It’s hard to know where to begin, so I’ll just take a stab at it.
A couple years ago, a friend of mine and I used to talk about how cool it would be to travel together internationally. I had been to the UK, bumping around London and other places for ten days. I had always wanted to travel internationally, ever since I was 17 and the bug got me. I was lucky enough to have been selected to take a bus trip across the US with 40 other high school kids, from Colorado to New York City and back again. That was my first taste of leaving the country. We went to Niagara Falls in Canada for a day. Come to think of it, Canada was where I got my first kiss, overlooking the falls.
There was something about being in Canada, even that close to the border. Things were different. For one, everything was clean. They used different money (though you could pay with dollars, you’d get your change back in looneys). Just little differences. I was hooked.
When I got married, I had expectations to go abroad. My wife at the time had been to Honduras on a rafting trip. Mexico a couple times. She seemed eager to see new places. Only that never happened. Our adventures were limited to what she knew and what was close. The Black Hills two or three times. Santa Fe four or five times. Honestly all those trips blur in together. There was a lot of fighting, disagreements over where to go, what to eat. An extension of the chaos of that unholy union. She still takes the kids to those two places. I can imagine they have just as much fun as we did. Cue the eyerolling.
Where was India? Where was France? What about Ireland? What happened to Greece?
Too dangerous. There’s a war going on in Europe. Terrorists. Excuses.
So, after my divorce, I dated a woman for a couple years. She had the resources to go abroad and she was a professor, so she got a lot of time off in the summer. In the time we were together, she went many places. Greece, Paris, Italy, Turkey, Croatia, Boston, Prince Edward Island, Quebec. But she went with friends I would never be introduced to. And if it wasn’t in a cluster of friends, it was with tour groups, family, or on a cruise ship. Lots of stamps in her passport, but usually as a result of a six hour shore leave from a floating casino.
I never got invited. Her excuse was “You don’t have a lot of resources right now and you’ve got your kids.” True enough that half of my paycheck each month went to child support, but looking back now, there was never going to be an invitation. One time she even told me “You always say you want to travel abroad, but I think if you really wanted to do it, you would have done it by now.”
What a kick in the teeth from someone who prided themselves on eating at every Hard Rock Cafe in every country they visited and buying the t-shirts to prove it. I had scrimped and saved what I could to get my passport in 2016. It was a lot of money considering what I had to work with.
If you’ve made it this far, just keep with me for a bit.
Eventually, I figured out a way to make it happen. I took a big chunk from a tax return a few years ago and I found incredibly cheap plane tickets to London. I went. Cold. I had never flown out of the country before. I had never booked my own flight. I booked an AirBnB for the first time in Knightsbridge. I hit the ground running at Heathrow and got on the blue line to London. And once I stepped off the tube, I immediately got lost. It took me an hour and a half to find my flat. I was so overwhelmed I took a nap for two hours. Then I went downstairs, put on my shoes, and started walking.
The next ten days changed everything. This was not the kind of trip I could rely on anyone else to do. I didn’t have an itenary. I didn’t have the money for taxis or guides. I had to figure out everything on my own, from the money to the tube to reading train timetables, ordering tickets online, figuring out where to use the bathroom, and how to just relax and absorb everything. How to let go of my ego and admit that I had no idea what I was doing. To be a piece of flotsam on the currents.
So, whenever I would talk to this friend of mine about going places, she was excited. But she didn’t have a passport. So, for her birthday, I sent her $140 so she could get one, because I knew if she had that kind of money, like me all those years ago, it would be spent on her kids. She was reluctant to accept it, and I am reluctant to mention it here, but things have changed and it’s my story to tell now.
She never got her passport. I’m pretty sure she nickel and dimed it to hang out with her friends at the bar, or do wine and painting events. It doesn’t matter really, since the gesture of the gift was to give someone something I had wanted for years, but could never “afford.”
When I gave her the money, I even said, whether or not we got to enjoy adventures together didn’t matter. For me, having a passport has unlocked the world, and I couldn’t think of a greater gift to give someone you cared about. Maybe I didn’t really expect her to get her passport. She’s gone now, and doesn’t really matter what she does. I just don’t understand why people don’t rush at the chance to get the hell out of their comfort zones and discover something new.
I try to have adventures in my life all the time. There are many places I would revisit, and many that I am greatful for getting to see. Each place has brought with it challenges. They have made me face my fears, get me out of my comfort zones. When I talk to my dad, he says he has no desire to go anywhere else. Even my former girlfriend who used to carry her unused passport in her wallet wherever she went thought we could go to Disney World instead of Scotland when we had to cancel our trip together when the pandemic started. Fucking Disney. We didn’t last the first six weeks of lockdowns. Maybe it’s for the best.
It baffles me, but like I said from the start, not everyone shares your values. I have lots of friends whose idea of a great time is to get a bunch of beer and grill chicken or steaks and consume them in the back yard. Which is great and all. But have you ever smelled the inside of a 900 year old library? Have you smelled the salty sea air off the North Atlantic? Have you abandoned all of your mundane worries you carry around with you just so you can focus on getting to the next place, through the next day, and not getting lost in the process? And knowing that there is no help coming. You have to figure this out on your own.
Maybe it’s not for everyone.
That friend was probably more suited for the hang out at a cookout crowd–I can’t begrudge her for using the money on something else. I just hoped it would be what she needed to really shine. And maybe my former gf was more of a dreamer, unsure of the expectations of her fantasy meeting reality. Or like my ex or even my dad, fine with what they have always known and always done.
I can assure you, nothing will prepare you for the moment you actually do it. It won’t be like anything you’ve expected. The world is subtle. Nuanced. Rich and mundane at the same time. My values are to see as much of this place I can before I can’t do it anymore. To meet interesting people. To share stories. To have adventures. To push my comfort zones and see exactly what I am capable of. It might sound romantic and exciting (it is) but it’s not for everyone.
If you are reading this and you feel exhilarated by the idea of such things, you are my people. I see you. I hope to meet you out there one day.