I had managed to negotiate another Portland, Oregon winter without pepper-spraying anyone, which makes me a winner in practically anybody’s book. May was sliding cheeks first into June, the sun finally on a first-name basis with the earth and my adopted city was bursting with blooms and allergens and more hipster tattoos than you can shake a fist at. Life was perfect, the dogs in their heavenly backyard, and all was right with the world.
Which might make you wonder why I was about to board a plane with my husband, Brian, and fly to Europe with stops in Oslo, Bergen, Amsterdam, Edinburgh and Dublin, where I was, with absolute certainty going to be sodden with rain? There’d be soft days, as the Irish say, which means misty and cloud-covered, and if it turns cold, the days would “have a crust” on them. And you wonder why the Irish invented whiskey.
Why was I willing to cram my body into airplane seats that end up convincing me, (again) that airline companies invented water-boarding, and spend twenty hours there repeating a meditation mantra (Jameson and ginger… Jameson and ginger…) that only just barely prevents me from suggesting to the stewardess what she can do with those pretzels?
Because travel is a virus and there is no cure, no vaccine. And guess what? I thank the great DNA splicer of the Universe for that every day. Travel courses through my veins. I work, breathe and eat to travel. Well, okay, I eat because I love food. But most everything else I do because it gets me to where I want to be: Someplace else.
Travel for me is not a vacation. It’s a vocation. Like a mission, only without guns or religion. I prefer to journey long-term, for months at a time. I have spent more than a year living in a VW camper van overseas. By choice. With another person. Twice. After which we moved onto a small sailboat to live. And then we got married. Which proves I am not the only person out there for whom wanderlust and a small footprint is a way of life.
It isn’t always an uncomplicated life. Family members doubt your sanity. Employers think you are a flight risk. It’s easier to explain a year in prison than a year carrying a pack through Asia when you are completing a job application. There are State Department warnings, coups and wars standing between you and the road. But still…if it were effortless, everyone would do it. Or maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe they would think it’s a crazy waste of money and time, in the same way I think going to a mall is a crazy waste of money and time.
About a decade ago, Brian and I decided to get off the road (or the sea, in that case) for a long stretch and make an attempt at a more normal life. We built a house in North Carolina. An actual house made from logs. We filled it with a bunch of stuff so that it wouldn’t be empty. We adopted a couple of dogs to lay around on our stuff. We bought a couple of cars so we could get to jobs. We had to start our own company to provide ourselves with jobs because who else would hire a couple of people who had spent twenty years on the road and at sea doing all manner of shenanigans?
We got busy doing all sorts of things that seemed normal to everyone around us. We built a fire pit, raked leaves, planted heirloom tomatoes and watched reruns of The West Wing that we missed out on while we were off seeing the world. We ate fast food and slow food and had the neighbors over for dinner parties. Our collective family breathed collective sighs of relief.
Holy moly, was it boring. Because I wasn’t traveling, I moved the furniture. A lot. The upshot of that is that you are likely to stub your toes on an oddly placed table in the dark much like you would trying to find the loo in a London hostel at night. Boring. My travel partner-husband bent twigs into shapes resembling letters of the alphabet and made woodsy-cute signs saying things like Free Dog Hair.
One day we woke up and the haze lifted from our eyes. A voice spoke thusly: How would you like to come to Portland? A cousin wanted some work done on a house he owned there. We decided we’d give it some serious thought. Five minutes later we started packing. Also selling and giving away all sorts of stuff that we never needed in the first place: like the extra car, one thousand books, giant plastic bags filled with clothes, tools, and Free Dog Hair signs. It was awesome. We packed the rest into a rented truck, put the dogs in the car and headed out west like the Clampetts, only without the oil money.
What we accomplished, by reducing our footprint and jettisoning some of our stuff was to give ourselves some room to breathe and to make choices that allow us to live for experience rather than for the stuff itself. For us, those experiences mostly involve travel. Having dogs means we can’t currently go away for months at a time, but we have great dog sitters to take care of them while we’re away. Sometimes we just travel for a week or two, but if we’re lucky, we get to cram ourselves into those airplane seats for twenty hours and land someplace else. I cannot wait to take off.