It started with a forgotten gift card and a quest to find a 2020 planner. I found a planner, unexpectedly on sale and right next to it was the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. It also was on sale. And for the price that I had budgeted for the planner, I walked out of the store with the planner and the travel guide, all on a 20-minute lunch break jaunt to the store two doors down from my work place on one of the last days of 2019.
I love travel guides and travel essays and books about people traveling or those who are thrust into foreign lands. I love to read about learning languages and living to enjoy new traditions. I love to read about the wanderers and the travelers, feeling a kinship with them. I love that human idea of home and how some can make a place home within minutes of arriving or those who only feel a sense of home when they journey to a new place.
If you and I met up over coffee or a glass of wine or talked with our knees touching while we grasped hot mugs of tea, I would tell you that I loved reading and writing and running and traveling and teaching and on and on. I would tell you that I am a traveler, feeling fully honest in this description of myself. You might ask about my recent travels, and then I would admit that I have barely been outside of Albuquerque in almost a year. If you looked at my now expired passport, you would see that I haven’t traveled outside the U.S. since the summer of 2013 when my sister and I drove to Canada to see what we thought might be one of the last live shows of our favorite band, the Dixie Chicks. You might then question my credibility about my self-identification as a traveler. I really want that to change and it’s going to take more than a travel guide to make me a traveler, a wanderer.
A couple of days after buying my new travel guide, I curled up on the couch with a mug of hot coffee and the book. I alternated between looking things up in the index and paging to places I had visited or wanted to see, realizing that the majority of places were in the “wanted to see” category. It was my day off and soon I looked up to find the coffee ring of my empty mug and a glance at the clock to see that two hours had passed. I got up to stretch and put my mug in the sink. I picked up my phone to find a few texts from my sister, mother, and a friend. A few quick responses, my phone still on silent, I placed it face down on the kitchen counter, and returned to my couch traveling, which in other houses might be armchair traveling.
An hour later, I got up to take a shower and make lunch, a leisurely brunch more like, with more coffee and French toast and a couple of pieces of bacon and sliced orange. Feeling decadent after my leisurely morning and sumptuous breakfast, I quickly washed dishes and tidied the kitchen.
I had planned to spend a good chunk of the day writing, so I pulled out my laptop and retreated to the couch, rather than my desk. I quickly skimmed through e-mails before I opened the file of a nearly completed essay. Inspired by my travel guide gazing, I searched through my emails and found two bonuses, a forgotten gift card (electronic version) and a sale on travel guides, both to Lonely Planet. With a little browsing and a few clicks, in just a few minutes, I had purchased six travel guides, all covered by my gift card. Wowza. Despite my flurry of online purchases, I quickly returned to the unfinished essay and completed that and wrote a couple more essays. Weirdly, I forgot about my travel guide buys, or conveniently placed them at the back of my mind.
A few days later, one morning before work, I was ensconced in my morning before work routine: meditation, journaling, coffee, at home yoga, some writing, and a quick tidy up of my apartment. I was startled to hear a knock at the door. It was the UPS guy with a package. I had completely spaced out the online purchase of travel guides. It was fun to rip open the package and wonder at the contents. Six blue and fat travel guides with white lettering stared back at me from the box. I full-body-stepped on the box to smash it and stuffed the packing paper and box into my paper bag of recycling, tucked into the (shh!) water heater storage closet. The books sat in a clumsy pile in the middle of the living room. I made space for them on the shelf below the TV and above the shelf of CD and DVD albums.
The blue books stared at me, tempting me with the adventures and sights described in their pages. I breathed a big sigh and stared back.
I stared in the mirror. Wide-eyed optimism faced grey hairs and the wrinkles of smile lines. The idea that there was always more time faced age spots, freckles on my arm, and the callouses of my feet. Reality faced dreams.
Great Britain, Ecuador the Gallapagos Islands, China, USA, Spain, Mexico. I reached down for the “1,000 Places” guide and placed it at the top of the pile.
I thought about my dream life and my real life and my travel life. I realized that most of my travel life is in my dream life. And then I thought for a few minutes about my dream life. My younger sister calls me a “magical thinker.” And when I first read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in high school, I really thought someone had stolen my journal and dreamed up a new name and invented a few scenes.
In this blog, as I have written before, I am exploring the intersection (or lack thereof) between my dream life and my real life. What is it that I really do in real life and what is that I dream up in my dream life and is there a juxtaposition between the two?
Of the travel guides, why did I pick those six? Well, here we go. I picked Great Britain because my older sister is currently living there and I have always wanted to visit. I always thought it would be a good place to start on a solo international trip. I picked Ecuador because as a student in environmental studies, I was interested in evolution and in ecological niches. Also, I visited a reiki healer/sort-of-psychic and she predicted I would be traveling and living and thriving in Ecuador. Who am I to quibble with one who can see beyond dreams? I picked China because I have flirted for years with the idea of moving to China for a year or more to teach English and live and explore in that landscape of the East. I picked the US because there is still so much of this country I would love to visit and explore. I picked Spain, because I have been wanting to become fluent in Spanish and for several years, I have wanted to get lost in Spain and to hike the Camino del Santiago. I picked Mexico because it is the country nearest me and the one that harbors tantalizing secrets. Again, I yearn for Spanish fluency. I learned of a writer’s residency there and I dream of exploring Mexico City and the lands of the Mayans and the Aztec and the Incas and also visiting the space of Frida Kahlo and so much more.
For now, my foreign travels are limited to nightly dreams and couch-bound travel guide reveries and recipe experiments in my kitchen. I have subscribed to several travel e-newsletters, both for ideas and for bargains. Nights after work, I curl up with a pot of tea and a travel guide in my lap. Some nights I sit on the patio and imagine a different landscape around me.
Recently, I rediscovered the fact that, at least for me, action often comes at the point of discomfort. Discomfort doesn’t have to be a bad thing, just something that challenges my current state of comfort. China has been calling me. I have a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate and experience tutoring adults in the art and complexity of the English language. I have a passion and talent for teaching, with a more than a decade as a classroom environmental educator under my belt. I possess a newly-renewed passport.
To start my path of discomfort, I plotted out a timeline. I need about a year to build up some savings and to pay off some debt. My apartment lease is up in the spring. It should be easy to renew for a term less than a year. Wisely, or not, I gave notice at my current job to leave near the end of March and started telling my favorite customers of my upcoming adventures: leaving the co-op and moving to China. I am making renewed attempts at securing a job teaching English online. I have renewed contacts with potential schools for teaching in China. I also have looked into a month-long writer’s residency in Mexico, perhaps an adventure to take before moving to China. I speak to friends and family about my desires and also to really follow up with my plan.
I’m in that sweet spot of optimism, flexibility, mobility, and openness. I am as open to the possibility of teaching and living in Ecuador as I am to a year in China. For once, my dreams and my reality are coming together. I am tired of only dreaming. I am ready to make the leap. I begin with small steps, and as always, take a breath.