I think I may have caught this bug as a child.
I discovered escapism in stories.
My wanderlust, back then, would be largely limited to the pages of a book and my imagination. But as soon as I was able and had any means at all, I began traveling.
I have been seduced by beaches, by mountains, by the vibrancy of a city; by mosques, by basilicas, by street art and Van Gogh. I have dropped into countries not knowing the language or another soul, but compelled to experience things I had only known in abstraction. I hate wasting daylight in a new place, so I've slept in trains and buses heading overnight to the next stop.
I recognize that a tribe of wanderers exists among us. We find it hard to resist the impulse to move, despite deep roots. The heft of our passports matters more than the size of our homes.
Travel is rarely relaxing for me. There's a discomfort to unfamiliar surroundings, to getting lost, to making plans and constantly adjusting them. In that discomfort, that break from familiarity and routine, is a chance to feel more fully alive. When I've stumbled across something that forces me to stop and take notice, I step into the shoes of my children. I embrace that feeling of wonder.
I married someone with this same sensibility. We have wanted to show our children the vastness of everything outside their circles. It may be one of the best gifts parents can impart: Give them a sense of how big the world is and plant the desire for them to explore it.
My parents were not able to take us on fancy vacations as children. But they bought us lots of books, took us to the library and told us countless stories of their own childhoods far away. It nourished that desire to see as much of the world as possible.
When I decided to study abroad in college, I created a program for myself in Cairo. I had never been in the Middle East. I did not know anyone in Egypt, nor did I speak Arabic. But I was fascinated by the culture and history of the region. When you live in a foreign place for months, you learn how to hail a cab and not get ripped off by the cabbie. You get sick and figure out how to see a doctor. You eat and drink where the locals eat and drink. You become a little less foreign.
You discover what homesickness feels like in the core of your being.
And you gain an innate sense of independence.
The realization that I could survive in a strange land, on my own as a young adult, may be one of the most powerful and lasting lessons of that journey.
So often with our children, we return to the same places. We want them to develop close bonds with their grandparents and relatives who live in different states. We want them to experience the cliched but genuine magic of Disney, the tranquility of water and sand, the thrill of snowfall. We want to show them the monuments that are the fabric of this country's history, and the richness of art and culture in its museums. They should see firsthand the difference between a desert dusk and a sun setting among skyscrapers.
Staying close to home is like reading the same line of poetry over and over.
Places can change us profoundly.
I am a different person for having drifted down the Nile in a felucca, cheered at a soccer match in Argentina, shopped in the street markets in Karachi and bargained at the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. I know the places that will tug at me to return: Paris, Lake Louise, Brazil. And the places I long to see one day: the Taj Mahal, Cordoba, the glittering blue waves in the Maldives.
Whether or not I make it to all the places that capture my imagination, the thought of one day traveling to them makes me hopeful. For my children, I hope the journey takes them far.
And brings them back.