It’s hardly 6:30 a.m. I’m sitting at the airport in a fog, a 16 oz. coffee and an untouched bagel stacked with my bag, waiting to board the plane with me. It’s early, but I’m always up early, so that’s not so much of a shock. What is shocking is why I’m sitting at the airport today. Less than a week ago, I received an email inviting me to visit Ireland over St. Patrick’s Day.
Over St. Patrick’s Day.
That’s like visiting New Orleans during Mardi Gras or Rio during Carnaval. It is travel edition of the saying “go big or go home.“
For the past four years, Kaleidoscopic Wandering has been my baby, a comfy travel companion I’ve cuddled with around the globe. If you’ve been following my travels as of late, though, you’ll know that they’ve drastically changed. This is not a bad thing … it’s just different. In addition to leading a personal lifestyle that doesn’t involve as much travel as before, what you likely haven’t seen is how my professional life has changed. In addition to travel writing, I’ve been publishing a lot of work in a variety of other genres. Additionally, I ghostwrote a book last year and am working on another one right now.
My work has been demanding, and I’ve been putting additional stress on myself to publish more content more often on Kaleidoscopic Wandering. But why? I love to travel, and blogging about the places I go and the things I do there shouldn’t be stressful. It should be something I want and love to do. I’ve been chewing on this quandary for awhile now. I know some of you follow Kaleidoscopic Wandering closely, and I thank you for that. I also know that the vast majority of my site’s traffic comes from Google; apparently I’m an expert on the Grand Canyon … who knew?
Things are changing. A few years ago, I was traveling so much that I was packing for two or three trips at a time, stopping back at home for just a couple days before hopping on a plane again. My passport became an appendage of sorts as I simply extended my arm to have it stamped over and over again.
A little over a year ago, though, I moved my home office to a different room in our house. I bought new furniture and painted the walls and turned it into an inspiring place. We also welcomed our first foreign exchange student our home. Though I loved my place of residency, I began to appreciate it more, and my frantic travel pace started to slow down as I took different types of assignments that didn’t keep me from jumping around the globe.
What I’ve discovered is that my definition of travel has changed. It’s not about where or how long you travel, but what you learn from the experience. In 2012, I took one overseas trip (a two-week vacation to Iceland with my family), and my domestic travel spiked dramatically. I spent time in Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Washington, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, and I took road trips from the Midwest to the East Coast and throughout the Southwest. We introduced our first foreign exchange student and her friend to Disneyland, Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and camping, and we’re spending time introducing our second student to the Pacific Northwest and fantastic areas around the Southwest for outdoor recreation.
A couple weeks ago (in mid-December), I spent two days in Vail, Colorado, on assignment for the 50th anniversary of the ski resort. Admittedly, I had preconceived notions about the area based on what I’d heard and read in passing. To say I was a little intimidated about what I might find in Vail is an understatement. While there, I took several in-the-moment notes to keep track of my thoughts and observations as I explored the village for myself.
> Everything is decorated for the holidays. Garland, white lights, bows, wreaths.
> It smells like winter. Many hotels have stone fireplaces, and that warm smell of smoke hangs over the village, blanketing it for the season.
Walking along the Great Wall of China. Diving with sharks. Visiting Antarctica.
Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, most people have a few things in mind that they’d like to do before they die. Many people call this a bucket list, and many others rail against the idea of having a list of things to see and do in this lifetime. The reasoning for anti-bucket list folks generally goes something like this: Travel isn’t supposed to be about how many countries you go to or a checklist of things to knock off before the buzzer on life goes off. I get it. There is something to be said for letting experiences just happen to you when you travel. Unexpected surprises on the road may be the highlights of a trip, but there’s also something to be said for having goals when you travel.
Just as there are good reasons to stay on the beaten path, it is perfectly legitimate to have a bucket list. I’ve got one, and I’m willing to bet that, even if you’ve never written it down, there are a few things you’d like to achieve on your travels. That’s okay because having a bucket list doesn’t make you a bad traveler.
I recently had a conversation with a woman who works with the tourism industry in Scotland. We were on a convention floor where nearly 2,500 destinations and hotels were represented. Amongst all of the action going on around us, the two of us sat at a table surrounded by men in kilts while being serenaded by bagpipe music. As a travel writer for meetings, trade and leisure publications, I dutifully asked about what was going in Scotland in the upcoming months and years to formulate story ideas, and she dutifully told me about some of the relevant events, activities and news that might make for interesting stories.
She asked if I had been to Scotland. I answered truthfully: No, but I’ve always wanted to visit. My guilty confession: I adored bagpipes when I was a kid and still love that squeaky, just-slightly-off-key sound. I honestly would adore to go to Scotland, but without a trip to the country, writing about it is just a creative concoction of words instead of a story told with passion.
Every industry is always looking to save a few dollars, and this woman admitted to me that someone had asked her if, in an attempt to save money, there should be a cut in familiarization trips (compensated travel) for people who sell, write about and otherwise promote Scotland as a destination.
Her response? A resounding no.
I wrote this post in the summer of 2011 during our epic summer road trip. I returned to my childhood home again in August 2012 and was surprised to discover how much had changed in even this past year. My car from high school had been sold. Part of the leaning tree splintered in a wind storm earlier this spring. The trees in my parents’ yard have grown even more, though a heavy drought is causing them to drop their leaves early.
Our car rolled into town at about 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon. After three long days of driving 1,700 total miles, I had arrived back in my hometown — the place I celebrated birthdays and Christmases, attended dances and band concerts, went sledding in the winter and watched fireworks in the summer — after nearly three years.
We drove past the baseball fields where, as a nine-year-old, I proudly wore my Albertville Hooters jersey in left field, a place where I did little harm to my t-ball team. The grocery store where I worked in high school — where I once worked a nine-hour shift on Thanksgiving during which I made $.12 per minute — had a new sign out front with a new logo. The house at the end of my parents’ street was for sale. A tree in its backyard had doubled in size since I’d seen it last. It leaned precariously at an angle; a strong wind storm will knock it over some day.
A light layer of clouds hung above us — a bit of a change after days of sunshine during our drive around Iceland. It wasn’t cold or rainy, but we wore an extra set of underclothes, just in case the wind picked up or the clouds thickened. The five of us hovered over a map, discussing the path we would walk that day.
There are three national parks in Iceland, and Vatnajökull National Park, located in the eastern part of the country, is the largest one. It covers 11 percent of Iceland, and it protects the entire Vatnajökull glacier and Dettifoss, Europe’s largest waterfall by volume. Skaftafell, the southernmost part of the park, is the most visited of the wilderness areas in Iceland, and the parking lot, though not massively huge compared to lots in the United States, was completely full as we packed our day bags from the contents of our trunk.
It’s still dark when Colleen meets me out the front door of my hotel.
She holds out her hand. “Here is ten dollars and the marker,” she says, handing me the required items to tuck into my backpack. “And here is your ribbon.” The ribbon is metallic blue, gold and green, tightly wound and designed for the top of a wrapped present, but today it is tied to the handlebars of my rented bicycle, making it easy to identify among the hundreds of other bicycles traversing the streets of South Bend, Indiana.
Staying true to our pre-decided strategy, Colleen and I store our bikes on the far end of the holding pen to make an easy escape once the race has started. We buy our time in the Cove, a local baseball stadium buzzing with several two-person teams fitting bike helmets, double knotting running shoes and making guesses about the laminated maps peppered with checkpoints but still kept secret.
Shortly after 7:00 we’re given last-minute details about safety and race etiquette, and then shortly after that the coveted laminated map falls into our hands. We open the ziploc bag it comes in. Inside is a full-size map with portions of the city highlighted and dotted with checkpoint numbers as well as a “mystery picture,” which Colleen easily identifies as being in the downtown area. This is sandwiched between two small towels, mysterious but necessary tools for a task to be completed later in the day.
I should have known as soon as they handed the reigns to me that I was in for a ride.
“This is Hobie.” The girl was dressed in tight riding pants and a jacket sporting the logo for Ishestar, and she smiled as she patted Hobie on his side.
Hobie. Which rhymes with Toby. Toby, my mischievous cat that boofs me in the nose at 5:30 in the morning and sneaks up on his sister while she’s eating. Toby. Hobie.
Alright, me and Hobie were going riding. I’m not good at horseback riding and I don’t particularly like it, but, I’ve been told, when in Iceland, ride an Icelandic horse.
Icelandic horses are a bit different than your average horse. They’re shorter and more compact with wild locks. They look innocent at this size, like being bucked off and pushed around is something they just can’t do.
I hopped on Hobie, a little nervous but comfortably holding the reigns as I’d been taught — not too tight, not too loose, with my pinkies facing outward. I leaned backward ever so slightly and made sure my stirrups were held a safe distance from Hobie’s body.