My paternal grandmother had it. My paternal aunt too. My father. So it runs in the family, this need to wander. But I think I have it worse. I can’t remember ever not having it. I talk about it like an addiction because for years that’s how it felt. The downside was clear even at the age of ten. We’d just moved to downtown Miami and were in the pathway of MIA. But it never bothered me those noisy planes flying overhead all day, at least not in the normal way. What I felt instead of annoyance was a painful yearning to go wherever that flight might be headed. It didn’t matter where.
My addiction stayed with me as I grew up. At first it was Europe I had to see and I did. I went on my first trip to Spain when I was thirteen, went back for a summer with a host family at sixteen, then for a semester in college at nineteen followed by a summer backpacking around Europe. I didn’t want to go home. I tried not to go home. But life conspired and I returned to Miami to finish school. The responsible thing to do.
After college I was in love and mostly happy in Miami and so I put off my plan for Peace Corps and took a job, started graduate school. My boyfriend and many of my friends were from somewhere else so that helped. Somewhat. But there was that woman at work whose daughter was studying in Italy—who tortured me with daily stories of her travels. I needed something international so I went to Belize for my thesis research and came home and finally applied for Peace Corps. But then a good job fell into my lap. A dream job. The type of job a responsible adult, the person I told myself to be, wasn’t supposed to leave.
But I would spend my days dreaming about working or traveling abroad. Then one of my best friends went to Bolivia for Peace Corps and I was envious again, even after visiting and seeing the reality of her terrifying bus ride through the mountains, the hole she called her toilet that didn’t even qualify as an outhouse since there was no actual ‘house’. So I restarted my Peace Corps application and quit my job, sold my car, parked my belongings and cat at my Mom’s house and went off to Suriname for 2½ years. I didn’t yet understand my addiction and thought that would finally settle my wanderlust for good.
I came home at thirty despite having received exactly what I’d thought I’d always wanted—an offer of work in the environmental field abroad. But 2½ years was a long time to be gone and I missed my family, I wanted to get married, maybe have kids, and besides I thought I was done. Finally. Or maybe I just didn’t want to stay in any one country forever. There was Africa and Asia. The Pacific still to see. And I didn’t understand patience.
I turned down the job and eventually went back to Miami where the wanderlust never did go away although I kept the addiction (and envy) pacified through regular trips abroad. And in Miami I had good jobs too. Jobs I liked. Relationships I liked. But it was never enough. I couldn’t convince myself to stay. To settle. Not there or in Portland, not even when I was writing this past year and traveling regularly. And so here I am in Georgia where I spent a few Christmas minutes with my family by way of a choppy iChat connection and the rest of the day with friends I’ve only just met. Barely know.
Yet I feel fine. Happy, in fact, but always with that tinge of missing family and friends, worse now with my nephew who I know will change too quickly. And I don’t want to miss that. But I will (at least part of it) because this wanderlust isn’t going away. I don’t really want it to. And truthfully how lucky am I to have an American passport, to have the ability to indulge my love for travel? Because that pain would be worse—to be unable to travel.
What I’m saying, in a roundabout way, is that I will come home soon and collect my cats and play with my nephew, get a paying job. Just maybe not quite yet. Just a few more months, maybe three or four or five. That’s all I need. For now.