For years the idea of traveling seemed way out of my reach. My finances just didn’t line up, or maybe I just prioritized other things. Either way, year after year, and I was starting to feel depressed thinking that my travel days were in the past. Worse, I wanted to travel with my daughter and resented the idea that it may never happen.
Every day I went to work, bored with the scenery. Fifteen years ago, I was in love with San Diego. But that had worn off, and seeing the mountains charred and bare from the sun and fires made for commutes no longer inspired me and I couldn’t see the beauty anymore. I longed for new, unseen landscapes.
I yearned to stand in Chinatown, Singapore and eat a steamed lotus bun at the food court. I wanted to smell the mix of incense from the Buddhist shrine in the middle of the shopping area and the waft of food cooking in the court. I wanted to see the elderly men sitting at tables playing games and smoking.
I wanted to go back to Japan and find that foot massage place in Sasebo where I grit my teeth for an hour, to which my shipmate lit a cigarette, and we both walked on clouds the rest of the day.
I wanted to show myself that the world has continued on even though my memories live in the past.
I also wanted to show my daughter the world. To walk her down the same pathways and point out the sights I had once seen for the first time.
I wanted to slide down the indoor ski slope at the mall in Dubai with her.
I wanted to show her the outdoor fish markets in Korea and eat an egg on a stick with her.
I wanted to show how crazy they drive in other countries where pedestrians and vehicles narrowly avoid each other in what looks like carefully choreographed chaos.
I wanted her to feel the culture shock of feeling out of place.
I wanted her to know that the world she sees every day is but a sampling of the humanity that surrounds the globe and spans millions of years.
I wanted her textbooks to come to life and bare the truth behind the text, the emotion beyond the words, and the people whose stories remain untold.
Travel is so much more to me than pretty places and different foods. My heart is curious about that which is off the beaten path and connects me with the people. Like when I volunteered with my ship’s company to plant flowers on a roadside with disabled children from a school in Korea. The language barrier didn’t stop us from finding a way to laugh with them and appreciate their world. They were in awe of us strangers who were willing to get into the dirt and make something of theirs a little prettier. That day wasn’t memorable because of some discount I got on a new thrill ride or because I got to see a spectacular landmark. It was memorable because the students served us their pastries and tea and smiles; a part of them inside their world.
My heart must have been sending out S.O.S signals or the universe answered my prayer or something because I eventually met someone who has a stronger itch for travel than me, and he was ready to hit the road. We hit the road together.
Our first trip together was within the United States. He had a flight credit to use up and off we went. It felt so good to get on a plane to somewhere other than my home state of Maine to visit family. It felt great to see a new place. I noted that whenever I thought of travel, I thought of leaving the United States, but there was so much of the nation I had not seen yet.
Here, I had ached for culture and sweeping landscapes, forgetting they both live and breathe at my fingertips, waiting for my discovery. This awareness turned me into an eager tourist stepping into what felt like a foreign land- of Portland, Oregon.
Playing tourist meant a thing like The Portland Market was a special treat to get excited about. We didn’t have the luxury of being there every weekend to maybe grow uninterested one day and do other things, so we fully basked in the passion of the artists, chefs, and innovators.
I love taking in the surroundings and considering what is new to me is what locals consider normal, and much of it is rarely noticed anymore as they go on about their business. How many of them even notice the calm and peaceful river next to them? Which artists are so successful they only go to the market because they love the atmosphere and interactions with people and their pets and kids? How many others had sat on the grassy spot we chose for a picnic and gazed upon the blades in front of them, letting their minds wander to far away places?
After wandering the rooms of Powell’s Books, an arcade, and running into my boyfriend’s sister, who had coincidentally just arrived in Portland to consider a move there, we were feeling pretty satisfied with the weekend.
Our next trip was to Las Vegas to “go somewhere.” We had fun waiting in the hotel check-in line where our stomachs were empty and our drinks were full. He took me to the rotating stratosphere restaurant, ordered wine, and watched the sunset over the distant mountains. We did all the rides on the Stratosphere, nearly losing our stomachs. We ate brunch at Caeser’s Palace where I tried crawfish for the first time. We waited in line for two hours to zip line over Freemont Street. We laughed at how badly we were at getting our axes to stick to the target at an ax-throwing place.
I wondered why someone would want to live in Vegas; a hot place in the middle of nowhere with an economy dependent on strippers, casinos, and the nightlife.
I wondered how many strippers loved their jobs. How many parents believed Vegas was a great place to live? How many people moved there for a better opportunity and what was that opportunity? I wanted to know what the construction of the stratosphere was like; did anyone fall? Where would residents move if fresh water ran out? If you needed to flee, how hard would it be to get out of Vegas to a safe place?
My favorite birthday was spent in Rosarita. It was a surprise for my fortieth. Until then, my Mexico experiences were with a couple of cruise ships and a trip to Tijuana for dental work.
We drove past the border and kept going. I marveled at how rundown and broken the country looked yet the locals smiled at each other and carried on. My mind drifted to curiosities about society and what makes people happy. Would a Mexican living on a remote farm with precious little be happier if they lived in America with a garage full of stuff? If Americans and Mexicans traded homes, how quickly would Americans give up out of despair or would they finally realize happiness comes from within?
In Rosarita, we gorged on seafood tacos, lobster, and chocolate beer. We swam in the resort pool and enjoyed leisurely mornings in our room overlooking the ocean.
We visited a winery in the mountains at sunset where I refused to believe my boyfriend when he said the last time he was there the sun had set on the other side of the ocean.
We made friends on a wine tour to the hottest place on earth I had ever been and cooled off with chilled red wine inside rooms with air conditioning, and I wondered what it was like before they installed it; how many tourists willingly visited before then?
We later met up with these friends at a restaurant where a Mariachi band sang happy birthday for me and the other birthday girl sat in the corner, pretending not to be celebrating, too.
We spent our last day in downtown Tijuana where we happened to notice a quiet and dark alley off the main street. Something about it was inviting, so we went. As we stepped into the shadows, a hidden community of artists came into focus. They had painted the walls and erected shops to sell their wares. We strolled slowly and intentionally, relishing in the creativity and intimacy of the experience.
Lunch was at Hotel Caesars where waiters had made careers out of going from table to table making the best ever Caesar Salad; an unexpected treat.
We took off to New Orleans and indulged our senses with donuts, music, graveyards, and wherever the trollies took us.
The weather was fascinating, catching us off guard with freezing cold temperatures and sporadic rainfall while the locals moved along like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. To them, of course, it was completely normal. My sensitive skin marveled at the fact that people had chosen to live there.
One of my favorite things about New Orleans was the culture of music. It’s everywhere. I loved walking through the parks and listening to the musicians playing the music they had been playing for years. I imagined the trumpet players going home at night, putting their instruments away, going about their routines as they had for generations.
I loved the normalcy of celebration.
My daughter came with us on a cruise to Mexico. It was her first vacation out of the U.S. She was excited to use her brand new passport. My boyfriend and I painstakingly planned excursions and prepped our supplies such as water shoes and towel clips, most of which we never used.
I was anxious for my daughter to see Mexico- her first foreign country.
We didn’t plan on the rain and cold weather on our cruise, but we made up for it with trips to the arcade onboard and getting lost on our way to events and shows.
In Cabo, we waiting all morning to get off the ship, but once we were there, we took our time in the shops along the waterfront. My daughter fell in love with a Mexican handmade doll.
Then we signed up for parasailing; a first for her and I. We were both scared of the height at first before getting caught up in the sights around us.
We took a break at a touristy bar where my daughter left her mark with a painted board now added to the thousands who had come before her.
In Puerto Vallarta, we took a tour for zip lining. The drive out was long and we fell silent for a while, trying to take in the lushness, the coastline, the pockets of rich homes and long stretches of worn down neighborhoods.
The zip line tour guides were full of personality and I wondered, why are Americans so stuffy? Why do we take everything so seriously? What if we had more fun with what he had instead of focusing always on what we don’t have?
As we continue our travels, I hope my daughter starts to make a deeper connection to the experiences.
Right now she is soaking up the fun and excitement of it. She loves plane rides, boat rides, and she’s more open to new foods and trying new things like putting her feet in a tank so little fishies can eat the bacteria off her feet.
I hope, at some point, as she stares out the bus window she considers what she sees. That the homeless person in Mexico is lonely the same as the homeless in San Diego, London, and Germany.
I hope she becomes interested in the stories of the lands she sees.
I hope the wonder never ceases and she can find her connection to the world and humanity in it.