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Trips Not Taken [Bloggin’ on the ETC]

At least once, sometimes as many as four times a month, I find myself hastily packing a bag and dashing off to the airport in order to make a flight to such far flung destinations as China, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South America — really just about anywhere in the world except for the lower 48. Sometimes I know I have no chance of making my flight, and sometimes I make it with just enough time to spare and am often surprised to find travel mates from yesteryear like my sister, or my husband, or Crystal, the Canadian who traveled all over the Eastern Hemisphere with me in 2000, or my program mates from when I did my junior year abroad in China. Sometimes I land in my destination country and have a lot of fun for a day or two, looking for places to eat and taking subways to meet up with friends from long ago.

I always wake up. The disappointment of waking up from these dreams has faded over the years, not quite gone, but familiar enough that it doesn’t overly upset me anymore. Often, I go right back to sleep and end up dreaming of more mundane things.

When I was in my twenties, I used to look at my overdue bills and meager salary and dating disappointments, and think, “One day you’re really going to regret spending irresponsibly/deigning to work this cubicle job/dumping that really nice guy.”

But thanks to an early intervention from my sister, I got my finances under control. My many years in cubicles has informed my writing in ways that landing a dream job right out of college would not have. And the only thing I regret less than the nice guys I’ve dumped, are the nice guys who dumped me. All of that stuff feels like important life lessons learned now.

What I find myself regretting the most these days are all the trips I didn’t take.

I wish I would have racked up a little more early credit card debt to travel around Europe by train for a month with my sister after her summer internship in Germany. I was in debt anyway, it totally would have been worth it. I also kick myself for not taking my friends Emily and Sloan up on their invitations to visit them in Togo and Mali respectively while they were in the Peace Corps. When exactly did I think I’d get another chance to get to Africa? Not for a good long while, I’ve discovered. I finally concluded a few weeks ago that although I’ve been telling people I’m planning to visit Ghana for over a year, I just won’t be able to do it. I have too many responsibilities here. Also, my friends are mostly too busy to go with me, and this isn’t a trip I’d wish to take alone.

But will I have dreams about rushing to catch a plane to Ghana over the next several years? No doubt I will.

I really value my travel experiences and am grateful that I got to go as many places as I did. Even if I had taken every overseas invitation extended to me in my twenties, who’s to say that I wouldn’t still be waking up from recurring travel dreams, disappointed that I’m not really in China, about to eat a steamer of delicious¬†baozi?

But I do find myself getting inordinately upset with childless people who have the money and vacation time to travel extensively and choose not to do so. I also hate when I hear about any young person turning down a trip to go anywhere outside of our 50 states.

I now realize that there are three pieces of advice I would have given to my younger self if visiting her in a time machine:

1. Wear more miniskirts.

2. Be less afraid, and

3. Take every international trip invitation extended to you.

What trips do you regret not taking?