In March of 2002, six months after 9/11, I boarded a plane in San Francisco headed to Amsterdam. I was embarking on a two-month trip to Western Europe, my first journey outside of North America, my first 10-hour flight, my first time spending more than a few weeks away from my home.
International travel was still marred by the threat (both real and exaggerated) of terrorism. I was afraid.
I’m not a huge risk-taker. I had been afraid before but this was a different brand of fear. Fear mixed with thrill felt, strangely to me, somewhat delightful.
My instincts were telling me to stay home where it was safe, but the surges of adrenaline at the possibilities ahead of me were moments of sweet bliss. It was the moment when travel became my version of bungee-jumping.
My chosen thrill sport.
MEETING THE LOVE OF MY LIFE
I certainly didn’t expect to meet the love of my life on that first trip to Europe, but I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me considering my heart was newly opened to the world.
Peter was from Slovakia but living in Leiden, the Netherlands, a housemate of the childhood friend I was visiting. He was an aspiring writer like me and was an already seasoned wanderer, the kind of guy who hitch hikes around Europe for the hell of it. Who road-trips across the USA with strangers. Someone who actually likes the idea of taking a Greyhound bus on a three-day journey.
I offered to show him my home, the craggy California coastline, the towering redwoods, and this weird town called Guerneville, and he accepted.
Four years later we were married and buying a house together. It seemed like a good idea at the time: a project house we could flip in a couple of years and have a chunk of savings to do something else with.
“Like travel the world for a year?” one of us said at one point (neither of us can recall).
“Yes, exactly like that,” the other one responded.
Our timing was bad (the housing market crashed two years later) but the idea to pursue this goal, to put our energy and resources toward travel, had taken root.
WORKING TOWARDS OUR TRAVEL BLISS
Travel was a natural part of our lives and our relationship.
We met while traveling and shared the thrill of discovering new places. We took a road trip across the American Southwest. We visited Peter’s family in Slovakia and vacationed with them in Croatia.
We liked living in the city (Portland, Oregon), but craved forests and mountains, open landscapes, and small quirky towns.
I loved researching destinations. Peter stared at maps a lot.
As we worked toward the goal of taking a one-year trip around the world, we began to shift our perspectives about our lives. What had we been working for all these years? A life of travel started to sound way more attractive than a life of material gain.
Working and earning money to have experiences rather than goods sounded more appealing.
Slowly we began to feel more confident, content and even happier, not only because we were successfully reaching a common goal, but because we also realized we had the power to change what frustrated us about our lives. Like our unfulfilling jobs, expensive mortgage, and little time for creative pursuits.
For once we knew exactly what we were doing.
We had sold our home, most of our possessions, and said good-bye to our American family and friends. We were afraid, but it was that particular brand of fear that we’d come to crave.
The one that feels more like joy.