A Change of Wallpaper: On Travel

One of the things that used to drive me fucking insane about my ex-husband was his complete and utter apathy, his disinterest bordering on disdain, for the art of travel. Given that my first trip to Chicago — a two-hour drive from my parents’ house — took place when I was 18, you would think that I’d have been the one to never want to set foot in a foreign country. But I got my first passport as a result of his interest in returning to the Vaterland that he hadn’t seen in nearly a decade and right after I graduated college, my ass and his spent a summer on numerous trains across Europe. I decided then that I could not stay in Small Town, U.S.A. any longer and started doing everything I could to get the fuck out. Not just moving, mind you, though I’ve certainly done enough of that in the last decade and a half. Traveling.

There’s a reason my to-do list every year includes the statement, “Get out of town at least once a month,” and that reason is simple: I believe firmly in the healing powers that a new location can bring. The incredible goodness that can come from, as the Germans would say, a change of wallpaper (a phrase which always reminds me of the Charlotte Perkins Gilman story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which always then makes me think of travel as an antidote to insanity). I experienced it most recently in Copenhagen, but I have also recently seen the exact opposite of that experience on other trips. I spent a weekend in Berlin this summer that, although fine in theory, really did nothing for me. I was there instead of here but everything felt the same, just with different wallpaper that I still felt like ripping from the walls.

My trip to Lake Tahoe over the winter was even worse. I quickly got myself into a cycle of hating everything about where I was, which was not only unusual, it was frustrating. I was in the most beautiful place I have ever been to, with people who love me, and instead all I wanted to do was to go home. A home, I’ll have you know, that I’m in due to circumstances beyond my control. A place that I wouldn’t have naturally chosen but I’ve come to simultaneously appreciate and loathe. I chose to go to Lake Tahoe, to stay as long as I could, and I hated nearly every second of it.

Instead of looking at and adoring views like these:

TahoeI was dreaming of going home to a place where the sun didn’t shine for nearly 300 days straight, where the main selling point to my apartment was the fact that there was one single tree planted on the corner, where the only nearby trail I can run is famously packed to brimming every Sunday because it’s one of the only areas in the south of the city where you can see green if you want to run more than 1k at a time.

But it wasn’t the scenery that was making me miss home. It was the familiarity I’ve come to know here. The routines my daughter and I have put into place. My friends. The unfriendly bastards I bump shoulders with out on the streets. The knowledge of how everything here works.

It might sound a bit like reverse culture shock that I’m experiencing, but I’m getting these feelings in other German cities, too. When I went to a “wellness hotel” (ha ha ha, a fucking rich word for a normal hotel with a pool that they want to charge 3x the money for despite its location in the middle of nowhere) last April, I felt it, too.

What this is, I’m afraid, is age. I’m getting older and more curmudgeonly in my old age. I want everything just fucking so, and when the goddamned pencils are not sharpened to my liking, or the towels are a bit too stiff, or the soup too salty, I’m less flexible than I used to be about it. I want to unlock my door, slip off my muddy sneakers right there in the foyer and leave them there for days, not scrub them down so I can slip them back in my suitcase so they can see a new trail in a new city. Which is a shame, given how much I actually do like traveling. It’s just getting so damned hard. So I’m taking a few months off. We’ll see how long it is before I start tearing this here wallpaper down.

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