Since I was a small girl, travel was the one thing that set my soul on fire.
While I never actually traveled much outside of Michigan as a child, I spent all of my free time lost in adventure books that took me around the world, playing Carmen Sandiego, rifling through the pages of National Geographic magazines daydreaming of exotic lands, learning foreign languages and befriending cultural exchange students.
I planned my first travel adventure — moving to Prague after high school — and imagined myself lounging in historical cafes, reading books while sipping espresso and spending my time with beautiful foreign men who spoke no English.
But my plans were derailed. Instead, I met an American man weeks before my departure who intrigued me enough to make me question the trip. I doubted that this new relationship would hold up under the pressures of a long distance. I stayed put — setting my passion for travel aside — and, long story short, we ended up getting married and having three kids together.
Instead of traipsing around the world trying to quench my wanderlust, I reluctantly became a suburban soccer mom and he became an enthusiastic and successful real estate investor. Money that we received for our wedding was supposed to be set aside for a honeymoon to the Amazon, yet it ended up being used for an investment project. A planned road trip around Iceland seemed always to be put off “for next year.”
I considered travel a form of education and a way to listen to my heart and calling. My husband didn’t get it — he was condescending, telling me I just wanted “to go run off on vacations” and that “there were more important things in life.”
One sleepless night I was filled with an overpowering anxiety. I felt off and finally recognized that, while my lifestyle looked idyllic to anyone from the outside looking in, I was deeply unhappy. Unfulfilled. Disappointed with where I had let myself end up. That night I booked a non-refundable trip to the Amazon for myself and my two daughters, then aged four and six.
As soon as I finished purchasing our flights (without my husband), all of my anxiety lifted and I was filled with joy and contentment — I was somehow back on track in life. Fast forward a few years — I left my husband, won custody, moved permanently to a Little House on the Prairie-style house deep in the Andes of Patagonia in Argentina.
My need to travel has always been a point of contention with men I’ve dated since my separation. Or they wanted to travel but I knew that we would be wildly incompatible on the road. I know that travel is such an important part of me that I could not, or would not, ever sacrifice my passion for any man again.
And then I met an Australian botanist who was traveling through Patagonia. We fell in love, knowing that he would be on a plane six weeks later. I knew I could never ask him to stay — his passion for his work in Australia rivals my passion for travel. We made a commitment to support whatever made the other feel most alive.
After he heard my story about how I had scratched moving to Prague for a man, he immediately made plans for us to meet up and travel Europe together the next time that my kids would visiting their dad. Prague would be the culmination of the trip, a symbolic way to see firsthand that I would never again have to choose between a man and my passion.
We’ve playfully explored abandoned castles and ruins together in England, picnicked in countless wildflower fields, slept under the stars and made an impulsive trip to Budapest to soak in the thermal baths and go on a dive bar tour, searching for the sketchiest, most local place to drink palinka. I’m writing this from a train heading to Croatia, where he wants to let me choose day-by-day where we end up, following my heart and what seems to excite me on the road. We’ll finish out the trip in Prague, where, twenty years older and wiser, I will reclaim the city I once turned my back on, foolishly thinking I had to dampen my on-fire spirit to follow happiness in a more socially acceptable way.
I’m now fully convinced that honoring my passion is the best path to happiness for me. As I glance across the train carriage at my love smiling as we watch endless sunflower fields roll by out our train window, it’s definitely seeming to work out so far.