When I was growing up, I dreamed of going to places like Italy and France. I always thought they were out of my reach, far too expensive.
Before I could become the traveller I wanted to be in my 20s, life interfered with much stupid/tragic/disruptive stuff. Travelling didn’t happen beyond my roadtripping days, where I saw half of Canada and the whole west coast of North America, from Alaska to Mexico.
In hindsight, I understand why I got so dramatically derailed. I can say truthfully now that one’s propensity for having regrets grows exponentially with age. That’s hindsight for you. With wisdom comes the acceptance that there is much we could have done better, learned faster.
Staring down age 41, I have some of that regret, these days.
Surprisingly, not as much as I would have expected, given how unhappy I was, and for how long. As “old” as I feel, I also feel far younger than I would have thought for 40. I have excitement that I can still change things. I also have a sense that everything has kind of gone just as it should.
After all, becoming a world traveller in my 40s will mean I’m old enough to understand and appreciate all the culture around me. I’m wise enough to see what contentment is, and just how little is required to attain it. I’m cynical enough to look behind the curtains and ignore the tourist veneer. I’m confident and defensive enough to stroll off the well-trod path and find the “real” people and places behind the cultures I’m visiting.
I’ve been watching all my friends travel, and none of them have done it in the way I think I will. That’s the beauty of travel. It’s a world of options for a world of people. Literally.
The Great Wandering Act of ’79
When I was soon to be six years old, we were on our first big family trip to Disneyland in ‘79. On a daytrip to Tijuana, I meandered off. I mean, not just a few feet away — I walked the hell off. I was gone for hours. My parents thought I was kidnapped. They waited to file a missing person’s report in the then-corrupt-as-hell-and-lacking-a-PR-department Mexican police station for two hours. My mother had $500 cash stolen from her IN THE POLICE STATION. This was in ‘79, man! Oh, Mexico. That’s a lot of dough.
Meanwhile, me, the absent 5-year-old, I was having a grand old time. I wandered the streets, talked to strangers. I bought a giant bag of candy and made a MILLION little Mexican friends who followed me around as I got them high on free candy.
Then I found my way into a street market and managed to barter with a vendor for a fringed leather cowgirl vest I would cherish for the next two years, followed by a Seiko watch.
I don’t remember how I reconnected with my parents, but I went back with no spending money, a candy-full tummy, a new vest, and a watch.
That afternoon, I learned about how sometimes people stole children and sold the kids to bad people. I never wandered off again. It was pretty fun while it lasted, though.
You Are What You Do
If this premise that our personalities are fully formed by age seven is true, then I guess my little wandering act says a lot about who I should be today.
It’s long overdue that I finally shift gears to be that wandering-act girl again.
When it comes to watching how all my friends are travelling, it’s helping me to decide the sort of traveller I wish to be. I don’t want to be breezing through places with only two to four weeks to see the region (or worse, less). I want to stay put, be a part of the place, become privy to the rhythm of their streets.
I see people shit on others who take trips and only see touristy things, but if I was confined to only a week or two, I would fall victim to the same dull scheme. That’s why I fancy the idea of 5 to 6 months spent per place. As a writer, I love the idea of really getting to know areas.
I’m also not deciding on a plan of attack. I want to see where the flow leads me. We live in an age where you don’t need to speak the language. Photo apps translate foreign-language signs, for crying out loud! Dictionaries and translators will speak for you at the press of a button.
Aside from medical vaccines, money, and visas, there’s no reason why one should be limited where they travel today. It’s an open-door world, thanks to gadgetry.
Times Have Changed, As They Do
The world I thought was once too expensive to see has become far cheaper than where I now live. If I set the only parameter as being “must be 30% cheaper than where I live today” it seems as if more than half the world is an option for me.
It’s a strange phenomenon to go from a cheap little Canadian city to the most expensive in Canada, and top 100 in the world.
It seems an unrealistic goal, to spend my life travelling for a few years yet live for 30–40% cheaper than I presently do, but according to friends who’ve spent a year or more abroad, it’s not unrealistic at all.
It’s about choices, doing a little research, and being willing to live with less.
When you’re travelling, you don’t need entertainment. Your life is constantly new, entertaining. Stopping, pressing “pause” to spend time writing, or just wandering for photography, will become all-consuming. Writing, photography, they don’t cost money. They just take time.
Time I have too seldom of today. That’s my “pause” for this morning. Dreaming about the next phase. It’s taken some edge off some depressing world news I’d read before breakfast.
But later today I get to be a small-scale traveller as I go visit my brother in a town I’ve never seen before. Something new is always fun, even close to home.