I’m twenty-seven weeks pregnant, which is technically the last week of my second trimester, and shit is getting real. Apparently, this is also the “longingly and obsessively scroll through Instagram travel pages” phase of pregnancy, so of course Facebook took it upon itself to remind me that nine years ago today I was in Sri Lanka. The algorithm is tormenting me. I’m wanderlusting. Wondering if I’ll ever travel again. Reminiscing about the good ol’ days.
As I scroll through my photo albums on Facebook, I am reminded of how often people would comment, “You’re so free!” The people who said this to me over the years had “real” jobs and mortgages and pets and kids. Well into my thirties, I would joke that the only difference between my life in high school and my life as an adult was that now I paid rent.
One year when I was home for the holidays, I looked at a wall of Christmas cards at my aunt’s house, a tradition that in and of itself feels very adult to me. The coordinated outfits. The obedient pets. The smiling faces. The decorated mantels. I told my cousin that I wanted to make my own version of me jumping in front of a sunset somewhere exotic that read: I’M THE FREEST PERSON ON THIS WALL!!!
The Christmas Card People were at the mercy of school schedules and vacation time and all the trappings of being grown up. Viewing the Christmas photos made me feel trapped and claustrophobic. I never wanted that cookie-cutter life. It wasn’t something I lusted after or felt I was missing out on. Looking at the nice homes and pets and spouses and children, all I saw were things that would cramp my style.
For someone with a gypsy soul, traveling is life. Growing up, it was all I wanted to do. After school, I would come home and watch a video about the great cities of Europe and imagine myself in each one of them. My childhood fantasies didn’t involve walking down an aisle or holding a child moments after I gave birth to her. My daydreams placed me at a cafe in France or teaching English to kids in Vietnam, or learning to tango in Buenos Aires.
I was notorious for my last-minute travels. Gone are the days of booking a one-way flight to London on a Friday morning and leaving Friday afternoon — with no idea of when I’d return. In 2012, I bought a one-way ticket to Sydney, Australia. In the course of that year, I went to New Zealand, Egypt, London, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Rome and St. Tropez before returning home. Determined to stay put, I vowed that I’d get a real job and put down some roots. Instead, I booked a ticket to Sri Lanka and ended up in India.
Weary travelers joke that India stands for “I’d Never Do It Again.” But that country captured my imagination and my soul. The millions of people, the smells, colors and temples. It’s a feast for your senses, an overstimulating extravaganza that encompasses the entirety of life. Extreme poverty, exorbitant wealth. A country so massive I only saw parts of the south while I was there. You could easily spend a decade in India and barely scratch the surface. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and by the end of my time there I at last felt ready to come home. I was exhausted.
I was never under any illusion about the trade-offs. I knew I was trading security for the ability to be spontaneous — but at a certain point I had to ask myself, was I traveling for the sake of traveling? Was I running from myself, in the same way I did when I used substances?
Somewhere along the way, traveling had become an escape. When you hit the road with a backpack, you meet all kinds of people. There are those who are traveling — and then there are the lost souls. I realized in India that I was a lost soul. So I came home, stayed put and started to build.
As I write, we’re on the 10 headed east. It’s a drive I’ve done hundreds of times, on my way to Joshua Tree National Park or Coachella music festival — only this time the road trip is to go visit my in-laws in Arizona. We’ve been on the road for an hour and a half and I’ve already had to stop twice to pee. We just stopped again and I already feel like I have to pee again. It makes me want to cry. I’m no longer that woman who can make it an entire tank of gas before needing to empty my bladder.
My husband drives. My dog sleeps in the back seat. Staring out the window it occurs to me that I’m on the next great adventure: parenthood. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make a Christmas card next year. Time to order those matching sweaters.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s March 2022 World edition.