For years, one goal has been on repeat in the back of my mind, an endless playlist of only one song: 30 under 30. I have had a goal to visit 30 countries by the time I turn 30. That gives me two-and-a-half years from today to hit 11 more foreign locales.
There is one big problem with this objective. It can be a hindrance to my adventures; it has made me want to pack up and move on to the next stop so I can put another mark on my checklist. What I need to do is rip out the earbuds to my internal iPod so I can live in the moment.
Many with a case of the wanderlust might disagree. Isn’t that the very definition of wanderlust, always wanting to be going places, always searching for new things? When has anyone every complained about setting a goal?
Traveling is a time for growth, a time when we get to know ourselves on the inside and out. Since I first stepped foot in an exotic land eight years ago, I’ve learned a great deal about why I travel: I travel for me and no one else.
Of course travel entails viewing impressive landscapes, eating questionable food and making new friends. But for me, the biggest draw of travel is culture. I am on a circuit of the unfamiliar, immersing myself in foreign languages and customs, undiscovered faces and societies. I am uncomfortable, and it isn’t until I achieve a level of comfort that I feel like I can leave a place behind. Travel is about more than just going somewhere; it is about learning and then doing.
I only recently came to the realization that traveling slowly is the right fit for me. I remember when it happened, popping into my head like a swift kick from a horse, snapping me off my conveyor belt and rooting me in the here and now. I was in Hungary, the beginning of a two-week vacation from work, and I was intent on exploring my ancestry. My father is straight up Hungarian while my mother’s side is a mix of the dissolved ethnicities of Yugoslavia and Bohemia. I only had fourteen days and a few hundred bucks to discover where I came from.
Time and a budget constrained me. Though these are not normally welcomed with open arms by the average wayfarer, they made me take pause.
Two weeks, I said aloud sitting on the bed of a hostel in Budapest. Remember your budget, I repeated as I scanned restaurant menus for authentic cuisine. It’s not enough, I heard myself saying while I learned about the war-ravaged history of this forgiving nation on a walking tour. It simply wasn’t enough.
And so instead of cramming the exploration of my ancestry—Hungary, the Czech Republic (ancient Bohemia) and all six present-day countries that make up historic Yugoslavia—into one limited trip, I said, Next time.
See, that’s the thing about wanderlust. There’s always a next time.
I’ve been to Europe three times now. Why can’t I make it once more?