The realization of my addiction came at the point where most addictions come, in a dark, dingy hotel room, alone, surrounded by pink pills. The only difference was that I did not have a needle up my arm and I was not in the center of downtown LA. I was in Puerto Rico, and was in my right, conscious state of mine (which I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.) As I laid sprawled out on the floor of my cheap hostel room, trying to calm the fire in my stomach thanks to too much greasy mofongo with a bottle of Pepto-Bismol capsules, I thought, “Why do I keep doing this to myself?” As the acid ate away at my insides, and mosquitoes got what was left on the outside, I slipped into the back corners of my memory to try and figure out how I got to such a deep state of my addiction; that is, my addiction to travel, scientifically known as wanderlust.
The furthest back I can process is in college, when I had too much time and too little expenses to dissolve my part-time income. I wanted to experiment, try new things, and experience crazy a little. So summer after my freshmen year, I packed my first backpack and headed to Guatemala on a volunteer trip with my school.
And it just snowballed from there.
The following summer I spent 9 weeks in Europe, then 2 months in Costa Rica, another 6 weeks back in Europe after graduation, then a quick fix trip to Panama, then a binge trip to Nicaragua. Each trip I swore would be the last one. Just one more, to “get it out of my system,” then I would start my career, wear a suit, have a 401K, get married, and save for a house, like all good American girls should do. And that really was my plan. Honest.
However, I just could just not stop relapsing. Each and every relapse was more sweet and beautiful than the last, except that after each one, (like a true addict) I always needed just a little more than the last time to get to that perfect high. Just a week longer, just a couple hundred miles farther into the unknown. Just one more night on an airport floor sleeping on my backpack.
And at this point, I’ve become so familiar with these relapses, I can see one coming about a month or two in advance and I immediately prepare myself to fight the urge (while setting a little extra money aside, you know, just in case).
It always starts at work. I’ll be clicking away on my computer, going strong, when something will set it off, something different every time. Like the smell of my coworkers coffee reminds me of the plantation I visited in Costa Rica, or the blue of the wall suddenly looks just like the water in the Aegean Sea in Greece, or the clock reminds me of Big Ben, etc. Before I know it, I’m emailing the HR department to see how many Paid Time Off days I have left. Just a harmless question! About an hour later I get a response. 16 hours left. 16 hours! That’s 2 whole days! Attach it to a weekend and that makes 4! Oh, the places I could go in 4 days! Without even stopping to think, I print out the request form, select a random weekend in the fall (summer is high season and too expensive, of course) and walk into the office of my very tolerant boss. Half a minute later I’m walking back to my desk, eyes glazed over, holding the approved time off request in my hand like a slave holding their freedom papers. I set it down on my desk and stare at it. What am I thinking!? I mean, I just got back from vacation a month ago! I swore that after that last trip I would take a break to replenish my savings and payoff that dang credit card, which keeps piling up with charged plane tickets. No, no, no, I will be strong! I throw the form into my desk drawer and get back to work. It only takes a minute for the form to start talking to me from inside the desk. It only says one word sentences, “Bali, Philippians, Croatia, and Belize” and that’s all it takes to get to me. I pull it back out slowly. Well, it’s only 4 days, that can’t be too expensive. Then I’ll be out of PTO days for a couple months and can catch up. I google a map of the world, and start searching. It would have to be somewhere close, so I don’t waste half the trip flying. I look to the north, Canada. No, too big. The south. Mexico, no, I’m saving that one for next year, further south, Guatemala. Already been. Belize. Too expensive. Next, Honduras. I pause. Ooo, never been there before. And many of my fellow travel buddies say the Bay Islands off the coast are amazing! My heart starts racing and I being to salivate. Honduras. Let’s just double check ticket prices.
Within 5 minutes I have 6 Internet windows open and chugging away at once, searching deep into the void to find the cheapest airline tickets the galaxy can provide. The little globe keeps spinning as prices being to pop up. $700. I remain calm; they always pop up the most expensive first, like a Jedi mind-trick making the cheapest prices seem cheaper than they actually are. $600. Nope. $550. Ugg. $525. It stops. I scroll through the other 6 windows. All around the same price. I open a new window and pull up my savings account balance. $415. Ok, there’s got to be a way. I pull out a file in the back of my mind with all the airports surrounding my area. LA? No, not usually much of a difference. Orange County. No not international. Suddenly, like a light bulb just went off, I remember! I live in San Diego, and the Tijuana airport is only half an hour away! I pull up a different site I know by heart and type in my destinations. My palms itch as a look away into the corner, anticipating the results. After a few seconds, I look back at the screen. $395!! With taxes, that puts me right around my savings accounting balance! Woo hoo! Within ten minutes I’ve swept my savings account clean and am now the proud owner of a 6-stop flight to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Now, all I have to do is live of $1 burritos and cancel my electricity at the house over the next two months so I can have some spending money for the trip. Small price to pay to check a whole country off the list! That’s 21 down, 173 to go! Wow, 173 to go….