My friend called to say she’d just put a ticket to London on her credit card.
“Is the card you’re trying to pay off, the one you were going to cut up?” I asked. There was a long pause and then a deep sigh.
But, she could explain. She’d found one of those impossible-to-resist fares and she had a friend from college who would let her spend a few days in her flat. “All I have to worry about is getting there and meals, and, you know, other expenses,” she told me. “It was such a deal I couldn’t say no.”
I laughed at her flawed logic even as I recognized the reasoning. Meals and “other” expenses in London add up quickly, but that’s the kind of thing you tell yourself when you’re hooked. And we’re both hooked.
Travel is a drug like any other opiate. It triggers all the right responses. It alters your mood. It gives you a jolt of energy. For some of us, it only takes a taste and we’re goners. From that point on we crave it. We abuse it. We swear off and then, just when we think we’ve kicked the habit, we succumb again. The younger you are when you start, the worse the addiction is.
Of course, travel has medicinal qualities, as well. Literature is filled with stories of men and women who flee to mend a broken heart.
Travel helps us grieve. When a friend died last year, I booked a trip to Iceland and spent a week facing the harsh wind, staring into bubbling thermal pools, gazing out at ash-covered glaciers until finally, standing in the wide rift valley between two of the earth’s tectonic plates, I could bring myself to say goodbye and let her go.
Travel distracts us. My last child is heading off to college in the fall. She is the youngest of four and her brother and sisters are already out on their own. One night several months ago, in the deepest part of winter, I couldn’t sleep because my mind kept trying to wrap itself around the idea that after 28 years of full-time mothering, I am about to shift into being a consultant. Never mind the fact that I travel often and don’t mind going off on my own, and that most of my children are avid travelers, for a moment I felt adrift. Like a balloon without ballast. Without a child in the house, what will I do? My husband’s job keeps him tied to a schedule. As a writer, especially with no parenting routine, what would hold me back? A deadline can be met anywhere. I don’t have to be in the office.
For a moment I considered buying one of those round-the-world cruise tickets and spending a few months at sea. I plotted what I could cash in, sell off or trade. (I could have a garage sale!) Then I would shelter in a tiny cabin, comforted by the rolling waves, distracted by the parade of ports until I made my way back home. I would, in other words, go on a deliberate travel “bender” until the worst was over and I could come back soberly ready to accept the the fact that my babies are really and truly all grown up.
So, with that kind of reckless secret plan, who am I to rebuke a woman who spends to her limit chasing some kind of chance-of-a-lifetime British museum travel buzz? (Travel educates and enriches, right?) Besides, she was right. It was a great fare.
“I know I shouldn’t do this right now. ” she said before hanging up. “But after this trip, I’m done for a long time. I mean it.”
We said goodbye, but before I could end the call she called out, “Oh, by the way, I’m having a garage sale this weekend. You should come by.”
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org