I have a serious case of wanderlust (plus it is one of my very favorite words). Friends and family members would argue that this is not a recent phenomenon for me, but more of a lifelong affliction. Luckily, even if it is terminal, I embrace it fully, although finding a cure or treatment can be tricky. Some folks with wanderlust become lifelong wanderers. They make the symptoms part of the cure; instead of fighting it, they feed it. They travel frequently, change jobs accordingly, and never tie themselves down to things like home mortgages. Others reserve their wanderlust for their art or dreams. I know a very grounded artist whose flights of fancy show up in her landscape paintings and sculpture pieces. Some find that wanderlust is tempered by age and responsibility. I have several friends who were traveling musicians, seasonal park rangers, or odd job wizards in their twenties to accentuate their wanderlust. Now in their thirties and forties, these friends with children sow their wild oats into gardens and go on adventures to let the little ones fly.
Despite my lifetime of wanderlust, I have lived a pretty basic and grounded life. My wanderlust has worked its way into my dreaming, reading, talking, if not into my own wandering. I did choose a college in a fit of optimism and adventure, the blue and green stationery letterhead tempted me from New Mexico to the southern shores of Lake Superior in Wisconsin for what I like to call “four years of water and winter.” The second semester of junior year, when wanderlust dreams for many college students turn into study abroad adventures, I opted for a semester in Montana, eager to return to my beloved West while exploring a new place. In “adult” life, I lived for six years in the Twin Cities. Now I find myself almost a decade later in Colorado, carefully planted in community. I am eager to stretch my wings and wander, but it’s not quite time to fly. I am laying the groundwork to cut loose, but I am not quite ready.
If you have a case of wanderlust, brought on by the cold, the blahs of midwinter, or something else, here are my recommendations. Let’s call it a prescription without the medication.
1. Plan that dream trip. You might not be able to take a year’s long journey abroad, but you can plan one. Pore over maps and travel books. Read travel essays. Plan an itinerary, however loosely, to include the sites and the experiences that you will savor. If your budget is stretched so tight that buying vegetables for the week seems impossible, your library card can liberate you to another land. Pick your favorite vacation spot and request the travel packet with glossy brochures and maps. Even if it is years before you will have the money or time or gumption to make the jump, you can dream and plan and discover. Anticipation is just as important as adventure, and can nurture your heart, while you are dealing with the practical things like a drumming down a work deadline, caring for an aging parent, and chasing after a toddler learning to walk.
2. Hatch a small escape. Maybe this is a weekend trip to a town you ignore because it’s on-the-way to somewhere else. Maybe it means spending the night in a cheap motel on a weeknight, for the pleasure of someone else making the bed and the thrill of a midweek adventure. Maybe it is an overnight camping trip to the state park, where you have often hiked in daylight, but have never glimpsed in the shrouds of darkness. Maybe it’s a day in your town, visiting a new coffee shop, restaurant, art gallery, and ending with a dinner you make at home, trying a brand new recipe. Maybe it’s taking all the sheets, all the blankets, and all the pillows and building the best bed fort ever! Enjoy the escape and seize the opportunity for more.
3. Change your route. This might seem like it would not do much, but I have been surprised at how taking an alternative route home mixes up my day into a wonderful sense of momentum. Instead of being in a rut, seeing the same-old, same-old, I am inspired. See how changing a block or two, to glimpse a new-to-me house, a new-to-me garden, or an oft-ignored park can be bliss. The sun shines differently in a new space, the sunset changes from a new vantage point. My automatic pilot is replaced with my inner adventurer as I take a left instead of a right. I was reminded of this most recently when my work office moved 1.5 miles to a new building and site. It’s still in the same part of town, but it has completely changed my morning drive, because I can take the back road, instead of the highway. I drive slower and look longer, grateful for the small change that has given me a new corner of the world to glimpse.
4. Get or renew a passport. If foreign travel is your dream, start with the first and most tangible step. Get the ball rolling. Once you have that passport, a whimsical weekend in Paris, a mystical month in Morocco, or a changing year in China is no longer out of the question.
5.Visit a friend. Think of a person whom you miss, perhaps someone you haven’t talked to in years. Look them up on social media or find a common acquaintance who knows where they are. Make a call, send an e-mail, write a letter, or, perhaps, schedule a visit. Travel back in time and remember who you were and think of who you are. Remember how this person shaped you or gave you freedom or made you laugh. Ask them how they are. We are time travelers in our memories and an old friend can be the compass that gets you to that spot. Be grateful if you are able to renew and reconnect, but even if you don’t, be grateful for that person for the time you knew them. Wander around in your roots and savor what was and then look forward to bask in a new direction. Recently, I have reconnected with old friends online. I am finding ways to bring that into the present, into a real connection.
6. Go out and get wild. Remember the call of geese, watch the squirrels, listen to the cackling crows. Find the wild, no matter how far in the city you are, and join it. Our wanderlust comes from forgetting that we too are wild beings and we need to feel unleashed and untethered. Take a walk and remember a life, an existence without screens. Breathe and take in your silence.
Enjoy your wanderlust. Do not fight it. Treasure it. Nurture it.