I must confess – I have a bad case of wanderlust. I relish the sensation of being in a new place. My heart quickens, my head spins, and all my senses feel heightened. It’s as if someone has toggled my settings to high alert… and I love it!
Is that strange? The reason I ask is because oftentimes I feel like I am the only one who enjoys this aspect of venturing out into the world.
I was delighted when, during a recent social gathering, the conversation shifted to travel. It is my favorite thing to talk about! Vancouver, Glacier National Park, Willamette Valley wineries, and various Tahitian islands were popular places being discussed on the overcrowded outdoor patio.
There was a pause in the conversation and an acquaintance turned to me and said, “You’re always going somewhere strange. Where are you off to next?”
I smile inside. I have actually been preparing and packing for a fourteen-day adventure with my husband. We will be wandering aimlessly through the Balkan countries without an itinerary much less a tour guide.
I hesitate for a moment before saying, “Slovenia.”
Then, before I could get another word out, a smugly self-assured looking fellow remarked, “Why? Where is it, again? Isn’t it communist?”
I felt my husband’s hand lightly brush my lower back, his way of telling me to be calm and not react to the gentleman’s snarky tone. I took a breath then proceeded to inform him that, “Slovenia borders Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Italy. You may be remembering when it was part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.”
I quickly continued to share our partial itinerary. We will be heading towards Lake Bled, Triglav National Park and the old town of Ljubljana. But what really excites me is the Cow Ball Festival! There is actually an annual festival – complete with food, drink and folk music – to celebrate the return of the cows from their highland pastures. Sounds fun, right?
Instead of waiting for a response, I kept going. I wanted to squeeze in one more little detail, just for him. “We are also stopping in Bosnia. I am really excited to see the city of Sarajevo.”
I took a sip of my diluted mango margarita. The expressions on their faces were priceless.
“Why there?” my girlfriend asked.
“I hear it’s not safe,” alleged that same smug fellow.
Bosnia intrigues me with its rich history. Its religious and cultural diversity has led some to dub it “the Jerusalem of Europe.” My neighbor Walt, who visited just a year ago, told me about this nuclear bunker hidden inside a mountain which was recently converted to a modern art exhibition. Who wouldn’t want to go?
The next morning, my girlfriend sent me a text: “Where else has that gypsy friend of yours travelled?”, the snarky man probed after my husband and I left.
It made me think, why do I need to explain why I visit these “exotic places”? I am used to people questioning me, but I still tend to get reactive and overly justifying. Sometimes I think maybe I should just ignore the ignorance and continue doing my own thing. But maybe I can help change people’s perspectives by swapping out the negative stories they have heard with my firsthand experiences.
I feel fortunate to explore the globe. Our news outlets often overlook all the good in the world. I remember how my grandmother used to become engrossed in domestic and international chaos. She was often unable to separate the fear of what she saw from the potential benefits of going somewhere new. She had no interest in travel – not even to visit her granddaughter in California! Her instincts told her to play it safe, remaining cozy and confident in the safety of her home and small, rural community.
For years, I tried telling her how rewarding the unfamiliar can be. Though I admit, when I am in my own pocket of paradise – sunny San Diego – it is dangerously easy to think, “No way, I am not leaving. The world is an unsettled mess and there is too much danger. I’m staying safe and comfortable right where I am.”
But I made up my mind never to let fear prevent me from venturing into uncertainty. Self-transformation and personal growth always seem to happen when I realize I am not in control, and that is something travel continues to prove to me.
Plus, there is always more to learn. It isn’t easy to debunk the myths that society has sensationalized about other peoples and places. There is always another side of a story. Crossing cultural lines has taught me many lessons, but the biggest one is that people are far more similar than we are led to believe.
So, I am off to the Balkans with an open heart and an open mind. I feel my senses gearing up for new experiences, whatever they might be. Seeing new sights and learning about new places is always valuable, but even more so is coming home with “new eyes” that see the world without the barriers and divisions that a lack of knowledge can build up.