As my travels are winding down, I have started doing a little reflection on my…
I do not think that means what you think it means… Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.
The English word “wanderlust” already existed in German dating as far back as High Middle German. The first documented use of the term in English occurred in 1902 as a reflection of what was then seen as a characteristically German predilection for wandering that may be traced back to the German system of apprenticeship, as well as the adolescent custom of the ‘Wanderbird’ seeking unity with Nature.
The term originates from the German words wandern (to hike) and Lust (desire). The term wandern, frequently misused as a false cognate does in fact not mean “to wander”, but “to hike.” Placing the two words together, translated: “enjoyment of hiking”, although it is commonly described as an enjoyment of strolling, roaming about or wandering.
I am a wanderer… both in the historic sense of the word and the modern.
I grew up an introvert, sensitive, an only child, and a bookworm with a keen desire to explore beyond my boundaries. Pictures exist of me, I could not have been more than three years-old, packing a bag and leaving home. Of course, at three, I never really went anywhere. I saved the real adventure until I was five. [but that’s a story for another day]. I was athletic and sporty; I lived for summer basketball and soccer camp. Then later, volleyball and softball camp. I loved being away from home, hanging out on college campuses, and imagining when I would finally be able to leave my small town for good. I was 8 and already imaging life at 18.
I come from a long line of homebodies, inwardly jealous of friends and classmates who went to ‘the beach’ every summer. Or Disney World. Or anywhere really. My dad’s idea of a vacation was a weekend trip to Atlanta to watch the Braves or a fall Saturday to Clemson or Columbia to watch college football. Week-long or even multiple week vacations were unheard of in my family. My fondest junior high memory was of being left behind at Martin Luther King center in downtown Atlanta. Upon returning from the restroom, my entire class was no where to be found. Cell phones were in their infancy; no one I knew had one. But I knew the city well enough, or at least how to get to the ballpark. I was 13, and on my own in the big city (at least for a while). It. Was. Fucking. Awesome. Right then and there I knew I’d been bitten by the travel bug.
There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.
The fixation with traveling that began with memorizing world capitals and drawing country flags on notebooks took on a life of its own. At 14, I managed to sneak away from home for two days, take the train to Baltimore, watch a baseball game, and get back home without my absence being noticed. And once I’d gotten my driver’s license, the back roads and hiking trails of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia became intimately familiar. I was determined to go everywhere… working on a bucket list that didn’t yet have a name.
I’ve never been one to advocate for quitting one’s job in order to see the world. Yes, I have worked in jobs I hated and for companies I hated even more. I’ve worked in jobs or positions that I absolutely knew was just a paycheck. But I knew that this was temporary. I was waiting for one or two thing to happen and then I was out of there. I’ve always known that working these jobs would allow me to pursue my dreams. I worked PRN-status for 10 years so that I’d be able to create my own schedule and take time off when I wanted to. Everything I’ve done has contributed to my seemingly disparate goals of 1: seeing as much of the world as possible and 2: becoming a nurse practitioner. One is not mutually exclusive of the other.
I got my first real job, other than the odd thing here and there, when I was 18. It was working in a home improvement store where I learned to mix paint, use a commercial saw, and do basic electrical things. I also had to count nuts and bolts by hand during inventory. I was by far the youngest person working there although there were a few guys that worked there on their college break. For most of my co-workers, this was there career. They were satisfied with their two weeks’ vacation and only being closed three days a year. I made nearly $5000 that first year; I had to file taxes and thought I’d amassed a fortune. I made another $4000 working in a factory spring semester of my freshman year. Oh God, how I hated that job. I sat there, loading parts on a machine, conjugating French, German, or Spanish verbs in my head, thinking ‘this is why I’m in college…’
The ultimate goal was to earn enough money to spend my junior year of college studying abroad in some as-of-yet-undetermined major.[Spoiler alert: that never happened]
At 19, I had the chance to go to England for two weeks; I jumped at the opportunity. When things didn’t go as planned, instead of coming home and working at the factory yet again, I stayed three months. I still have the journal I wrote it when I left Atlanta. It’s funny now… and telling.
“I’m on a plane to London via Amsterdam. I AM ON A PLANE.”
“I JUST ORDERED A BLOODY MARY FOR DINNER. AND THEY BROUGHT IT. I HAVE ARRIVED*”
“TRAVELING IS AMAZING”
A series of travel mishaps later, I end up at the flat of a friend of a friend of a friend. The flat was empty. The landlord came and asked how I knew of this place. I told my story. No, I’d never met the previous tenant. Yes, I was only visiting. No, I didn’t want to rent it, but then, I was offered the deal of a lifetime–200 pounds/month for June, July and August for a 1 bedroom/1 bath in Stafford, England. My dorm room cost more than that. I said yes and after some international finagling of funds, I had $5000 transferred to me** and that is what I lived on that summer.
That summer, I traveled. To Wales. To Scotland. To Ireland. And around England. I ate and drank in pubs. I learn to play darts. And cricket. And drink whisky. I met up with different people every week. It was the life I’d always wanted. The day before I was to come back, I was in the pub with the friends I’d made this summer when I saw a guy I’d never seen before. He was scruffy and despite drinking a pint of Guinness, was clearly out of place of the regulars. I went over, dart in hand, and said “hey, wanna play?”
His name was Nick or Mick. Or maybe it was Mark. I don’t remember. He was from Australia. Or New Zealand. Those details are fuzzy now. But he was well-traveled. Meeting up with a cousin before heading back home. Or something like that. He was tanned in a way you can’t get in England and spoke of places like Chaing Mai, Siam Reep, and Angor Wat. I was mesmerized. And impressed. “Wow, you travel a lot.” He took a long swallow of his Guinness before answering me, foam still on his lips.
“Trying to. The world is an awfully big place and there’s always more to see.”
“That’s true. Well, do you play or not.” I was trying not be be impressed by the late 20 something sexy stranger.
“Good. You can be on my team.”
He told me about his running with the bulls in Spain and working on a farm in France. How he worked his way through Thailand and Vietnam. He told me about the spice markets in Istanbul and Marrakesh. And about eating guinea pigs in Ecuador and piranhas in Brazil. I had never met anybody like him. I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound. Amid pints and double old fashions, he grabbed me around my waist and pulled me away from everyone, kissed me hard on the mouth. At that moment, my world stopped. Mesmerized by those green eyes and mop of black hair. I had one throw left, and it was almost too perfect that I hit the bullseye to win.
I spent the rest of the night nuzzled in the pub, making out with the cute boy from far away, listening to his enticing travel tales telling myself that one day I’d be the one telling those tales. The details of that night have faded, but the feelings of knowing a life of adventures were waiting for me if only I had the courage to see it through has never left me.
*My very first alcoholic drink was at 30,000 feet flying over the Atlantic Ocean. I have never felt more adult… more cool in my life than when I ordered and subsequently drank that first alcoholic drink
**International banking was a lot more complicated in the 2000’s than it is now. I had $5000 wired to me and stashed the cash in a secret place in the flat. The secret place is the same secret place I stash cash in my current apartment.