Am I still a traveler? My panniers are packed away. My tent and sleeping bag are rolled up and stashed. I’m in the process of buying a house and plan to stay in it for the foreseeable future. Does that change my status?
I’ve been thinking about my identity lately – who am I? When we lived overseas, I was an expat. When we were cycling, I was a bike tourist. And now? I’m nothing. And yet I’m everything.
The dictionary defines a traveler as one who travels or has traveled. I guess that means me. I’ve certainly traveled, and I may travel again some day. But for now – I dunno. It seems so strange to refer to myself as a traveler.
I’ve heard a lot of comments lately about living in Boise. Many people predict that we won’t last long here. Other travelers have encouraged us to head out again to escape the “meaningless American lifestyle.”
I can’t say the American lifestyle is meaningless. Yes, there are some people who are totally caught up in “stuff,” but not everyone. There are good things about life in America too – they may be harder to find than when life was reduced to simplest terms on the road, but they’re here.
I think sometimes we get swept away by the “exotic-ness” of life in “other” countries, and forget that our own country is just as exotic. I’ve traveled pretty much constantly for nearly thirty years now and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve loved my time on the road, but that time has given me a new appreciation for my own home.
At this point, we want to give our sons the chance to be part of a larger community – a more stable community than they’ve been in for quite a while. In other words, we want to have a “home base” – we may go out and travel for a few months, but we’ll come back “home.” Boise is as good a home base as any other place in the world.
Yes, we could choose anywhere for that base. We could choose Thailand or Spain or Argentina or Mexico or Ethiopia. But what would be the advantage? In Boise, we have a lot that those places don’t offer – an excellent school district that will allow us to continue homeschooling while picking and choosing individual classes, Boy Scouts, YMCA, Boise Bike Week, Toastmasters Club, etc… If we were to go to another country, we would be giving all that up – and realistically, what would we gain?
Yes, we would gain “exotic-ness.” It sounds more exotic to say you’re “wintering in Spain” than to “winter in Boise, Idaho.”
Maybe that’s what I’m struggling with? Maybe this is all in my own head and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that Idaho can be just as exciting and exotic as Ethiopia?
And yet – I suspect most people would disagree with me on that. Most people would argue that Argentina is more exotic than Idaho. Bali, New Delhi, or Rangoon would provide new and different and exotic, whereas Idaho provides ho-hum.
When we taught overseas, we lived in “exotic” locales – Egypt, Ethiopia, Taiwan, Malaysia… And yet, our lives were far from glamorous and exotic. We still had to cook dinner and clean the kitchen. We still had to wash our underwear. Life wasn’t all that different from life in Boise – except when we walked outside our gate we came face-to-face with beggars crippled by polio.
And so I’ve come full circle. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t wait to hit the road. I packed up my mother’s car and drove to the Navajo reservation to live in “exotic.” I spent twelve years teaching in international schools in four countries where I could see and hear and smell and taste the exotic. I’ve traveled many thousands of miles through dozens of countries and seen and done a lot.
And I’ve seen that we’re more the same than different.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what wrapper someone comes in. Their skin color or what language they speak or what currency they spend or how much of that currency have – all those things don’t matter. They’re just people. Just like me. They’re not different and exotic and exciting.
In the end, we’re all more the same than we are different. Exotic is in the mind of the beholder – and I choose to see the exotic in Boise. Am I a traveler? I suppose – but really, does it matter? I’ve come full circle and have come back to where I grew up. And that’s a good thing.