Of Woods And Words: Travel - A Structured Escape

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When people realize I still live in my hometown, they often tell me it’s a lovely place to live. While I agree, I don’t think I could survive without leaving on a regular basis. Even when your home and hometown become synonymous, leaving your hometown remains a requirement – one on which sanity and happiness hang.

Finding a way to leave my hometown for somewhere else has become an important piece of my adult life, something that helps give my life structure and meaning. Not that my travels need more structure.

The first time I traveled abroad was with a retired high school teacher who, in her travels over the years, earned herself the nickname of “The Camel.” At our pre-travel meeting, she informed the ragtag group of would-be world travelers and/or overly confident high school seniors that we needed to keep water and snacks on our person at all time. When we saw a bathroom, we better use it. There was an itinerary to keep and if you couldn’t keep up, you’d be left in the desert wasteland of London, England to fend for yourself.

On that first trip with the Camel, we learned to barter our granola bars with another classmate’s Nutty Goodies, to grab a muffin from a station side stand before we caught the train, to eat standing up and to always, always pay attention. Not only were my eyes opened to the amazingly big world out there, I also learned to travel like a maniac. If you carefully planned every minute detail of a travel day, I discovered, you could cram in an absurd amount of sightseeing.

My independent travels since that trip have always included a detailed itinerary I sometimes spend month laboring over. Each day’s schedule often has a theme or is specifically tailored to cover a certain section of a city. I like to pencil in transportation options and the approximate time I think we’ll spend at each destination.

“Seriously Ada,” my brother told me just last month while he was preparing to leave for Ireland and I was doling out unsolicited travel advice. “Even Mom can’t keep up with your itineraries.”

And this, this from the women who taught me to make weekly dinner menus!

My friend Sarah and I have been trying to plan a brief spring getaway this year. I peered out my window at a frozen, snow blanketed world and hit upon the idea of a cruise. After a bit of online research, I bounced the idea off the friend. “Um, just so you know,” she said slowly. “You don’t really do anything on a cruise. You just kind of hang out at the pool all day. I’m just not sure you’ll really like it.”

A more realistic view of finances transformed the cruise into a train ride to and a couple nights in Chicago anyway. Although I’ve visited Chicagoland many times as an out of town family member, I’ve never gone as a tourist before. “And we can go to a Cubs game and shop on the Magnificient Mile and go to the Art Institute and the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium and the Planterium and, and, and,” I told Sarah over the phone. I swear I could hear her rolling her eyes.

Someday, maybe, I’ll go on a vacation. For now, I feel too young to spend my time away from home lounging on a beach towel. Truthfully, nothing thrills me more than stuffing my bag so full of snacks, guidebooks, timetables, and my trusty handwritten itinerary that it pulls heavily on my shoulder all day. We’re not stopping until we see everything!

Airdate: April 13, 2011

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