Lessons in Wanderlust

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While summer is typically the most popular time of travel, my family decided that instead of a tourist’s adventure in Europe or a secluded beach getaway in Mexico, we’d spend most of our summer at our little lake house in Kentucky.  Usually a restless family with a communal desire and appreciation for other parts of the world, we decided it was due time to just relax in our home away from home, with the rest of my extended family who lived near our Kentucky house. While I love the relaxing days on a Kentucky lake with my grandmother, aunts, and all the people I love most, a profound wanderlust had settled into my bones from an early age, and it showed now more than ever. Kentucky is exactly what you’d expect; it’s slow, hot, and peaceful.

Of course, I love being here with nothing but my whole family, especially since in less than a month I will be leaving them, for the first time in my life, and my restless wanderlust will be cured in ways it’s never been before. But while I was relaxing at home, I decided to dedicate my column to travel, and all the lessons I’ve learned from my global adventures.

The first lesson is that comparison will be the death of all travel enjoyment. It’s human nature to become accustomed to our surroundings, and to yearn for and expect what’s familiar. At 9 years old was the first time I ever visited Paris. I was always the little girl who had Eiffel Towers posted on her wall and French words in her notebooks. When I got to Paris, I was mystified, for lack of a better word, by the buildings, the restaurants, the streets, the shops, and of course, Le Tour d’Eiffel.

It was magic, as you can only imagine Paris to be. But I became frustrated in the midst of all the magic. Paris didn’t have the unlimited food options or even fluffy toilet paper like I was used to. There were so many beautiful things that I had never seen before, but with that came aspects that weren’t as beautiful, and not at all like home. I recently returned to Paris within the last couple of years, but this time, leaving my comparisons at home, where they belonged. Instead of concerning myself with what was not like Chicago, I fell in love with everything that was like Paris. Yes, even the limited food options and toilet paper that was more like thin sand paper. It was all so, français.

To this day, Paris is one of my favorite places in the entire world, because it is not Chicagoan or American, but because it is Parisian. The whole point of travel is to experience other worlds, but I think people often come to different cultures and find comparisons to their homes; what’s familiar to them, and what they miss from home. I believe you’ll get the most from travel if you dive so deeply into a culture that you forget, if only for the weekend, or month, or year, what “home” is like. To interject a famous quote, When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Order the food you’re scared to try, but is so very French. Go to the Peruvian market, even though you don’t like markets at home. Ride around Italy in a bicycle instead of a car, if that’s the Italian way. And for God’s sakes, don’t complain about the toilet paper. We Americans already have enough stereotypes.

The second lesson seems the most obvious, but I’ve found it to be the most difficult; just do it. I’ve found people often wait around for something to happen: for a bonus at work, to win a free trip to Aruba, until after the Graduation or Wedding or school year. Of course you have to plan a time that works best for all people involved, but there’s a difference between planning and excuses. Sometimes the lines are blurred. My family and I had wanted to visit the Amalfi Coast in Italy for a very long time. But the timing was never matching up. One of us was always busy, or the time of year wasn’t right, or some other excuse that we mistook for planning. Eventually, my mother just said we have to go during the summer. So we put off our obligations and went for a ten-day stay in Italian paradise. When we came home, my dad had lots of work to catch up on, I had so much to plan for school, and my brother had to make up his golf lessons before golf try-outs in the Fall. But it was certainly worth it.

Two years later, my brother is currently on the golf team, my dad’s extra work has blended in with the rest, and I don’t remember the planning I had to fit in before the school year. But never will I ever forget those ten sunny days in Amalfi, spending long dinners talking and long afternoons having limitless adventures, when all we worried about was sunburn. Travel is always worth it. Some day, I will spend my life finding the means for my children to travel. I will do anything I can to save money and spend time showing them the world. I want to give them the wanderlust and hunger for life that my parents gave me from an early age. My parents showed me the world, and in turn gave me the appreciation of every little cobblestone and sand grain.

The third lesson, though very cliché, is the most important travel lesson I’ve learned in my short eighteen years; don’t get so lost in travel that you forget to appreciate home. I’ve come to believe that the greatest, most important travel I’ve ever done is coming home again. Yes, I love adventures and foreign countries and relaxation. But nothing will beat the feeling of coming home to people you love, in a place that’s part of your identity. Wanderlust can take you all over the world to different cultures and continents and time zones, but the biggest wanderlust will bring you right back home. Because maybe the greatest adventure in the world is being loved. And the greatest vacation is right here at home in slow, hot, and peaceful Kentucky. 

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