Anyway, they were there — the family whose name I can’t remember — and it was an awesome summer. I learned Spanish. We traveled all over the country and stayed on military bases. Mexico City was corrupt as shit. We paid off cops to get out of tickets, and I went with the sister to buy a better report card from her principal. And the brother who I had the crush on…well, he was in a band. I loved him. We made out eventually. As I said, awesome summer.
Here’s a REALLY bad photo of me in Japan with my Japanese roommate, Mayumi. I went to Kansai Gaidai Daigaku during my junior year. I lived in Hirakata, about a 6.5-hour drive from Tokyo. One weekend I decided to hitchhike to Tokyo with my friend, GM. Mayumi made this sign for me. Typical Japanese. Extremely polite. Ridiculously polite. I mean look at this sign. Cars on the highway would have had to slow down to a complete stop to read this sign. This was not a helpful sign.
GM and I thanked Mayumi, left the building, turned the sign over and wrote TOKYO in Kanji in huge letters on the other side and called it a day. Our first driver dropped us off in the middle of the mountains somewhere. He felt terrible about it, but he had to turn off. We sat at an empty truck stop for a few hours wondering if we might possibly die there. There were no cell phones back then and we’d left without telling anyone where we were going (except Mayumi), and no plan for where we’d be when we got there. That’s what made it such fun. The ability to get completely and utterly lost. So hard to do nowadays. Eventually a truck pulled in. We bribed the driver with candy. He drove us to a subway stop on the outskirts of Tokyo and our adventure began.
I hitchhiked across Guatemala about seven or so years ago by accident. I had been wandering around Guatemala for a bit and decided to go surfing in some random place called Sipacate, only when I got there (by taxi, thank you, as there was no public transportation — at that time at least), the surfing instructor who I’d spoken to only a day earlier was gone, and there was no food left. I thought about staying, but there was no beer either, so I was out of there. As there was no public transportation to Sipacate, there was no public transportation out of Sipacate either.
So story short…I walked for hours until I found a river. I hitchhiked on a boat across the river to some town (a term I use loosely). I wandered around the “town” looking for people. Found some people. Asked said people if they could drive me to a beach with a hotel. Said people — two very nice men who I decided would not introduce themselves if they were going to kill me — gave me a ride on the back of their pickup truck for five hours across some of the most beautiful, strange, ugly, and most awe-inspiring countryside I’d ever seen.
We drove through jungles. Through burned-out land. Through magical light. Through a mile-long tar pit with a real live chain gang working it — hundreds and hundreds of prisoners chained to one other slaving away on black, steaming land. It was amazing. I cried from joy at the experience. My friend who was with me, MH, had never left the country, except once to Ireland. I’d dragged him with me to Guatemala. He had pretty bad culture shock the entire time. This particular segment of our trip had not helped. But for me, these types of unforeseen adventures are as important as oxygen. Without them, life isn’t worth living. Seriously.
Off to China…