If someone had told me last year that my traveling days would soon come to a screeching halt, I would have frantically reached for a Xanax with one hand while dialing my therapist with the other. Yet, when that seemingly unlikely scenario came to fruition thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, I did what everyone else did: I stashed away my passport (for what I thought would be a few weeks) and Googled “best binge-worthy Netflix shows.”
Fast-forward to autumn, and I have not been on a plane in 273 days. To save you the math, I’ll tell you that is nine months — or roughly the time necessary to gestate human life. While this may not seem extreme to many, for me, it’s an eternity. I’ve been a travel writer for nearly a decade. I am barely in any one country for more than 30 days — let alone at home for months on end. And this new reality has led me to a realization: Traveling isn’t just a reflection of my profession; it’s who I am. It defines me.
To be completely honest, I didn’t particularly miss life on the road at first. There’s some measure of pleasure that comes with ditching 3 a.m. wake-up calls, crack-of-dawn flights, and an endless cycle of packing and unpacking. And yes, there’s something alluring about a lifestyle in which getting dressed means reaching for the “good” athleisure. But after 15 seasons of Criminal Minds, countless DIY projects and hand raising a badelynge of ducklings to live on the pond behind my house (I kid you not), I’m jonesing to put my seat in its full, upright position and take off.
Perhaps we are intrinsically nomadic by nature. Could it be that somewhere within the deepest recesses of our lizard brains, we feel compelled to travel? For me, wanderlust is a primal feeling. With every new country I visit, the world somehow seems smaller and more interconnected. Each time I wrap myself up within a new culture, I develop a deeper appreciation of both that culture and my own. Each trip I take leaves me with a greater understanding that indeed there is a reaction for every action. I crave the excitement that comes with discovering the unknown and experiencing the unfamiliar. And guess what? Those desires are backed by science.
New experiences stimulate us. This was proven by Caltech scientists who discovered neurons that serve as “novelty detectors.” Of course, this makes perfect sense. But no scientific evidence is necessary for me to grasp the fact that without travel, I feel restless. If there’s something physiological that fuels this need to roam, I am utterly confident it resides within me. Not only are the deep emotions and the delicious sensations I experience when I travel genuine, so too are the hauntingly unsettled feelings that consume me when I am in one place for too long. Over the past several months, I’ve desperately tried to pretend that being stationary has been my choice rather than an absolute directive. But no matter how persuasive my inner voice is, my conscious self still longingly rifles through my passport’s dormant pages as if it were the great American novel.
I’ve discovered that travel is necessary for me to feel, well, like me. New destinations are sustenance for my spirit, new experiences fodder for my imagination. I’ve realized that home is the place that soothes my soul, but travel is what sends it soaring. And in that precarious space tucked somewhere between being emotionally anchored to the Earth and literally flying above it is where I long to land.