See the World! (aka: Living Vicariously)

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum.” ~George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life)

George Bailey See the World

When I was a teenager, I often fantasized about traveling the world. I had a long list of places to go, languages to learn, foods to try. I begged my dad and stepmother to send me away to a boarding school in some faraway country (okay, this was partially because I hated living with them). They just laughed and mentioned this silly little thing called money.

Ugh. Money.

That has always been the Big Obstacle. Every time I managed to begin stashing some away toward international travel goals, some monster would come along and eat it up. Monsters such as bills. My college expenses. Kids’ extracurricular activities. Home maintenance. Kids’ college expenses.

Those vivid dreams of walking through streets in London and Barcelona, touring Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, sipping coffee at a French cafe in Paris, climbing the ancient stones of  Macchu Picchu, became smaller and more distant as years passed, and life kept sending more monsters to get in the way. I learned to feed my hunger for travel in smaller, more attainable ways, like studying languages, eating foods from around the world, and watching House Hunters International. (Hey, that show can be pretty addictive!).

See the World travel

Recently, I sent my 16yo daughter off on her first big international journey. She traveled with a group of students to Beijing China, then stayed with a host family in Jinan. Each day, she sent me photos and stories about her adventures abroad, which I ate up with relish. Finally! Although I am still stuck here, working hard to provide a good life for my kids, at least my children can live out my dream, and I can share in them.

This week, our family has been hosting a student who traveled here from China. Just as my daughter’s host family showered her with kindness and introduced her to a wealth of Chinese culture, we are attempting to do the same. My kids are getting a chance to improve their Mandarin, while our student improves her English. And I get to practice being uber-organized, to fit everything into our schedule. (Luckily, I’m usually pretty Type-A, so it’s not too big of a jump to be Type A+).

Now my daughter has caught the travel bug, too. She’s already conspiring with friends to backpack Europe and stay in youth hostels after graduating high school next summer. Eek! I am excited about her ambitions, too. The next best thing to traveling and seeing the world is to travel and see the world through the eyes of someone you love.



The Traveler at Starbucks (aka: Wanderlust Strikes Again)

 The other morning, I stopped by a Starbucks, with the intention of splurging on a good cup of coffee. It was outside of my neighborhood, located near a rail yard, in an area with a high homeless population. And so it was of little surprise to me to see him sitting there — a young guy, maybe in his early twenties, sitting on the ground outside of the Starbucks. Beside him was an oversized backpack, filled with his possessions and coated in grime, much like his worn-out clothes. In his hands, he held a ragged cardboard sign, which read: Traveling. Any Assistance Will Help.

I had so many questions. How long had this guy been traveling? Where had he been? Where was he going next? My curiosity was so great, that I wanted to sit on the ground beside him and listen to his story. But oh! As always, I was much too timid to speak. Instead, I shuffled toward him, eyes trained on the sidewalk, and handed him a crumpled five dollar bill.

“Hey, thanks! That means a lot.” The young man smiled up at me, his eyes brightening. And then he picked up his pack and was on his way, off to see the world. And though I was the one with the money, and I was the one with the car to drive myself to a Starbucks for a fancy cup of coffee or chai, I was filled with a sense of longing and envy for the life of the traveler, for his opportunities to see the world beyond the matching rooftops of the suburbs where I live. What wouldn’t I give to taste such freedom, to strap on a backpack and hike the Pacific Coast Trail, or ride trains through Europe, or explore South America by bus.

But that is not my life. I have children, and work, and obligations. My place, for now, is here in the suburbs. But that does not have to mean a life completely void of adventure. I, too, am an explorer. I experience the world through literature, through films, and through music from different nations and cultures. I get to know the world through art, history, and photography. And I taste the world by experimenting with international recipes. I may not wear a backpack or ride the rails, but like the young man sitting outside of Starbucks that morning, I too am a traveler. And for the next few weeks, here on my blog, I will share my adventures with you.

Winter Wanderlust

Okay, so technically it is not winter yet. But close enough. I am sitting in Starbucks with a warm cup of coffee to thaw my frozen hands (yes, ordinary coffee…not those 500-calorie pepperminty, foamy Christmas drinks), staring outside at the gray fog, and dreaming of escaping this dreary suburb where I live. I want to get out there, to see and taste and smell the wider world, to walk the streets of exotic cities and take in the sights of nature.

Yes, I am afflicted with wanderlust. It is such a powerful desire, that it is all I can do to keep from trekking over to my nearest REI and purchasing the first internal frame backpack I see. If only I could hop on an airplane this very moment! And where would I go? Well, for starters:

1. Chile – I long to hike around Isla Mocha, to see penguins on a desert beach, and vecuñas and flamingos in the wild. I would visit Pablo Neruda’s house and enjoy a New Years’ fireworks show in Valparaiso, and go shopping at the only store in the world named after me (how awesome is that?) 20111130-093504.jpg


2. Orlando, FL –
Actually, I have already been to Florida. I did the Disneyworld thing, and, even better, had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand on Cocoa Beach and watch an actual space shuttle launch with thousands of other onlookers. That was spectacular. However, I am dying to return to Orlando, FL, in order to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Yes, yes, I realize how nerdy that sounds, but to walk through Diagon Alley and visit Hogwarts Castle and drink a butterbeer…that would be magical.

3. Europe – Now I have gone from nerdy to cliché. But come on…it’s Europe! I would begin in England, of course, to see the places where Dickens and Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth walked and Harry Potter flew by (well, ficticiously); and of course to watch a real live Manchester United soccer match. But then, the rest of Europe beckons: the bullfights of Madrid, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Neuchwanstein Castle, the city of Rome, and the birthplace of IKEA. Europe! Need I say more?20111130-100806.jpg


4. India – Not only is the cuisine superb, but there is something romantic about the country of India. Not like Bollywood romantic, but in a sentimental sense, like Rudyard Kipling stories and saris and spices. The Taj Mahal is an obvious draw for me, too. But also the people…and this is hard, because part of me would want to experience the wealthy, tourist-y side of India, while the rest of me wishes I could stay awhile and help the poor who crowd the streets and have nothing at all.20111130-101834.jpg

5. The Amazon Rainforest – Yes, I am an adventurer at heart. I would love to explore the depths of an ancient rainforest, to see beautiful and deadly wildlife up close, to hear the shrieks of exotic birds and other creatures, to feel the cold stone ruins of past civilizations. And just think of the great photos I could post later, on my Flickr page!

6. No particular order: Japan, Egypt, Morocco, Brazil, Kenya, Haiti, New Zealand, Russia. Any of these places will do. There is so much fascinating architecture to see, museums to visit, foods to try, and music and people and lives so different from my own.

But too bad for me…traveling takes time away from my family, and from work. Not to mention an awful lot of money. But I will be patient during these long, cold days of winter and monotonous suburban life. I will remember that to many other people in the world, my life here in California, with its redwood groves and gorgeous coastline, and superb wines and architecture and world class cities and stuff–is a remarkable destination, too. How silly of me, to feel so impatient to leave it behind!

Now I shall finish this cup of coffee and head out into the fog to work, so that I can save my money toward satisfying this wanderlust. Maybe I cannot hop on a plane today, but it will come in time. And I will take on this great world, with my REI backpack strapped to my shoulders.