Twenty years ago, Karen and I went on our first date – tapas and sangria at a chain restaurant in Orlando called Café Tu Tu Tango. I’m assuming she picked the place because I have no recollection of how we ended up there. She wore a wrap skirt and a beige top which only survived the first hour of the evening before a pot sticker, dripping with sauce, went tumbling down her front, staining her sweater and casting serious doubt on her chopstick technique. It was hilarious (even then). We laughed about first impressions, how hard we all try to be some amazing version of ourselves on a first date. It was the perfect blunder to force an authentic conversation.
We talked about a lot of things on that date but the topic we can both still recall is travel. I had done some, she had done a little – we both wanted to do a lot more. This is an easy conversation for a first date, everyone will tell you they love travel. And it’s mostly true. Sort of. It’s like talking about how much you like foreign films – yes, you like them in the abstract but when it comes time to watch something, you’re way more likely to pick the new Will Ferrell movie than to explore the latest trends in Hungarian cinema.
But there was something definitively different about that travel conversation. Maybe we didn’t even realize it at the time but we were, somehow, making a pact. A promise to say ‘yes’ when the other person had a whim or wild hair about doing something exotic and ambitious.
Ten years later we were still together and, by then, we had seen 6 continents and more than 65 countries. Add it all up and we’d spent more than a year of our lives backpacking our way around the world – hostels and tents, bullet trains and Bedouin camps. We’d done the obvious, like France and Italy, but also the roads less taken – Syria, Cambodia, Bolivia, India, and more. Best of all, we truly appreciated the blessing of getting to travel. Every sunset, every beer on the beach, we’d look at each other and say “We’re incredibly lucky people. We will always be grateful we got to do this.”
And so we are.
In 2005, two days shy of boarding a plane for six weeks in Australia and New Zealand, Karen showed me one of those ridiculously expensive, plastic sticks that girls sometimes have to buy at the pharmacy. There was a bright, blue plus sign on it. In a matter of hours, we found an OB, got the blessing to make our trip (minus scuba diving and wine tasting), and set off on what turned out to be our last serious excursion for a while.
During the trip, we tried to get used to the idea that we would soon be a party of 3. We told ourselves that our life wasn’t really going to change. We’d be “us plus” – same program, just with some diapers in the daypack.
That’s what we told ourselves.
10 years ago.
Look, I don’t really feel bad about how naïve we were. You can’t know what you don’t know. And, holy shit, there was a lot we didn’t know. We have spent the last decade becoming a party of 4, navigating all the mundane/predictable ups and downs of raising kids, moving across the country and – frankly – getting older. But somewhere inside we’ve held on to our promise that – one day, eventually, somehow – we would dust off the backpacks and show our offspring the world.
Right now, as I type, our backpacks are stuffed full, sprawled on the living room floor. Tomorrow we board a plane and head for Europe with a six year old and a nine year old and not much of an itinerary. We are giving ourselves a month to make it up as we go – a month to get from London to Naples with nothing fully planned in between. (well, Paris, right? Gotta do Paris.)
It’s invigorating to be traveling again, and we’re excited to show the kids how amazing the wide world can be. But there’s another, more powerful layer to it all. Making this trip is the fulfillment of a decade old promise that we made to each other. And if we can still summon the energy to shake off a 10 year detour and get back to our nomadic roots; then maybe we’re not that old, after all – maybe this is really just the beginning.