My First Solo Travel Experience

Or, How I Became a Roving Stone

At some point, somewhere, every person catches the Wanderlust Bug (and if you don’t, I’m sorry, but you are a broken person). My family lives for adventure and exploration, so it was only a matter of time before I came down with it. My grandparents have pared down their lives to a camper and spend their retirement roving the country. My dad spent the better part of his thirties and forties living in a new place every six months. Basically, traveling is hardwired into my DNA. In another time, I may have become a nomad rather than a nanny and, soon, a teacher. Who knows, I still may (but probably not because I have way too many things that I’ll never be able to get rid of, like my cat and my books and my coffee maker).

As a child, we took the requisite family vacations: Yellowstone, Disney World, and visiting family throughout the west. From the bits I remember, they were mostly perfectly fine vacations. [On a side note, don’t take your five-year-old to Disney Anywhere. Her only memory will be the fact that she fell in the shower and “cracked her head open”, and the overpriced toys and costumes you buy her will be in a box in your basement by the end of the year.] My childhood was full of an adequate amount of travel, and I was mostly ambivalent about it. I certainly didn’t have The Bug.

That all changed the year I turned thirteen. My dad, thanks to an inner sense of wanderlust (or possibly a midlife crisis), made a pretty drastic career change from Salesperson to Set Builder roughly around the time I turned ten. The pay was low and the hours bizarre, but the job made up for its failings in two beautiful ways: travel and live theater. During his time in theater, he worked in about nine states and even more cities. I was thirteen when my mother finally conceded to letting me fly by myself to visit him, and I was ecstatic (and also terrified).

I took a whopping two-hour flight from my hometown of Cody, Wyoming to my dad’s new home of Phoenix, Arizona, but to me it was a massive excursion. I won’t dive into the fun times you can have in Phoenix, because to me that wasn’t even close to the best part of that trip. The best part was the feeling of absolute freedom that coursed through my little, naïve veins as I wheeled my suitcase through the airports. I looked around at the various flight boards and gates and felt like I had just been given the keys to eternity. I was convinced I could go to any one of the gates, hand them my ticket, and wind up literally anywhere in the world.

Of course, I’ve learned a lot since then about airport security protocols and basic finance, and I now know that a plane ticket isn’t a magic pass to anywhere I want to go. Even so, I can’t help but feel that same sense of wonder and longing anytime I’m in an airport. I connect to that little thirteen-year-old who’s just learned that a whole wide world is at her fingertips, waiting to be discovered. That first experience traveling alone taught me that I can go anywhere, anytime and I can do it by myself. It gave me my sense of wanderlust, which has only grown stronger thanks to several more exciting trips throughout my teenage years. I’m thankful to my dad for many things (helping to create me, teaching me to love football, and paying for my car insurance to name a few), but the greatest gift he’s ever given me will always be my wanderlust.