It was more than the travel bug that bit me when I was very young, it was the adventure bug, too. When I was five, we moved next door to where my father grew up. Across the street from him lived his childhood friend, Pete Willis.
I remember Mr. Willis didn't live there after we moved in across the street but his parents did. He traveled the world and brought us back treasures from Africa, such as wooden-carved animals and colorful beaded necklaces. My parents (or one of my sisters) have the wooden stools he brought back, too. When he would return home, he and my father would talk of tales about a panther that was hidden in Mr. Willis' barn. I found it hard to believe but a bit of me hoped it was true.
Later, he traveled to the Middle East where I believe he was in Iran during the 1980's and later Afghanistan. I never understood what this burley, bearded man did to travel to these exotic places and at first thought it was odd that he was the same age as my father but not married and didn't have children.
Eventually, a woman moved in across the street, a doctor from Thailand. I was interested in her, too, because she was single, no kids. I remember eating some kind of jello-canned-cranberry-textured stuff that tasted like sulfur. I did not enjoy the taste one bit but enjoyed her sharing herThai culture with us.
Meeting these people piqued my fascination with learning more about the world.
As I got older, I was a slave to 80's music, especially the British Bands (Duran Duran, Culture Club, U2 (I know, they're Irish)) and dreamed of traveling to England and Europe. In high school, I remember one of the neighbor kids asking why I wanted to travel to Europe when I hadn't explored the United States. That summer, my family and I made our first trip west of the Mississippi for a week in Wyoming, including Jackson, Cody, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. Here, I fell in love with the west.
Upon graduating high school, I made it a goal to return to Yellowstone to work. The second summer following graduation I ran into my high school track coach who asked what I was up to. When I told him my plans of working in Yellowstone the following summer, his reply was something like, "yeah, right, whatever."
He didn't believe I could do it and I did. For six summers and one winter I did. In a strange way, that "hiking path" led to my current "career path." Since then, I've traveled to Europe, Canada, Cuba and Japan as well as extensively throughout the US. It's a big world and I've merely made a dent in seeing it.
I often think about these people who came along in my life who questioned what I wanted to do, what I wanted to see. Travel off the beaten path isn't for everyone but it's for me, in my own way. Because my wants and desires were different from theirs, I feel as though I was viewed differently, when in fact, there's nothing "wrong" with me.
Right now, I'm strategizing either for Russia or Iran next spring or summer, visiting my "Russian sister" or tagging along with a friend to her homeland of Iran.