When I was a kid I remember driving across the United States to visit extended family. The idea of traveling far from our home was an electrifying thought. We would wake up in the middle of the night to relocate our beds to the over-the-cab camper. My siblings and I would fall asleep to the sight of other travelers making their way through the darkness, never knowing what our surroundings would look like come daylight. I have since developed a need to move, connect, and explore. Staying in one setting for too long makes me feel stale and isolated. I think it is an important part of life for individuals to travel consistently throughout their lives. Embarking on a journey to a new place connects us to our neighbors around the world, and it strengthens the confidence we have in ourselves.
A few years ago my fiancée (then girlfriend) was studying abroad in London at the London College of Fashion. She left in August and had a return flight booked for the end of December. During this time I saved up and planned to meet her in London during the last 2 weeks of her semester abroad. I began to keep an eye on all the travel websites, scanning for the cheapest round trip tickets across the pond. I downloaded and tried out apps on my iPod for the London tube. I checked on hostels in the Notting Hill neighborhood, which was near where my fiancée was staying. I called my bank and let them know of my travel plans; “I will be traveling to London for 2 weeks.”
I ended up finding a cheap red eye flight out of Minneapolis, MN that was non-stop. It was estimated to be about an eight-hour flight. I had my suitcase packed and my allowed liquids in a one quart Ziploc bag. I arrived at the airport the recommended two hours early hoping that I did not forget something crucial for my flight: wallet, phone, charger, passport, suitcase, and boarding pass. The airport was fairly empty, so security was a breeze. I made it to my gate with plenty of time to spare, which I foolishly spent racking my brain for anything that I might have accidentally forgotten to pack. Once I was able to board the plane one of the best things I have ever heard while traveling was announced over the intercom, “There are lots of empty seats tonight, you may all move freely to an open row if you wish.” I found a middle row with 3 empty seats, put all the armrests up, and sprawled out into my newfound luxury. But even with the enhanced seating arrangements it was a restless trip over the Atlantic.
Arriving at Heathrow airport outside of London was a bit surreal. Up until this point everything on this side of the Atlantic could have been an elaborate myth drawn up by television and movies. The physical laws of nature still applied, the air was breathable, all my electronics were working… yet there I was, in just a little over 8 hours, experiencing a part of the world that has always existed in parallel to my own. My fiancée met me near the airport exit and brought an extra Oyster card to pay for my ticket for the tube. Another 45 minutes and we were at our stop in Notting Hill. The London streets leapt into view after hauling my suitcase up the subway stairs. My jet-lagged body tried to soak it all in, I was in London, England.
The next few days I woke around 6:30am and walked across Kensington Garden to meet up with my fiancée. The wet December air seeped through my American layers, as did the London culture. We walked the neighborhoods that my fiancée had become familiar with, stopping at mom and pop cafes for tea. We strolled down Portobello road on a Saturday to check out the local street vendors. Then mid-week we trekked across town to the National Gallery to view some timeless masterpieces by Van Gogh. We chatted about life while walking along the banks of the Thames River. We witnessed Big Ben. We dreamt of the future and the possibilities that come with growing older. My world became smaller, as did any problems that might have been taxing my thoughts.
When it was time to fly back to the states, I felt rejuvenated. London bonded with my conscious and encouraged me to maintain a broader perspective. I collected attitudes and social standards that were different from the town I spent most of my life growing up in. When I made it back home, I brought a piece of the U.K. with me. Whether it be overseas or the next town over, there is always something to be gained from reaching out. We owe it to ourselves to remain connected. We owe it to our minds to remain curious. If you are feeling detached, burned out, or collecting dust, I urge you to give attention to your inner wanderlust.