Wandering the World
This post is a part of a collaboration with Blog with Friends. Each month we choose a theme and everyone gives it their own special twist. This month's theme is Wishful Thinking so stay reading until the end and you will find links for more wishful thinking!
Two years ago, while wandering the streets of Bilbao in northern Spain with my cousin, I impulsively bought a scratch-off world map. I was traveling with a backpack that couldn’t hold such a long cylindrical object making the rest of my trip a bit awkward so I dropped it off in Istanbul, at my in-laws place, on my way back to Tokyo where I was living at the time. There it sat for a couple of years until I found myself back in Istanbul for several months waiting on a Spanish residency visa. I found it shoved into the dark recesses of an armoire and decided that it would make a nice teaching aid while I homeschooled my daughter for a few months.
I started to scratch off all the countries I had visited in my life. Purple, green and blue emerged from behind the gold that covered the entire world. As I was scratching off countries, I began to think about what qualified as having been to a country? At first, I felt pretty comfortable scratching off Russia because I had traveled all the way across it on the Trans-Siberian Railway but I felt less comfortable scratching off Canada because I had really only been to Quebec and Victoria and only for a really short amount of time. I scratched off all of Brazil because I had been there for a whole month but I had only really visited 2 cities, Rio and Salvador. I also scratched off Turkey and Japan because I had lived in each of those countries for 4 years but I felt a bit bad because I had failed to learn either Turkish or Japanese to acceptable levels. I had however married a Turk and had close personal relationships with lots of people in both places. Colombia on the other hand I had only lived in for a year but I lived with a Colombian family, had lots of Colombian friends and learned to speak Spanish fluently. Then there came more ambiguous situations. I had traveled all the way through Bulgaria in a day on 4 different trains but had only emerged from the various train stations to buy lunch at a grocery store. I decided this did not qualify me to scratch it off even though I had a stamp in my passport proving I had been there. The same goes for the Ukraine. This map does not allow me to distinguish “how much” I experience in a country, either I scratch it off or I don’t.
I finished scratching off all of the countries I felt comfortable with, and I stepped back. The map still looked overwhelmingly gold and my daughter, upon looking at it, decided that I must go to Antarctica as soon as possible because that would enable me to scratch off a lot of gold in one fell swoop.
I love going places and experiencing things, so much so that I became an English teacher just so I could live and work abroad. I have been traveling since 1988 when, after high school, I spent a month in Amsterdam and a month in Yugoslavia (that was when Yugoslavia existed, on the map I had to scratch out Croatia however, even though that country didn’t exist when I went there, so technically I have never been to Croatia). but for the first time, gazing at my largely still covered map, I had a feeling I had never experienced before. I felt that I had somehow failed to travel enough. How could I possibly have decided to go to Bali for two summers in a row and neglected to go to Vietnam? If I had gone to Vietnam, I could have scratched off another country. I have spent years in Turkey but haven’t ventured into Iran or Iraq. Suddenly I felt like I should have gone to all of these places even though I had never felt that desire before I started scratching that map.
I felt like maybe I should make a “bucket list” so I could make more progress on scratching off countries. Who cares what kinds of experiences I was having, who I was meeting, what I was learning, suddenly it seemed more important to go to more places.
The map seemed innocuous enough when I bought it, but now it was making me feel incomplete.
I belong to a facebook group about traveling in which people ask questions about where they should go, what they should do, and describe what they have done. I often find the language on these posts unsettling because it seems like the world is being packaged as a thing to be consumed. Posts declare that someone has “done” France or Cambodia. I wonder what that means to the person who wrote it. What do you have to have seen, learned or been exposed to to have “done” a place? People, including myself, show pictures of themselves in front of this monument and that natural wonder, beautiful dresses fluttering in the wind and smiles on happy faces.
Every once in a while someone will wonder what is wrong with them because they saved up to go somewhere and now that they are there, they are not having fun, they just want to sit in the hotel and watch Netflix. If you don’t like a dress, you can take it back to the store and get a refund, but how do you return a trip that fails to satisfy? Some travelers admit that while they are smiling in pictures, every night they are crying and are desperately lonely
My scratch-off map fell to the floor as the weather got warmer and the tacky stuff holding it up began to pull the paint off the wall, so I rolled it up and put it back in its tube. I feel better now, the pressure is off. I don’t need to consume the world. I am not failing. I am going where I want to go even though I have been there before, because after 7 months, my Spanish visa has been granted. If I decide to hop over to Morocco it will be because I am curious about Morocco, not because I need to cross yet another country off of a list.
For more great posts about Wishful Thinking, click on the links below and enjoy the variety of ideas!