Earlier this year, while in Houston, I visited a good friend from college while she was also in town visiting her dad. I briefly discussed our travel plans with her dad, and as we ended the conversation, he said, “You must have gypsy blood.” I smiled and nodded. If you look at my history, it’s easy to think that.
At 14, I told my BFF that I couldn’t go to Florida with her as planned because I was going to Ireland instead. No one in my immediate family had ever left North America, yet when I was offered the chance to backpack around Ireland, then live with a host family, I didn’t hesitate. Instead I found an under-the-table job (I was only 14) helping out at a volleyball supply store to help fund my travels. At 20, I said Auf Wiedersehen to my college friends (and Jeff) to spend a year studying in Freiburg, Germany. At 22, I told Jeff that DC would have to wait a year, turned down all the job offers that came with 401ks and health insurance plans, and moved to Greece to teach English for a year. And now, at 27, I’m walking away from the federal career-permanent job that everyone in this area is dying for to traipse around the world for a year. But is it in my blood? I’m not sure.
Now, Jeff, he’s another story. I’d say that it’s certainly in his blood. Thanks to his mom, who immigrated to America in her 30s, Jeff holds two passports (U.S. and Sweden). His mom rode the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Russia and worked with Cambodian refugees while in Southeast Asia. Together his mom and dad toured Africa in a Land Rover they bought long before they were Jeff’s mom and dad or even a couple. This was the family he was born into; these were the stories he grew up with. Extraordinary travel was nothing if not ordinary.
My parents, too, have traveled. They have their stories. Funny stories, poignant stories, memorable stories. But they are stories of travel within the United States…trips to the World’s Fair, long station wagon rides from Kentucky to California.
Like most Americans, in this country of immigrants, I have that long ago brave relative who left behind the homeland to begin anew in an unknown place. Yet, since then, my family has stayed put. My parents were born and raised in Louisville. They bought a house shortly after they were married, and they still live there today. My grandparents live in Louisville. Most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins live in Louisville. I am not sure that anyone on my dad’s side of the family has even left North America unless they were on a tour of duty with the military. No, I don’t think I can claim gypsy blood.
So what is it that makes some of us stay and some of us go? Is the desire to travel something we are born with, something in our genes, passed down from generation to generation, perhaps remaining latent in multiple generations before emerging somewhere down the line? Is it something learned, some desire we acquire from the tales of others, from books we read, from movies we see? Or is it some combination of personality and experience, temperament and opportunity?
I’m not sure, but I know whatever it is, Jeff and I, despite our different upbringings, both have it. And it runs so deep in both of us that when we try to think of how this trip came to be, we can never figure out when or how it originated. There was no sitting down and deciding, no weighing of options, no official announcement to family or friends. The trip was always there, ever evolving, until at some point one of us finally said “We are doing this, aren’t we?” and the other of us said, “Of course.” And that was that.
Gypsy blood? Maybe.
Or perhaps we’re both just a bit crazy.