“The only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself.”
This is a quote from a song by The Weepies which inspired me, in my early 20s, to create a large canvas with those words drawn in navy oil pastel. I hung it in my childhood bedroom, where it is still displayed, but the sentiment doesn’t quite fit anymore. Maybe 10 years ago it did. But now I see more clearly that every step I have taken—every place I have traveled—was enriched because of other people. And ultimately made possible because of my relationships.
Even if my family and friends weren’t on the plane next to me, their lessons and gifts were with me.
This is to my mother, who slaved at United Airlines as a reservationist taking calls from angry travelers for 10 years so we could have free flights. And for teaching me that if you match someone’s rude tone, they usually realize they are being a jerk and calm down. The job required driving over an hour each way to and from Indianapolis on the weekends for several of those years, and I would never have been able to go half these places without it.
This is to my father, who instilled in me a sense of curiosity. Who will take a hike solely to see rocks in trees, a relatively famous site in our corner of southern Indiana. And who taught me to read a map during a day trip to kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland when I was 15.
This is to my friend, Carolyn K., for showing me that even when you are racing through the airport to catch a flight, it is helpful to sing circus theme music to cut the tension. And how to handwash clothes in a bucket in Ghana. And to enjoy at least 3 pastries per day when you find yourself in a former French colony.
To my friend, Ruthie P., for showing me how to go with the flow. And for arriving in Mexico in gorgeous white flowing pants and demonstrating that it is healthy to embrace who you are when you travel: a tourist.
This is to my friend, Julia W., who was willing to Couchsurf in Sicily, even though her host family had given her a prejudiced warning that people in the South might rip her jewelry out of her ears. (They didn’t). And for stumbling through the Italian language alongside me. Like when I said at a sandwich shop that “I would like to order a puppet” or when she said, “This trail is very strawberry-filled,” but meant muddy.
To my friend, Annick D., who is a master of routine and provides a great example of sticking to one even when you travel. She taught me that it is OK, and even healthy, to eat lettuce once in a while even when there are enticing deep-fried options at your fingertips.
To my friend, Vanessa D., who taught me to face my fears, even when they are overwhelming. You made it up that Alpine lift like a champion. And also for reminding me to enjoy the local food while you can, like the white sausage in Germany. Even when I tired of pho in Vietnam, I reminded myself that it’s not every day I can get a delicious bowl of it for $1.00.
And to both Annick and Vanessa for embracing our inner grandmothers and creating an elaborate meal of salad and wine at the world’s shittiest hostel in New Orleans, while all the young’uns stared. Also for helping me survive that hostel.
To my friend, Anisha M., for being spontaneous after agreeing on a Friday to travel to New York the following Monday for the Climate March. And for making a pact to only take one picture the whole trip.
And finally, to my new husband, Joey, for becoming my lifelong travel buddy. For handling the chaos of travel with smiles and jokes. And for pushing me to take risks I never would have signed up for on my own. Also for being obnoxiously militant about keeping the mosquito net tucked into the bed—you are probably the reason I don’t have malaria.
The brilliant thing is that this is merely the start of the list. A drop in the bucket of help, advice, and wisdom I have received over the years.
But I have one vital question to ask: After all this, why the hell did no one teach me not to leave my clothes lying on the floor of our beach cottage so that when I handwashed my shirt in the sink and then wrung it out, a giant dead spider wouldn’t fall out into the tub? Huh? Why did no one warn me about this?
All right, fine. Maybe that one’s on me.
Until next time,