You know that I consider myself extremely fortunate; I'm very aware of my privilege. In general, I have a very good life, and I know it. But...
But as much as I keep that perspective, we want what we want, and when we don't have something that feels integral to our happiness, it chafes. This doesn't feel like a want. It feels like a need.
Apart from the people and dogs in my life, there's nothing I love more than travel. And we simply can't afford to travel as I would like to. "As I would like to" doesn't mean a fantasy of a year-long trek around the world or my lifelong dream of cruising North America with no fixed address. All I mean is one good trip each year - a two- or three-week trip to someplace I've never been.
This year, like last year, we have an important family wedding to attend. Last year's took us to New Mexico; this one is in northern California. It's beautiful there and I'm sure we'll have a great time, but I've been there many times and at this point, it's not where I would choose to spend my incredibly scarce travel dollars. I'll go to New York and New Jersey to visit family and friends, once on my own and once with Allan. And we might squeeze out a short, local trip, like Stratford.
So we'll get away. I understand this would be sufficient for someone else. But for me, a few days away is great fun, but it doesn't scratch the itch.
I have this great hunger to see the world. Sometimes it obsesses me, makes my heart ache with longing. Each trip Allan and I have made together (as well as my travels before we met) has been a revelation. But looking back on where I've been never dampens my desire to see more. It only feeds it, like an addiction.
And as I get older, it gets worse.
In the past, there were many years when we didn't have money to travel. That was always a disappointment for me, but in those days time seemed endless. Now I live with a sense of my life being very finite, and rushing by at breakneck speed.
I fear that past a certain age, we won't have money to travel at all. We don't have a house to sell or big retirement income coming our way. It's realistic to think we'll be financially constrained in our senior years.
So, rightly or wrongly, I imagine I don't have that many years of real travel left. And too many places I want to go. And not the money to go there.
Friends older than me laugh at this. Why should I feel this way at 48? Because I do.
* * * *
I look at the balance in our so-called retirement savings, and I think... I could get five or six really good trips out of that. That would make me really happy. And isn't that what money is for? Who knows if we'll live long enough to spend that money on retirement... We should use it to get more out of our lives right now...
I drive myself crazy thinking along those lines. Fortunately Allan intervenes. He has loved our travels together, but he's not an addict like I am. So the money stays there. Taunting me.
* * * *
I drafted this post almost a full year ago, before I had any thoughts of graduate school. I wrote:
I'm not one to complain about a problem without trying to fix it. Is there something I could be doing differently? I've thought myself in circles about this.
I could get a full-time job in the field of my day-job. I'd be sacrificing the work that gives my life meaning, in essence making my day-to-day life miserable in exchange for two weeks a year. In my heart, I know that's not a wise trade-off, and I've resisted it.
We could cut our budget to the bone, have no entertainment, live like paupers, just to save all our money for travel. But again, it seems unwise to live your whole life for two weeks, and it's not like we spend that much money as it is.
I suppose we could forgo any smaller trips, and save the money we would have spent on those, and put it all towards travel. But we're long-distance from close friends and family now. How can I not see my mother, my siblings or my best friends?
The only other thing we spend money on is our dogs, and I can scarcely imagine life without them.
At the time, I saw no possibility of change on the horizon, just endless discontent and frustration. I was on the road to coming up with a solution, I just didn't know it yet.
But the benefits of my Big Life Change are still far off. It will be years until I get my degree and a start my new career. I have patience for the process. I just don't have patience for the trips I won't be taking until I get there.
* * * *
My family likes to say that travel is in our genes. My grandmother traveled all over the world, before travel was accessible or typical. Everyone wanted to know, Where is Dora going next? She and my grandfather went on group tours, and never ventured off the beaten track. She wore her status as an American like an armor. But she saw the world, and kept seeing it as long as she possibly could.
Her daughter - my mom - had it bad, too. My parents took us on great travel vacations when we were kids, and when my mother became single, she ticked off all the places my father hadn't wanted to go: Russia, Alaska, China. Now my brother clearly has The Bug, as do two of his three children.
When I went to Europe for the first time, with my great friend NN after we graduated from university, I announced my plans to my grandmother. I expected her to disapprove - as she generally did of everything. To my surprise, she lit up. She said, "It's so wonderful, what young girls can do on their own these days. I had to wait until I was married to see the world, but you can just go." For the rest of her coherent days, my Nana always wanted to hear about my travels, always asked if I was planning a trip. I think of her a lot when I travel.
* * * *
As part of this post, I started writing a list of where we've been and where I most want to go, but I'm purposely not including it. Feeling this way, the where is almost irrelevant. It's the go that matters.
I have a group of photos on the wall of Allan and I with various landmark backdrops: Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu, the Golden Gate Bridge. Looking over the photos, a friend (someone I don't know well, the partner of an old friend) said, "You guys have traveled a lot!" I stuttered over an answer. "Well, I guess... not really..." Allan said definitively, "Yes, we have," then looked at me pointedly and said, "You have."
Maybe I have, maybe I haven't. But it's all I want. And I can't stop wanting it.