“How do you travel so much?”
Today I got that question. And it’s the question I always get. Aggressive posting of my entire life on social media has, much to the dismay of those who prefer to do things under the covers, included snippets of more than 40 trips I’ve taken in the last 3 years and inquiring minds will always want to know. From weekend road-trips for bloody Mary tours in Milwaukee to overseas hiking in the vineyard-laden hills of Mediterranean island villages, my life has become filled with experiences of the new.
But I’m not one of those people. You know who I’m talking about. Those impossibly perfect, bandana-clad, vintage van-dwellers who have DSLRs for every situation and a 4 year road-map to trek the earth nonstop; those waterfall-frolicking gods and goddesses making daily Buddha bowls served in coconuts, amassing plenty of material to write their subsequent e-book on how they conquered the 7 continents in under 5 years. That sounds dreamy though.
I wake up most mornings not to the sun rising over the top of the snow-capped Swiss alps peering down on my yurt, but to the shadow of one of my four adorably grubby-faced young sons, usually asking for a bowl of Cheerios or my eBay password. I go to work every day while juggling drum lessons, soccer, doctor’s appointments, birthday parties and the occasional emergency appendectomy.
And I travel. A lot. And when I travel I eat. I see live music, go to art museums, and I bike, hike and camp. I paddle. I scuba dive. I get tipsy and dance (if you can call it that). I drink locally roasted coffee. I nap in hammocks. I take a lot of photos, with the same device notifying me of overdue field trip slips and mandatory all-company conference calls. I meet fellow travelers and locals. I play chicken shit bingo if I’m in Texas. I stay up late. I get up early. I fly the red-eye in the middle seat in the last row. I show up to work groggily on a Monday morning after driving back into town only hours prior. I make it work. Because the most blissful experiences in my life have all involved getting out of the proverbial cage, and I’ve made it my mission to hold onto that feeling, while still living a “normal” 37-year-old existence.
Three years ago, I jokingly told my friend that I was going to travel once a month. I had been caught up for a while in the stuff we all get caught up in: trying to ‘move up’ in my career, spending time and money on fixing up my house, and preoccupying myself with which preschool would do the most for kindergarten readiness. I sort of lost my travel way. In college, travel was alive and well in my world; I studied abroad three times (sorry, future self, for all that extra student loan debt), and moved to Spain to teach English, allowing me to explore 45 cities in Europe alone. No slouch, right? So when I uttered those words out loud, that I was going to travel outside of my state once a month for the foreseeable future, I realized it wasn’t as hard as it seemed. I just had to be smart about it.
As I went down the rabbit hole of travel blogs, Lonely Planet, and Google Flights, the “how” started to unfold. I realized quickly that it just takes planning. Research and planning. Like stay up way-too-late obsessively digging and noting kinds of planning. I don’t have a ton of money. I’m happy with my career and income, but I’m not raking in the dough. So as I started looking at the first few months of trips, I had to make sacrifices. A lot of them. The most notable area of “give” was the destination itself. If I were going to get on a plane or even in a car, the destinations had to choose me. I looked for flights to anywhere, with flexible dates and stops. I realized there are some really cheap flights out there. Like REALLY cheap. After finding a good deal on airfare ideally to somewhere I hadn’t been, I would dig around different sites to see where I could sleep. Again, making concessions, such as not staying in the heart of the city or sharing a home via AirBnB. Other forces: time off of work, childcare, and coordination with my favorite travel partner-in-crime, all important parts of my life of course, but restrictions to my scheming.
Certain things were easy to plan. It was a snap to find out where the best cheap and authentic eats are, and which days the museums are free. Finding $5 rock shows, late night happy hours, and city-sponsored bike rentals were no problem either. And of course I needed to have splurges: a life-changing meal from a James Beard lauded chef, an overpriced kayak rental at the scenic poster child that is Lake Louise in Banff, or a guided art tour because I’ve always wanted to know why Van Gogh really cut off his ear. I wasn’t going about this on a true shoestring budget, allowing for a titch of bourgeois “I am on vacation so I’m going to get this $10 hand-crafted cardamom bun” stuff. Duty calls, sometimes. Other times, I slept in hostels that cost less than that cardamom bun.
Fast forward to today. It’s been exactly 3 years, and I’m over 40 trips deep. (I threw in a few extra trips for good measure. Shoot me.) I walk in the door returning from one vacation only to begin daydreaming about the next one. It’s my favorite hobby. Maybe down the road, a trip-a-month just won’t be as rewarding. Or maybe I won’t be able to swing it financially (hello, pre-teens with crooked teeth) or maybe I’ll develop some condition that will make it difficult to power through sleepless travel nights. Those are all big maybes though. For now, I’m going to roll with it. I’m going to explore. After all, I still don’t know why Van Gogh really cut off his ear, but I bet it wasn’t vacation-related.