Before a meeting at work the other day, a highly-esteemed colleague uttered under his breath from across the conference table, “I want to run away. I hear Papua New Guinea is nice.”
Then he searched Papua New Guinea on his smartphone until the meeting commenced.
I don’t know him very well, but I decided immediately that I liked him due to his honesty in expressing something I’ve only been able to utter in private.
I want to run away.
He picked Papua New Guinea. For the past year, I’ve been set on Seychelles. People have asked why I would pick such a random place on the opposite side of the world. Part of it is the sandy beaches. A larger part is the desire to flee where nobody will find me, even if I have to come back in the end.
I remember declaring one time when I was in first or second grade that I was going to run away from home. I was serious about it and although I don’t remember what she said, my mom scared me out of leaving. Maybe I realized I couldn’t survive without her.
We didn’t travel far or much when I was little. Every summer, we went camping at the same exact campground, at the same exact campsite. Site 119 in Area A at White Lake State Park in Tamworth, New Hampshire—you are permanently burned into my memory with the smells of campfire and burnt marshmallows. I remember collecting acorns in the woods and creating a jackpot pile to make life easier for any hungry chipmunks. Occasionally, and depending on the year, we’d go to a farm in Pennsylvania Dutch Country or an amusement park.
I know I should’ve been grateful to go on any vacation, but I never understood why we didn’t take the opportunity to go somewhere new, even camping among different trees or traveling south instead of north. It became so familiar, so routine. My real world was rooted in the same woods, dry like an old husk from the same cornfield and stuck on the same roller coaster loop year after year.
The more it stayed the same, the more I filled my imagination with pictures collected from the pages of Condé Nast Traveler and enough wanderlust to burst. That magazine was where the images of overwater bungalows in Bora Bora and random beaches in Montenegro flitted across my daydreams. It’s where the glimpses of other cultures, people and cities I’d never heard of and couldn’t pronounce gave me something to look forward to. It gave me hope for one day.
I got braver. I convinced my mom to travel to North Carolina with me one year when I was in college. During my last year, I traveled by myself to Wisconsin for a medical writing conference that made me feel invincible. A month later I was in California for a midyear pharmacy conference and came home with the man I would later marry. We actually met at the airport on the way home and were seated next to each other on the flight.
Travel became everything I knew it would be and more.
I’m very lucky that I met and married a wonderful man who is not only game to travel, but totally open to going anywhere on the planet. He supports my desire to run away as long as we go together. We’ve only been to a few places so far, but each one made the wanderlust stronger.
Every flight has fueled the fire.
Every step inside an airport has filled me with childlike wonder and more hope than the pictures in the magazines.
Every page of the whole damn world atlas has become my bucket list.
When my globetrotting husband and I arrive somewhere on vacation, we immediately pick what we would do to earn our keep if we ran away permanently. He thinks this is a fun rhetorical game I make him play—it’s not. I’m quite serious.
If we stayed indefinitely on our honeymoon, he was going to be a coconut husker (we still don’t know if that’s a legitimate occupation) and I was going to be a waitress at the hotel restaurant and a Polynesian dancer in my off-time (even if I don’t have a lovely bunch of coconuts to fill out the coconut bra). In Paris, he was going to be the guy who makes rotisserie chicken (his main food group), and I decided to be a florist on Rue Cler, where I’d never be upset about taking my work home with me.
I’ve already decided to be a bird conservationist or a tortoise keeper in Seychelles, although my husband thinks I made up both of these professions. Hey, somebody has to take care of the birds and tortoises.
I used to think the desire to run away was a fleeting feeling that only little kids toyed with. I thought the feeling would pass and I’d grow out of it. I thought mature adults traveled, while the maladjusted and antsy ones who never grew up or got comfortable in their surroundings ran away.
Then at that conference table, I heard a person who was way more successful than me, who seemed like he had it all figured out, say something I couldn’t that made me feel less alone. I realized that we belong to the same group of people, the ones who want to hop on a jet plane and sing, “Don’t know when I’ll be back again!” We’re the ones with the deep burning desire for newness and wonder. Maybe here is okay, but it’s not enough.
One of the Dalai Lama’s Instructions for Life reads: “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” I take that as a commandment, not a suggestion. One single place should be the bare minimum, even if it’s just a different street, trail or forest within walking distance of your home.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote, “To travel is to live.” And my mom, who didn’t have a burning desire to see the whole world, begged me before she passed away to do two things with my life: to travel and be happy.
Maybe running away isn’t the real goal anymore. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my life, even though I’m depressed she’s gone. And it’s not that I hate it here, even though here includes a constant reminder that my mom is not with me. It’s that every day I remain here, I feel unlived lives and days slipping through my fingers.
My mom isn’t really here anyway. She’s out there. So if seeing the world above the clouds and many miles away brings me closer to her and her final wish for me, I must go.
What my mom’s diagnosis and death taught me is that we are all running out of time. We can’t run away from that fact. We’re all impermanent, so might as well enjoy the ride.
And right now, I’d like that ride to be a 13-hour flight to Seychelles. I hear it’s nice there.
Author: Tori Leigh Best
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Author’s own / Debby/Flickr