It has occurred to me lately that I have been experiencing what I can only describe as feelings of joy rising — a stirring of my soul, a connection to the world, to place, something from within me that sees the light and is reaching out for it, ready to latch on and go. It sounds very Oprah of me, I know. However, it is not Oprah. It is travel.
Actually, it is more than just travel; it is traveling. It is the idea that Scot, Luna and I will be traveling very soon, for a year at least, if not for a long time or forever, to see the world, and that it actually might be our life, how we live, for a living, for as far as our eyes and our hearts and our ambitions can see. It is like the joy I feel while painting words or massaging ideas through and into art, or even as I make food: there is excitement in the anticipation of its coming to fruition; and then, of course, how I will feel about it after I have dotted the last ‘i’ or crossed the last ‘t’; or thrown the last bit of paint onto the canvas; or peeled the parchment paper from the piping hot mushroom pâté. I am curious about it all, about the process, about what I see/”see” and know, and about what I don’t know, as it pertains to all three of us. That is interesting to me.
So in regard to traveling with my family for at least a year in a tiny house on wheels, off the grid (but on a different sort of path), away from all that is familiar and convenient, taken for granted and garbled up in the everyday regular stuff, I am excited to learn about what I don’t know.
For instance, I do not know yet all that we will be taking with us as we travel, which can be anything if we want it to be. However, the more that we offload our material goods, the less (and less and less) we have, own or want. We are down to bare bones, with little left to sell or donate. I consider the future storage unit that we might need to house art and memorabilia or whatever else. I imagine opening the door to the storage unit at the end of our year-long travels and already am thinking, I don’t need this — that is anything that I currently am considering keeping, like a few lamps or toys or side tables or desks, or even our king mattress and frame. Many have asked, “But what if you decide to set up house or apartment after you travel? What will you need?” All I know is that I don’t know what we will want or need after we travel, because I don’t know how we will feel after traveling for so long. Maybe we will want to keep traveling. Perhaps we will want to stay somewhere fully furnished. But what if we want to begin anew? What if we prefer spartan living? What if we never have a home again? My gut says we will feel pretty good about not having stuff to consider, to change our minds, to alter a state of being, to influence our future. Or maybe we won’t. Nevertheless, what we don’t want to do is practice a lot of “what ifs,” as they can nurture ambivalence and hesitation, as well as foster feelings of fear and guilt, in my opinion anyway. Phooey.
I also do not know how we/I will feel about returning to the place from which we/I came. I have experienced intensely such indifference twice in my life. The first time I felt that I could stay or I could go was after living in Spain. I was twenty at the time. I adored Spain; it felt like home to me. But family awaited me in the US; I felt that I should probably return. I remember the car ride home after arriving in the States, driving under an overhanging green directional sign, which read in English, obviously, yet felt a bit foreign to me. I knew in my heart that I could have kept traveling, that it seemed unfinished and that it would have been alright, but what I understood was that the best/appropriate thing to do — probably — would be to return to college and make my “place” at “home” and be around family and so on. In retrospect, I don’t think that I ever really settled that feeling; the ‘i’ had not been dotted, the ‘t’ never crossed. In my mind I am still wandering the cool morning streets of Extremadura or traveling by train through Andalucía, head against the window, enjoying the view.
The second time I felt that I was on the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go fence was after traveling with my best friend across the United States. We both had earned money as substitute teachers. With summer off from work, we decided to spend it hiking and camping across the country. By the end of the 1996 school year, we were free as birds, so we took our money, our tent, our snacks and supplies and music, and departed in my light blue, four-cylinder college car, a Geo Prism. We started in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; drove through the upper Midwest and northern Plains states; to and through dusty, eastern Wyoming; chugged four-cylinder-style over the Rockies; traveled the Tetons, Yellowstone, Montana, Idaho, Seattle and Portland. We saw the Redwoods and met friends in San Francisco, but decided that we’d had enough of California and campsites for a while and needed…well, a home.
So we drove all night from San Francisco to Phoenix, where my grandparents lived, stopping in Bakersfield, California, to call and tell them we were our way. We arrived at their retiree village home hot, sweaty and filthy from our overnight, windows-down drive through the desert. We ate, bathed (leaving a ring in the bath tub) and napped, and then my grandmother awakened us to let us know that it was probably 140 degrees in the car that mid-morning in July and that we should unload our gear. She was correct: when I opened the trunk of the car I noticed that the citronella candle had melted completely into liquid bug repellent. No matter. We swam in the pool, ate homemade food, washed our clothes, took more baths, relaxed and regrouped. It was quite blissful.
But then it was time to go…to the Grand Canyon, to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, to Carlsbad, Austin and New Orleans. There was an impending family gathering that I was to attend as we turned the corner north into Memphis. My traveling companion suggested that I shouldn’t go home, but rather keep going. I felt torn. I was running low on money, and I felt that little lingering feeling, that it probably was best that I return to family and home to what was probably expected of me, so I did, and I’m sure that I had a good time at the reunion, and another journey awaited me and that all was well. However, the road kept calling, and I’m pretty sure that I still can hear it all of these years later, from somewhere back in Memphis, standing over Elvis’ grave, under the moist, dark green canopy of that Tennessee summer I left behind for something that I felt that I was supposed to do.
Elvis, is that you???
Which brings me to something else I’ve been pondering lately — my nomadic wanderings throughout my adult life. In one way or another, I have led a life of roaming experiences: working to travel, then moving to a new city, shape-shifting ideas, building and ending relationships, rinsing and repeating. It actually seemed quite natural to me to go from one place to the other; it generally felt unnatural to stay in one place and do the same thing. There have been times when I have questioned myself about what that probably looked like to the outside world: isn’t one supposed to settle, set up home, live one’s life out in a community of familiar people, going to school, going to work, making and keeping lifelong friends, keeping the same email address and phone number? People have suggested to me that maybe I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I even drank that juice for a while, believing, perhaps, lacking faith even, that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I continued on as a student of life, rich in experiences and friends and cultures. As we plan this year of travel, these thoughts converse with my heart from a very familiar place, because it remembers this way of being and thinking, that I always knew what I was doing, because I always was doing what I wanted to do — that is moving and learning and growing and existing on the unfamiliar and new. No wonder there has been longing: the road is where I was meant to be.
Elvis, I’m coming, honey…
This could conjure up some feelings in other people about what we are doing with or to our daughter, that perhaps she needs firmer ground or…I don’t know what. I am only assuming and I don’t think too much about it. If we all were encouraged to be free in the pursuit of what brings us joy, working from there and that was nurtured culturally, rather than being fed the idea that we need a “good, steady job” first in order to have security, considering pleasure and joy only later for retirement and/or as afterthoughts, then perhaps it would seem very natural what we are doing: not waiting, not fearing, just going, just being. Life doesn’t look like school, for example, after we leave school. Life looks like life, with a mix of people and ages and races and experiences and foods and ideas and lack of structure. What better way to “set up” Luna for life than to be in it?
Besides, she does have a crush on Elvis. She should probably visit him before he isn’t so relevant anymore.
And anyway, death happens, and illness, too. Employers will ask more of you. Families will as well. Injuries happen, children happen. Families grow and break up. National disasters happen. Bankruptcy happens. We often — all of us — can talk ourselves out of anything and everything. One never knows what will happen. Life looks like all of that, too. Might as well do what you love on your own terms, if you can.
With that, there are other things about which I do not know, about which I am uncertain. I am not sure what sustaining travel will look like. I am not sure whether this Lifestream will simply chronicle our journey or will become a source of revenue for us. All I know about that is that I must write, and I must write about my passions and what brings me joy — my family, our travels, food, life, love. If it brings income, that would be sprinkles on the icing on the cake.
I also am unsure about how much pressure Scot may feel earning while on the road. We both have every faith in his abilities; he always earns. It’s just…new. But I suspect that it will cost less doing what we will be doing than doing it from any one single place. We simply won’t have the same financial obligations that others do living in an apartment or home. That will be new, too.
I don’t know how we will recycle. I don’t know if we will end up hauling stuff that we don’t need. I don’t know how to maintain a rig like the one we probably will acquire, but training comes with the package, so I will learn. I don’t know what to do with some of the art that I created, or that it even will be important to me upon our return, if we return. I don’t know if Luna is going to miss the rest of the family enough to want to return sooner than later. I have no idea how much extended travel will expand our minds, our hearts and our souls. I do not know if we will tire of each other. Probably, sometimes. I do not know what else will become important to me or to us, or what we will consider less.
I do know that my family traveled a lot when I was a child. I traveled as much as I could as a young adult. Scot and I traveled often as a couple. Now, with a kiddo in tow, we simply want to spend as much time with her as possible, and she’s game. It is this family-focused, being-togetherness that has driven our dreaming. It was the lack of connection we felt to other communities that sent us in search of “home.” It was the moment we stepped foot into a travel trailer that we knew we were on to something. It has been Luna’s jumping for joy when we discuss “camper van” travel that helps guide our decision-making, as her opinion counts, too. It is the want for continued peace, quiet and more joy that has helped shape our endeavors. It is the desire to experience our universal family that fuels the fire. It is the evolution of this untethered lifestyle that keeps us afloat and moving toward this very tangible dream of being free in the world.
These things I know, and feed a hopeful experience of the unknown and what might become of it during and after journeying the beautiful terrain that makes up the United States. I want to keep traveling, going forward, completing the cycles, not looking back, wondering if I should have stayed or should have gone. I know where we are going and have no idea what to expect, but I know that I don’t want to miss a thing.