￼I was a sun-kissed freckled faced, bleach blond California girl lucky to live in one of the best climates and places in the world. However, my real interests could not be contained by the West coast shoreline. My real passions were fueled by learning about the faraway mystical places found in the pages of my monthly magazine subscription of National Geographic.
You see even in High-School, I longed to leave my ticky tacky planned urban development neighborhood even if it was just to follow along amidst the magazine pages. I dreamed of:
Walking with indigenous tribes in brightly colored costumes.
Hike active volcanic mountains to get a glimpse of our vast and diverse earthly terrain from the highest peaks.
Ride a camel in Egypt while seeing the great pyramids of Giza.
I yearned to see something other than a pretty beach or shopping mall. My day to day life seemed mundane by comparison of what was out there.
My hometown was thankfully a safe upper-middle-class suburb, filled with ambitious business professionals and soccer Mom’s more interested in achieving the status symbols of an illusory life rather than developing experiences of the world unknown.
I never wanted that white picket fence.
I didn’t want to be contained in one place.
But I was.
Every house looked the exact same in a maze of dullness. I was a teenager trapped in a townhouse in a sea of green shag carpet, pink-mauve painted walls and macrame beaded plant hangings everywhere. The 70’s was certainly still alive in my house.
During college, I had trouble making sense of what was the point of it all. As a psychology major, I was disenchanted with learning antiquated theories like Freud that seemed to have no relevance to the real world…I was ready to fly the coop. What was the meaning of life? What was the point? The unconscious track that everyone seemed ambitiously on college, career, house with a white picket fence, marriage, and kids seemed to be the societal norms of which I wasn’t ready to endorse.
On my own, by age 17 I worked as a Receptionist at a doctor’s office by day. I supplemented that modest income as a cashier at Costco by night. Certainly, no trust fund baby here…Every textbook, a tank of gas and morsel of food was earned by me as I plotted to chase my globetrotting dreams.
By the age of 20, I had enough money to travel the world for a year (on a backpackers budget of course). My one-way plane ticket to Europe booked and my all-in-one Eurail train pass in hand ready to travel in any European direction.
My parents were furious with me. How could I drop out of college to pursue such an irresponsible notion? They feared I’d be a gypsy and wander the globe forever and never finish my education. Nonetheless, getting a real job was the furthest thing on my mind.
My desire for adventure was too strong to reason with me.
So off I went. Passport in hand.
Ready to acquire as many country passport stamps as possible.
Liza (age 20) Egypt
I visited the great pyramids of Egypt first by camel and later more daringly on a skittish black and white Arabian horse. I can still remember the feeling of holding on for dear life, hearing the sound of it’s pounding hooves in the sand as we ferociously galloped out into the horizon of Sahara desert uncontrollably until the guide eventually caught up with me to turn the horse back towards the direction of civilization.
I built and lived in a stick hut with twelve other travelers on the beach of a remote Greek island eating the most delicious sun ripe tomatoes, cucumber & feta salad with balsamic vinegar, oil, and a dash of Mediterranean herbs.
I hitchhiked through Switzerland to board the Jungfraubahn railway, built in 1839. Climbing to 13,642 feet to “the house above the clouds, the highest train station in Europe. The memory still impresses me today. Elegant snowy white covered summits. Crisp mountain air and tree-lined cliffs stretching all the way to France and Germany.
All of this was accomplished without an iPhone, which we all know is the 21st-century convenience of a handheld computer. OHHH Siri how I could have used your help, but instead I charted my journey with nothing more than a travel book and a paper map that never seemed to fold back the same way.
English was largely not spoken in many of the places I visited so I had to refer to my crumpled-up list of memorized phrases, exuberant gestures, and smiles to get by.
“Un cappuccino per favore”,
I sputtered in my best Italian while using my right hand to bring an imaginary cup to my lips. I sought out unique coffee shops throughout Europe with buttery pastries, baguettes, olives, and prosciutto…I remember thinking I should return to California and start my own coffee shop. Then, of course, Starbucks was born and stole my thunder!
My enthusiasm for travel had not wavered.
I was gaining confidence and a newfound appreciation for life with each new passport stamp. Nothing was familiar and I found everything to so titillating.
Then suddenly, a family tragedy forced me to prioritize the needs of my Mom over my desires to see the world. My trip was cut short and I was pulled away from the alps of Switzerland after my Grandfather, Ingmar Wickbom, a world-renowned Neurosurgeon from Sweden, suddenly died of a heart attack. My Mom was devastated and begged me to fly to Torekov, Sweden, for the funeral then return home. Mom feared she could not cope with her despair of her father’s loss without my support. So with honest hesitation, I flew home to support my Mother and re-enrolled in college. I put down roots in an Ocean Beach, Southern California cottage one block from the beach for the next few years scraping by on a student’s budget and doing what society expected of me. Get a degree.
I graduated with my Bachelors and spent the next year paying off my school debt and convertible. I worked tirelessly in a nightclub as a cocktail waitress to create another travel fund.
I was determined to continue my travel bug that was feverishly building inside me.
I pinned Indonesia on my wall map and decided my flight would take me to South East Asia. I was drawn to its mystical culture, spicy food, lush jungles and distance from a lifestyle I already was familiar with.
Over the next two years, strutting in 6” high heels, skimpy outfits and holding a tray of ashtrays and cocktails I saved $8,000 dollars and was anxious to see how many travel stories lie ahead of me. I thought nothing could stop me (this time). Except then something did. My boyfriend stole all my money and fled to Mexico. I had worked so hard for years to save every penny and now the reality hit me like a sharp right hook to the chin that it was impossible for me to leave and travel around the world.
I can still feel the pit in my stomach thinking back to that day. It was a helpless feeling to know I had gotten taken by some dude who used me only to steal every cent I had to my name. Not knowing what to do I enrolled and was accepted into law school and took out a big fat loan. The next few years were a blur…The most intense studying I’ve ever endured in my life, but I thought with a prestigious high paying job I’d surely be able to travel anywhere in the world – someday.
Even after passing the bar exam and becoming a lawyer…Travel plans were few and far between. I became so driven to pay back my school debt and prove myself as a lawyer that the years turned into decades. My 20’s, 30’s and 40’s passed by.
I raised my daughter, Zoe, on my own with some wonderful friends by my side. As a single Mom my priorities definitely shifted. Soccer tournaments, gymnastic lessons, algebra homework all piled on top of deadlines, yard work, grocery shopping, laundry, and gym workouts. You name it – the To-Do list was endless, but my coffee table was always stacked with magazines like Travel + Leisure, Sunset, National Geographic, Travel Conde Nast, and others! It seemed that when I had any free time I would read the stories of others traveling and imagine myself in every photograph I saw until one day…
Zoe at age 15 said, “Mom what if I finished my High School education online and we started traveling now?” I turned my head so fast I almost got whiplash. My eyes got really BIG and I stared deeply into her eyes allowing her words to soak into my consciousness. Did I hear her right?
Just two years before I BEGGED her to travel with me, but at 13 she freaked out and said, she would prefer to live with her grandparents instead. My wanderlust thirst made me ponder this possibility, but the thought of Zoe being raised in Ruby, a rural town in South Carolina with a population of 300 people weighed heavy on me. As much as running away from home wild & free excited me, I could not go in good conscience and abandon my daughter in her youth despite that our relationship was extremely strained and difficult.
Zoe’s question seemed to hang in the air as my mind raced with possibilities, until finally, I uttered more like a question, “Yeah?”
For an hour I spelled out the obvious sacrifices she would have to make. “You would have to leave all your friends in High School and your life in sunny Orange County, California.” You’d walk away from our home where we’ve lived since you were born” I spelled out the real hardships that travel has. Not having an address or familiar home to come to every night. Not having a car and being shuttled around, but rather using your feet to walk to most places or boarding a smelly bus or being the passenger on the back of a moped in the pouring rain.
“Wait, I asked her the biggest threat to her existence I could think of. “What about the Irvine shopping mall?” Her laughing response to that question sealed the deal. She rolled her eyes how absurd the choice of shopping over a world of adventure really sounded and urged me to make it happen.
I sat down and started thinking….Could I? How could we? The wheels started churning. After I evaluated my jobs that I had been a slave to for decades. I knew deep down I was ready for a change. I had been battling several life-threatening illnesses over the last 10 years and was eager to feel good again and be passionate about cathedrals, castles, and caverns!
In the excitement of brainstorming on how I could roll back the clock and travel again, I could not ignore the potential impact on my daughter. Could Zoe flourish and grow as a person if we moved? Would her enthusiasm quickly die? After all, she still had three years to complete her education and would it set her back for college? Would she regret not having a High School experience?
So many questions. How would our life look like if we left? I felt like I knew what it would look like if we stayed and that choice seemed so unsatisfying.
Over the next few weeks, I evaluated EVERYTHING and Zoe and I kept talking about what life would be like if I quit my job, sold our home and we traveled…
I continued to explain that traveling wasn’t just lazy days on a beach, but rather we would have to learn new currencies, talk with people who spoke little or no English, the food would be totally different, and often we would have to travel for hours or days to get to new places and would be exhausted and cranky. Do you think you can really handle all that? She assured, me “YES”! So the planning began.
We decided the only way we could have the funds to get a running start to traveling would be to sell our home and all our belongings. We wouldn’t put anything in storage to save on monthly expenses. We were rolling the dice and putting everything on black! A clean break could fuel our trip for a while until I could find new ways to generate income from a laptop.
The anxiety working out all the details on my own at times seemed insurmountable. Auctioning off my beautiful possessions to the highest bidder was disheartening. My attachment to my stuff was strong! My home was designed with exotic velvets, tapestries, and Moroccan lamps from my travels. My beautiful French doors opened to an organic vegetable garden surrounded by a French provencal herb garden with sounds of a large water fountain centerpiece where families of hummingbirds visited me every morning to take a bath. Dealing with getting the house ready to sell and going through 16 years of attic and garage boxes was emotional and exhausting. Thrown into the emotional turmoil of sorting out all the details while still working a job I hated and dealing with Zoe who demonstrated typical 15-year-old-teenage-brat behavior only added to my stress.
Then my right knee gave out an orthopedic alluded to surgery but dismissed this since I had a one-way ticket to Bali in 6 weeks and there was no time for that so I hoped for the best and tried to put out of my mind worse case scenarios. Wearing a knee brace from my hip to my calf, I was literally dragging and crawling when need be around the house to keep packing and selling everything. I felt so alone and scared. I remember hobbling up and down the stairs. It was obvious my knee failing was an emerging fear of moving forward. Nonetheless, I was determined. Nothing was going to stop me (this time).
In the midst of my paralyzing fear with tears running down my face, I began to remember my safari in Krueger National Park, South Africa.
There I walked with one-year-old mountain lions, witnessed
a leopard bringing an impala deer up a tree for a hearty meal,
and stared eye-to-eye into an 11,000-pound elephant
meandering in the bush while semi-protected in an open jeep.
Nothing was going to stop me –
You see whenever I hit a place of overwhelm or fear, I just took myself to a memory of a time when I was in awe of being in nature or afar in a place somewhere around the world.
As I’m writing this it’s been a year and a half since I sold my house, packed up two suitcases and bought our one-way ticket to Bali, Indonesia. We’ve traveled through Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and we are looking at Prague and Portugal next.
Zoe now 17 years old is learning the lessons that my travels taught me 32 years ago:
* Be in gratitude for life,
* Be amazed and in acceptance of cultural differences.
* Be patient since the rest of the world doesn’t operate by home much they can do in a day on their “To Do Lists”.
Zoe has transformed from a teenage brat to a caring thoughtful considerate and appreciative young lady traveling the world with her Mom, who finally admits she likes her Mom. She no longer expects ‘stuff’ but rather sees the value of money. She is now more conscientious about others and takes interest in their life to stop and LISTEN. She is inquisitive to learn what might lie beneath the color of one’s skin. Zoe is also no longer arrogant that a California lifestyle is the only cultural realm there is in the world. She embraces new cultures and is open to new adventures. She now would rather hike mountains than sit at home on Snapchat texting friends. It appears that opening up to new experiences over the last 547 days together has incited a new fellow travel lover ready to be amazed by the unknown.
May you awaken to the wonders of the world around you.
Thank you for subscribing to our blog See With Me and following our journey.
Liza & Zoe