The Wonder of Wanderlust

Wan.der.lust (noun) 1. A strong desire to travel.

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March 2019 Issue
By Donne Paine
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My first recollection of being bitten by the wanderlust bug was in high school. Gazing out the window in the middle of a Latin class, I found myself daydreaming about what life must have been like in the early days of Roman language development. How did people communicate, live, meet others, and date? What did they do for fun? I had no idea at the time what a wealth of worldwide opportunities awaited me; I just dreamed about them.

After I graduated from college, my sister, Diane, and I went to Europe on a tour of England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and France. This was back in the day when young women traveling abroad wore shirtwaist dresses and virgin pins. I didn’t care what I had to wear; I was fascinated by the countries, cultures, cuisines, and people.

It would be 35 years before I crossed the pond again. Life, family, marriage, and career filled those many years. But my wanderlust remained, and when I was once again free to explore the world, I got busy! My excursions included mission trips, foreign cooking schools and film festivals, trips to discover my Italian heritage, combining learning experiences with friends, volunteering at political conventions, travel adventures that challenged me physically and spiritually, and humanitarian journeys.
When asked to write an article about my wanderlust for the #WorldWideWomen issue of Pink, my first thought was: Why me? There are hundreds of folks around here who have traveled more extensively. My second was: Who wants to read about someone else’s travels, right? And then, I thought it might be interesting to share some of my travel “lessons learned” for those who might be experiencing a bit of wanderlust themselves. So here goes:

> Last minute travel booking. A last-minute booking can be a nice surprise. When I decided on the spur of the moment to go to Iceland over a New Year’s holiday, the last-minute booking resulted in VIP accommodations at no extra charge.

> Be flexible on your travel dates. Cheap cruise and airfares abound. One February, American Airlines ran a super special deal, offering trips to Rome during the last two weeks in November for only the tax on the ticket price plus 50,000 frequent flyer miles. We flew round trip from the states to Rome for less than $100 per person.

> Mix travel with a humanitarian experience. I’d been longing to go to Cuba for several years when the opportunity came via a humanitarian group trip. The reward for a little hard work, besides the good feelings, was a wonderful cultural tour experience at one-third the price. When I was a young nurse, toying with the idea of going into the Peace Corps, my dad found a four-week medical mission to Costa Rica that would give me an idea of what living and working in a different culture would be like. Cost? Only the airfare. There are many mission programs all over the world that are always looking for volunteers; they have gotten me to Haiti, Costa Rica, and Cuba.

> Don’t be afraid. Yes, our world can be a scary place these days. But statistics prove you can be anywhere—even at your neighborhood movie theater, church or dance club—when random acts of violence occur. Staying home in your comfort zone and only dreaming about adventure limits your life experiences and fun.

> Do your research. When you’re preparing for a trip, it is best to do some smart and thorough research about your desired destination. There are more than a million travel related websites to help. Good preparation will get you excited about your trip and help reduce your fears.

> So you don’t speak the language? This doesn’t mean you can’t communicate. Prepare for your trip by learning a few basic sentences that will help you in certain situations. Things like: Where is the toilet? I need a taxi. Where is the bus station? Of course, knowing how to say please and thank you in the native language will go a long way when you’re seeking help from locals. I use a great translation app on my phone and carry index cards with specific sentences.

> What if I get robbed or injured? When you are frightened and stressed out, your brain can make you think of many dire circumstances that might occur when traveling, and there is always a slim chance you may run into trouble. Be smart. When traveling, remember the basic rules of safety you practice at home. Also remember there are doctors and medical staff in every country in the world. You can also purchase an international medical insurance policy that covers all potential medical costs in the country you plan on visiting. I have a friend who went on a cruise after a recent hip replacement, and while docked in Spain his hip went out. Luckily, he had taken out trip insurance, and after a short hospitalization in Spain, he flew home with a private nurse at his side.

> Always make a copy of your passport. A friend I was traveling with lost her passport in the Madrid airport. Welcome to a travel nightmare. It was a Sunday, our bags were on their way to Morocco, and neither of us spoke Spanish. But our travel insurance hotline gave us directions (and hours of operation) to the U.S. Embassy. After a few hours wait and a charge of $250, a new passport was issued. Thank goodness my friend had a copy of her passport!

> Don’t be afraid to travel solo. You will be amazed how easy it is to meet others who are doing the same.

> Challenge yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally.
In my late 60s, I wanted to challenge myself and walk the famous Camino pilgrimage, The Way of St. James, in northwestern Spain. I Googled: “Walking the Camino after age 60” and a TON of blogs by people just like me popped up on the screen. Reading them gave me confidence. I did more research, put myself on a 10-week walking program, and soon I was off to Spain! I quickly discovered my “island walking” program hadn’t nearly prepared me for the hills, creeks, and rocky terrain of the Camino; but I made it. Sure, I was slower than other walkers, and I rested more often, but when I was handed my Certificate of Official Pilgrimage, I felt like a conqueror.  

It’s never too late. When I was 21 years old I went on a mission to Costa Rica. My roommate was 75 years old. When she told me her age I couldn’t believe it. She did everything we did. She taught me by example, if you have the willingness and ability, then why not do it?

Take a road less traveled. There are some amazing off the beaten path adventures out there. For years, a personal interest of mine was to see the city within the city in Marrakesh. I found an inexpensive tour hosted by locals. It included a visit to the walled city, cooking with a local family, and a tour of a local mosque. This was my first visit to a Muslim country—and yes, I was apprehensive—but the locals were very friendly and helpful.

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> We live in an amazingly diverse country filled with history and natural beauty. Our national state parks are second to none. We’ve got the best selection of theme parks (including Las Vegas) in the world. I’ve traveled to many far off lands, but I have yet to see a sunset as beautiful as those I’ve watched in Sedona, or a moon as full and magnificent as the one I watched rise from the top of a snow-capped mountain in Vermont. We also have some of the best-kept hiking and biking trails, gorgeous white water rivers, and pristine sandy beaches (including our own home sweet home).
Respect other cultures… especially when it comes to attire. The United States and other western cultures are more casual in dress, but this is not the case in many countries. In Rome, it is considered disrespectful to wear short shorts or low cut sleeveless tops when entering many churches and cathedrals. In Morocco, my research advised me to wear loose clothing and a scarf over my head in order to feel more comfortable and less conspicuous. In India, we were advised to wear loose fitting clothing, as well.

> Expect the unexpected. Even the best-planned trip can go awry: Lost luggage; delayed connections; smaller rooms than expected; or getting lost. Dealing with the usual challenges can be even more frustrating when traveling abroad. Take a breath and allow the experience to strengthen your creativity in solving the situation. It’s been proven that travel is a stress buster; it helps us reinvent ourselves and boosts satisfaction and happiness. Don’t let a hiccup get in your way.

My personal theory:
If more people traveled to different countries and experienced different cultures, we would not be so afraid of people
who are different from us.

Suggested Websites to Explore for Travel:

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Donne has traveled extensively throughout the United States, as well as Europe, England, Haiti, Cuba, Iceland, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece, Africa, Costa Rica, Latin America, Mexico, and India. Her modes of transportation have been cruise ships, river boats, air planes, and good ‘ole hiking boots.

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