If I Lived the Way I Traveled...
*This post originally appeared in February of 2018, but even a full year later, I find myself dealing with the same feelings.
The first time I left the country on an airplane, I was 20 years old. I flew solo to London's Heathrow Airport where I met up with my mother to start a two-week long European tour. When my mother was 20 years old, she developed a crippling fear of air travel as the result of being aboard a plane that caught on fire and forced to make an emergency landing. To say we have different views on travel is an understatement.
The trip was part college-graduation-present for me, and part “I’m-already-overseas-so-let’s-make-the-most-of-it” / last hoorah for my mother. Prior to our meeting in London, she had been living in Boravichi, Russia through a work exchange program; apparently Boravichi is the sister city to Binghamton, NY who knew? In an amazing feat of acting in the face of her aforementioned, crippling fear of air travel, she had agreed to participate in said program. Her decision was immediately followed by a doctor appointment where she secured a prescription for a horse's dose of tranquilizers to take before setting foot on the plane. My travel-green self got to reap the benefits of her big step because she knew she would never be in such a position or location again. Neither of us knew back then that this trip would be my big step. From those first moments, getting my plane ticket and making plans for when and where to meet, my fearless wanderlust started growing like a fetus in my belly.
Our plans were simple and clear and I was young and naïve. I got on the plane with no cash and maybe 100 bucks in available credit on a single card. I vaguely remembered some of the words in the name of the hotel where I was supposed to meet my mother. Our arrival times were hours apart, hence meeting at the hotel versus the airport. Unsurprisingly, my mother’s paranoia extends beyond air travel to my safety, and as I wandered through Heathrow, I discovered her waving at me from a random group of people. She had waited 6 hours for my plane to land so we could take a cab together. I had completely forgotten all of the words I thought possibly made up the name of our hotel. It was early 2001 and cabs didn’t take credit cards. I had zero dollars on me, not a single British pound. I would have been fucked if she hadn’t stuck around. Nevertheless, I arrived as calm and collected and confident as I would ever be, never doubting for a second that I would get to where I was going.
I proceeded to get lost not once but twice on that trip. In Florence, Italy, mesmerized by Ghiberti’s bronze doors, [**cough, art history minor, cough cough**] I was left behind by the tour group. Upon realizing I was all alone and again, with zero idea of the name or location of the hotel at which we were ending the day, I shrugged and went back to my ogling. Some 30 minutes later my mother ran up and grabbed my arm crazed with panic. I was then dragged at a breakneck speed to catch up with the rest of our group who, incidentally, were making amazing time barely acknowledging the masterpieces at every turn. Of course I kept pulling away to stop and look at another statue or architectural marvel, but somehow we managed to get where we needed to be. Later in Lucerne, Switzerland, I had about an hour of free exploring time which I used to buy a Swatch watch (with $80 of my $100 available credit) and then get lost, going too far up into the winding hills of the city, losing all sense of direction. However, this time I rescued myself; I noticed a grocery store and figured there must be an employee inside with a bit of English and certainly a greater sense of direction. I wasn't exactly right; my hero was a customer in the checkout line who managed to provide just enough broken English and sign language to send me where I needed to go. I was even on time! Of course I told my mother I got lost, mostly because I enjoyed making her crazy, but also because I found it all so amusing and very much the perfect topic of a casual conversation. I never felt any danger. I never doubted I would figure out whatever needed to be figured out. I never panicked.
Cut to present day; I waste years, days, minutes, worrying my self into a tizzy. Back spasms from stress, crazy-eyed sleepless nights, mangled fingertips raw from my incessant gnawing. And then one day someone says, "why don't you just live the way you travel?" Why indeed?!