The urge to travel is back again. It rears its head inside my stomach and rumbles its discontent at my contentedness with life. It goads me into the clutches of overexcited possibility, a tempestuous lover whom I have been trying to responsibly manage.
The hunger asks: "What if?"
What if, indeed.
I've made peace with the fact that my privileged passion for travel is, most likely, a chronic condition. Every few months for the rest of my life, I will want to grab my laptop for writing (and not much else), and hotfoot it to the airport. The hunger seeps into my spirit in stages, a trickling list of symptoms that amass slowly, ever slowly. As if it is approaching an unpredictable animal that may bark or bite in response to a gentle stroke. It proceeds with caution for fear of startling me half to death with the suggestion of another inter-border disappearing act. Travel is invigorating and terrifying. Perhaps that's why I never know whether to be excited or exasperated when the need to move sinks its claws into me again.
Treatment is straightforward, but difficult. I can push the hunger down with a promise to myself that I will take the trip that tempts me so, but only after I've seen out my current commitments. I grant myself an approximate date without really intending to see it through, and with a pat on the back, I get on with my day. The hunger doesn't like that. That's when the symptoms start. My alternative option, if I'm being mindful that all the ways I tell myself "no" are negotiable, is give in quickly and painlessly. To book something, anything.
I try to live my life by the responsible edicts of option one. But all the while, option two becomes more alluring.
The first symptom is, on its face, innocent. That's how the hunger starts. Not as a deep gnawing pain, but the mere flicker of curiosity. I start to wonder about the cost of flights. Not for one specific destination, but anywhere. I justify it to myself as a mere interest in the value of the Australian dollar. I never even realise at the time that I'm lying. That's how insidious the urge is.
I open up Skyscanner and click my two favourite words: "Destination Anywhere". Then I let my mind wander as I scroll through all the countries I could visit. I never jot down actual costs to fly to any destination. After all, if I did that, it would almost be like I was planning something. And I'm not. I'm just curious.
The next symptom is to casually bring up up past travels in conversations with people. I talk about the places I've seen as if I've "done" the travel thing, and also innocently want to chat to other people who have also "done" it. Like I'm sixty years old, twisting my moustache as I smoke a pipe in a Masonic Lodge with my peers and reflecting on a life I once lived. But the places that my friends have been are interesting. Intriguing. I have not been to those places before, but they sound wonderful. And then it happens. I foolishly ruminate aloud on how I should go to that location next. Next.
The third symptom is when I can start to feel myself sliding down a hill, gaining momentum. Travel blogs start to appear in my browser, almost as I hadn't keyed the domain addresses in myself. I convince myself that, after ample research, I will no longer have much interest in the destinations that I have discussed with my peers. But travel blogs do not eradicate the hunger, which has started to make me squirm to accommodate its presence. Instead, I start subbing out the original destinations I had contemplated for other locations. I am making improvements.
The fourth symptom is when I realise that it will be nigh on impossible to turn back. I weave a trail across a map of the many destinations I should like to see. I am plotting an itinerary, or two, or ten. After all, the world is a big place. The plans are always overambitious, time-poor and fiscally irresponsible. Then again, so am I.
I cobble together a plan so extensive that to undertake it comfortably, I would need a year or two of my time, and a willingness to eat an enormous chunk of my savings. Despite my overanalytical, logitcal mind, I disregard these hiccups. I am young. When I decide to go, there will be time and money. No adventure comes without risk.
I start to research ways to move efficiently. I rule out taking anything larger than a carry-on backpack. I learn of pocketed underwear in which one can store funds, and can also be conveniently condensed into its own pocket to save space. I map out generalised timelines, trying to determine which routes would grant me a year of springtime and summer. But I commit to nothing. These are just ideas. Fantasies. I'm not capable of exploring every continent that isn't Antarctica before even hitting my mid-twenties. It's insane. I'd be biting off more than I could chew.
... Wouldn't I?
The fifth symptom is to casually mention these logistics to friends and peers. It's a last-ditch effort to have someone talk me out of an insane whim, to chide me for not appreciating the stability and happiness I currently experience daily in my wonderful life. I want to be guilted and have my privilege checked. I want to be reprimanded for wanting to sacrifice a comfortable bed, a loving home, and professional satisfaction, in order to go rogue. But this is Australia, where adventure runs through the veins of its people. So instead, I am told, "That sounds like a trip only you would do. Go for it. And don't die."
These are the magic words. It's all over.
Final symptom: Reckless commitment. I set a date by virtue of booking a plane ticket. Sometimes I'm cautious, and book it for several months away in case I change my mind. I have never cancelled a flight due to a changed mind yet. Maybe the trip is just a weekend interstate, a mere dipping-in of the toes to assuage the hunger without even needing to touch my annual leave. Maybe it's a seven-month trip slated for the day after I turn twenty years old and think I know more of the world than I do. Either way, I am all in.
I ask myself inwardly whether I'm making a huge mistake. My subconscious shrugs, completely wearied of my antics. The hunger, finally satiated, purrs.
It sounds so pretty when it purrs.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.