I never read the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid. They seemed like too much work for me as a reader. I didn't want to choose my own adventure; I wanted the author to. I wanted to be swept away into a new world, to lose myself in someone else's adventure. I wanted one single, finite ending, not umpteen possibilities. Now, I think a little differently abut life (although I still probably wouldn't read a Choose Your Own Adventure, because to me the adventure is getting to the end of the story, and if it's, say, Gone Girl, it's adventure aplenty).
I wasn't always the type of traveler I am now. When I went to Israel while in law school, I went pretty much just to go. It was free. I never did a semester abroad or overseas spring break trips, perhaps because I was busy doing a double major in three years, but more so I didn't have the inclination, or the means. I was, looking back, pretty sheltered. I wouldn't have known how to be self-sufficient in the ways that traveling solo requires.
Sarah Hepola wrote an essay at Salon about why every woman should travel alone. I don't know if every woman should, but I can say that there is this glorious freedom, especially now that I work for myself, to being able to identify somewhere I want to go and making it happen. Is it overwhelming to, say, try to pick a hotel in Dubai, having little to go on? Yes, but it's also this rush of power and excitement to make all those decisions, to not have to answer to anyone, to explore and investigate, to trust myself that it will work out.
Last year, I knew I was at, or maybe past, my breaking point. I was a mess, and couldn't see a clear way out of it, and when I started thinking about Hawaii, I knew I had to go, especially when I saw that I could book the flight for free on frequent flyer miles. At the time I did that, I didn't yet know about Air BNB. I didn't know where I'd stay or how I'd afford it, but I had faith that I would figure out a means to do so, and I did.
I get emails every day, from airlines, from sites like SniqueAway and Jaunted and Hotel Chatter and GroupOn Getaways and Iceland's tourism board. Sometimes I wish I could just click on some random place and go there, and I guess I could, but right now I'm looking into more strategic plans, figuring out what I really want to do, like finally eat my way through the Minnesota State Fair. Sometimes it's less about the place than the people. One of my friends moved to Texas, along with her kids, and when I go visit them, I don't care if I see much of their city. I'll be perfectly happy to lie on the floor and let her daughter draw all over me with markers, or whatever she wants to do. Still, it will be different, a marked contrast to this past weekend when I went extremely stir crazy from barely moving at all and not leaving the house until I realized my body was rebelling against me and took it for a walk at 9:30 at night.
All I have to do is set foot at a train station or an airport and there's this sense of possibility that washes over me, along with the knowledge that in a few hours I will be somewhere else. Especially when I'm traveling to somewhere I've never been, I know that in some way it will change me, open up my world to new people and adventures. There's a reason my second and third tattoos were inked in Portlands Maine and Oregon. It means I will always have a part of those cities on me, in me. I'm attached to them, and carry those trips with me wherever I go.
Part of why I bristle when someone tries to tell me where to go, or not to go, is that it's antithetical to me to what the idea of travel is, which, for me, is freedom. It's happened before, but hopefully is an aberration, and a lesson that I'm still sorting out, and a reminder of just how much that freedom means to me, that it is in many ways what keeps me going. Yes, I live in a capital of culture, but I still want to go to plays like this. It means shaking things up, exploring everything from historic Williamsburg to fair food. I didn't do a ton of touristy stuff in Hawaii; I was more interested in simply soaking in the warmth, wandering, not having an agenda. If I go back, there are things I would do again, like eat the best acai bowl I've ever had, but I would also go to a different island, push myself to try something new. I am actually someone who craves stability and finds comfort in routine; even with a very random non-scheduled schedule these days, I eat the same foods many days in a row. I go to the same coffeeshop because it feels like my home away from home. But the travel sustains me, allows me to dream that life doesn't always have to be the way it is as its worst, or even its best. That there is always somewhere I can go to remake myself, and that goes for the topics I cover. Forcing myself out of the comfort zone that can easily turn into a rut regarding writing means I'm proving to myself that I can try new things, and along the way I imagine I will feel less in a rut when the usual subjects are just one part of a larger package, not all I and others think I'm capable of. With that, I must get on with my day and pack for our road trip, and try to figure out what to wear to maybe be on reality TV.