This word gets tossed around a lot recently with images of teens and twenty-somethings standing in front of mountains, at the edge of cliffs, in romantically imagined foreign cities, seemingly enjoying their lives to the fullest. Taken from German roots originally referring to an enjoyment for hiking, this Wanderlust movement has my generation’s eyes on the world around them.
I love this movement – making traveling the world beautiful, exciting, something to strive for while still young (because, well, it is). Perhaps my love of travel started with my grandparents, a choice book my dad handed me at a young age, or maybe it’s that DRD4-7R “wanderlust gene” and I never stood a chance.
Growing up, my paternal grandmother’s house was a giant treasure box. The photos on her walls were of her in every country my childish mind could recite – I remember specifically one in which she smiles, holding a Koala. She had a Japanese folding screen (byōbu?) in her living room, Thai Siam dancing dolls and matryoshka (nesting) dolls on a table, and other little trinkets from her travels in each space of her home. When my brother and I were still young, we’d have occasional weekends in Miami with her. Weekends with our grandmother (Grams) meant adventure. She made it a focus that every time we were dropped off with her we would visit somewhere new.
My personal escape to new places during that time was burying myself in any book I could get my hands on. When I was in fourth grade, for whatever reason, I remember making it a goal to read every Hank the Cowdog book my school library had. My dad saw me breezing through these books, hungry for more. He said, “Try this,” then handed me The Hobbit.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
It took me the next four years to read The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I realized two things after that: I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to travel the entire world.
When you want to travel the entire world, and are American, your perspective can be a little off. You’re told over and over the whole world hates you, so be prepared. (Or just say you’re Canadian, as a nice Canadian couple once told Grams and I.) Most of us needing adventure in the USA have traveled to other states, trying to satisfy our need to learn about other places. You learn what laws in each state differ from the one you live in, and this country offers physical diversity in swamps, desserts, mountains, and even a rainforest. But the culture only varies slightly. We’re a melting pot of immigrants, and offer pieces of cities named after the country of origin those immigrants came from – little Italy, Chinatown, the French Quarter. Each of these places still fall into an American context, with our laws, language, and politics influencing their development.
At times, I have no idea what that means for my identity. “American” always meant “immigrant” to me. In middle school, we were asked to talk to our parents to see where our families “were really from.” Each kid got up in front of the class and spoke about their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents being first generation, and what traditions were brought with them. We were asked to say “I’m __% [Irish, German, Scottish, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, etc.],” reciting all the places our relatives lived before coming here. Every presentation sunk me deeper into the realization that being “American” was sort of this lost thing, a young place in the eyes of the world, a nation whose traditions were sewn together from everyone else’s.
Traveling means tracing those sewn together bits back to their origins. I’ve only said, “I’m American” a handful of times in my life – while traveling, it usually comes out as “I’m from [the US/ the States/ America].” For years I’ve recited, “I’m Irish, French, Scottish, and Welsh,” but I’ve never understood what it means to be any of those things. Perhaps this feeling nestled in my chest while growing up led me to the idea of being a citizen of the world – someone who can feel at home in a lot of different places, not bound by borders or languages. A participant in the Wanderlust movement. This is someone I desperately want to be.
I am utterly fortunate enough to belong to a family who believes travel to be one of the most wonderful, necessary things a person can experience. Grams took me on my first cruise to the Bahamas. Later, when I was twelve, she pulled me out of school and took me on another cruise. We sailed on the Queen Elizabeth II (QE2) to Portugal, France, and England. There was an injured crew mate of a fishing boat that our cruise ship picked up (being the closest boat to them), and we diverted to the Azores for a short time. I remember being sent below deck as we approached the boat, and trying to catch a glimpse through the windows with the rest of the passengers. My twelve-year-old self imaged our crew and theirs, unable to speak the same language, but doing everything they could to help each other for the sake of saving the man who was injured. The entire trip opened my eyes to what the world offered and could be.
Years later, my dad offered my brother and I a deal when we graduated high school: if we got scholarships, were accepted into (and intended on going to) college, and made no major mistakes in life thus far, he would take us anywhere in the world we wanted to go for two weeks. My brother chose Scotland to golf at Saint Andrew’s. I chose New Zealand – where The Lord of the Rings had been recently filmed.
Not to be outdone, when I graduated college Grams offered me the same deal. We went to South Africa.
After college, I tried to find some sort of adult stability and didn’t travel for a while. Then I met Matt and we bonded over a desire to experience more of the world. Over the next three years we explored Seattle, Boston, Savannah, Washington D.C., Chicago, and Denver. We drove across the country when we moved to Seattle, hitting a number of states neither of us had ever been to before.
The need to travel began to creep into my being again when I was asked to travel for work last November. I agreed immediately, and spent three weeks assisting training sessions in Honduras. This was my first trip internationally traveling on my own. I had coworkers around once I landed, but this milestone was one I was quite proud of.
Now, a few months shy of Matt and my four year anniversary, we’ll be traveling internationally together. It’s been nearly a year since we left this city, and we’re both anxious to be somewhere new for a while. We’ll be spending nearly two weeks in the U.K. split between England and Wales. Our trip will end with my friend’s wedding, which set in motion this entire adventure.
So what will become of this wanderlust?
Such as we do as individuals and as a couple, I want to do as a family. I want to pass on this love of travel to our future child(ren). Part of my dad’s deal to my brother and I after high school was that we’d also pay it forward – that we’d be able to offer the same deal to kids of our own.
I believe traveling and all its wonders and hassles makes a person grow to be a better version of themselves. You become acutely aware of how small you are in comparison to the world. To me, this humbles me and makes me feel connected to everything and everyone – that no matter the city, country, or language, people are fundamentally similar. Traveling has taught me respect, patience, and a new found appreciation for where ever it is that I call home.
My dad once uttered a phrase we now repeat back to each other after visiting new places and/ or meeting new people: the more you travel, the smaller the world gets. You realize how closely everyone is connected; distant places have been the reality of someone who you may see every day, or someone you met for a short time at an event. The more you travel, the Six Degrees of Separation almost seem like too many.
The melting pot of my upbringing, the strange national identity I developed, and the legacy I want to leave have made me the person I am today. I’ve said yes to trips and adventures, encouraging everyone I meet to do the same.
Nothing in this world compares to traveling. I have found nothing as fulfilling, cleansing, or enriching. It’s been too long since I set out for the unknown, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you.
See you soon, Wanderlust.