When I published my post What a Life of Travel Does to You, an editor from Matador, an online travel magazine, got in touch with me about possibly writing some travel essays for them. This piece was born out of that, and I’m pretty proud to see my writing appear on a site dedicated exclusively to my greatest love. A slightly shorter version also appears here on Matador.
I first stepped out of America when I was seventeen. For ten days, I roamed throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. Those ten days were probably the most influential of my life, because they acted as a turning point. By the time I came home to Pittsburgh again, I was head over heels in love with travel.
Six years later, that love has stayed with me. My life is now largely defined by travel and my obsession with it. The best months of my college experience were those I spent studying abroad in Cologne, Germany. I once flew to England for a weekend to see my favorite band in concert, and though it was the music that initially made my knees go weak, I was just as in love with setting foot in a foreign country. Three months after graduation, I shipped out to northern Japan, where I plan to live until 2015.
Every year, I have a goal to take an international trip and get out of my country of residence. Since 2008, I’ve succeeded with flying colors. My banner year was 2012; I hit eight different countries, five of which I’d never been to before, on three different continents. My ultimate goal is to fill my passport before I move out of Japan. To put it lightly, I like seeing new places. Globetrotting isn’t a pastime or hobby for me. It’s a lifestyle.
As much as I love having a life filled with travel, there is a constant, nagging fear that I have hit my peak. The past six years have set an extraordinary precedent. That bar is pretty damn high. How much higher can I go? I’ve lived in three countries at this point and I average between one and three international trips a year. Once I leave Japan, can I expect to keep leap-frogging across the globe for the rest of my life? I’m content for now to while away my days in Aomori, but I know that eventually my feet will get restless again and I’ll want to search out a new home. It’s a lifestyle that I could definitely see myself having. All evidence up to this point suggests that’s what suits me.
But what if I can’t sustain a lifestyle like that? I’ve done more traveling at 23 than a lot of people are able to do in their entire lives. I am extremely lucky, and I know it. I’d fight tooth and nail if someone tried to take this life away from me. I’ve gotten this far without throwing down any permanent roots, but I am deathly afraid that once this period of my life is over, I will spend the next half a century constantly yearning to get sunburned on some deserted equator-bisected beach or relax in the shadows of a European cathedral.
Once you have a life of travel, it’s hard to go back. And once you’ve obtained this lifestyle, it largely becomes an issue of “chasing the dragon” to top yourself. I’ve gone bungee jumping off the Macau Tower, the highest jump in the world. Where do I go from there? There’s only really skydiving left to conquer. I’ve done yoga on top of a deserted mountain on Lamma Island in Hong Kong. Somehow my living room floor just doesn’t cut it now. I was in Berlin for the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. I can hardly imagine any other anniversary eclipsing the emotions I saw and felt that night. I’ve eaten countless unidentifiable entrees in Japan (and some that were identified that I wish hadn’t been). That new sushi restaurant that opened in my neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh? I’d rather pass than be disappointed.
It’s not that any of these things are bad. Far from it, in fact. They are comforting, familiar, and part of the everyday life that has shaped me. If my travel experience has provided mountainous spikes in my life, my everyday life has given me the constant plateaus to appreciate those mountains all the more.
But the idea that I will have the everyday life for every day of my life is terrifying to me. I want sunsets in India and sunrises in Morocco. I want snowstorms in Finland and heat waves in South Africa. I want pappardelle in Tuscany and pan de anis in Peru. I don’t want to achieve “veteran traveler” status at 30 or so; I want it at 70.
Travel makes us greedy – not for things, but for experiences. We are collectors; the problem is, we have no cases to fill or awards to win. There is no point at which we can proclaim, “Finished! I’ve gotten everything that I can!” because there isn’t a finish line.
If my traveling days eventually come to an end, I worry that my wanderlust won’t. It’s awfully hard to survive with one without having the other. I’ll be like those has-been athletes who are forever recounting their glory days of college or high school. But instead of that winning touchdown pass, I’ll be endlessly repeating the story of the time a random French man kissed me under the Eiffel Tower because he liked my hair (or so I gathered with my horrific French and his broken English)…or the time I randomly ran into Chris O’Dowd while walking down Regent Street in London…or the time I bottle-fed a lamb on the set of The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand…
If the past you leave behind consists of a beautifully erratic path across the globe, how can you not be endlessly plagued by nostalgia? Those are some pretty potent glory days. I can only hope that this time of my life doesn’t turn into a halcyon until decades from now.
When they travel, many people can list off a myriad of fears. Delayed flights, pickpocketed wallets, lost luggage, the language barrier, getting sick from foreign food…the list goes on and on. For those of us for whom traveling is a lifestyle, our fear starts and stops at this: staying put.