Machu Picchu, Peru
A friend once told me that there are three types of traveller: the misogynist, the missionary, and the misfit.
Misfit: a person whose behaviour or attitude sets them apart from others in an uncomfortably conspicuous way. Synonyms: fish out of water, square peg in a round hole
I grew up an introvert, sensitive and anxious, a bookworm. I was the kind of kid who’d never allow her mother to enroll her in summer camp. My mother tried, once, and within two hours the camp called, saying it was an emergency. I had feigned the flu and made myself throw up in the bathroom of the gymnasium. My mother never sent me away again.
I willingly spent all of my childhood chained closely to home, despite my affinity for stories of faraway lands. As a little girl I’d take a photo album off of the shelves, its leather spine giving a distinctive crack each time I’d open one, turn through the pages and watch my family’s life unfurl. My favourite was the one marked 1972-3. In it I’d find photos of my parents, smiling and long-haired, as they made their way across Europe in a rusty gray van with a red flower on the side. Later I learned that the van had belonged to a pharmaceutical company in Holland; my dad painted over the name as to prevent too many questions, or too many break-ins. Being the hippies they were, they kept the logo’s flower.
But there’s a time in most adolescent lives when everything starts to change, when the things you did last week now seemed juvenile. We all become misfits for some brief, difficult years, lured by the different and the dangerous. We become obsessed with something with the zeal that only teenagers possess, purposefully ostracize ourselves from the adults in our lives. Some kids turn to music. Some kids turn to drugs and alcohol. My obsession became the world itself.
There’s a word in Korean that means the inability to get over one’s addiction to travel, a perpetual case of wanderlust. Once the travel bug has bitten, it indicates, there is no cure.
Wanderlust: From the early 20th century German, a word meaning an overwhelming desire to travel
The fixation with travelling crept up slowly, but by the time I was 16 it was all-consuming. I started memorising the capitals of countries. For Christmas I asked for a subscription to National Geographic magazine. In the evenings I’d write long lists of life goals, list the countries I’d visit, the places I’d go. I’d roll their foreignness over my tongue: Zanzibar. Tbilisi. Timbuktu.
I got my first real job working in the mall at Claire’s Accessories. On weekends and the occasional weeknight I’d spend hours straightening plastic tiaras and piercing screaming babies’ ears and vacuuming up gum wrappers. My manager called me Britney; I never figured out if she did so because she genuinely didn’t know my name, or because calling anyone young and blonde ‘Britney’ was de rigueur in 2001. My other coworker would come in reeking of cigarettes and force me to do all the dirty work while she talked on the store phone to her boyfriend. But the job paid six dollars an hour, and by the time I was 17 I had saved over a thousand dollars.
Their hippie roots showing themselves, my parents understood my need to travel. They encouraged it, perhaps reminded of failed summer camp excursions and a daughter who panicked at anything new. When an opportunity came up to go to France with my school that summer, they agreed to foot half the bill. I signed, with great flourish, a cheque for $1000 to pay for the other half.
My journal tells an abbreviated, romantic vision of Paris and the other cities that filled our two weeks that June: Nimes, Dijon, Nice, Cannes, Antibes. They are the words of one enchanted.
“I am now sitting in a café with a glass of red wine; it was cheaper than a bottle of water,” I wrote in my teenage scrawl, printed alongside ticket stubs and dried flowers. “Had a French cigarette, bought an oil painting, fell in love with a city.” And, “I feel great here, even though I look like a scrub and can’t speak the language. I love it here. I LOVE IT HERE,” my words shouted to nobody in particular.
At Père-Lachaise I scooped up dirt from Jim Morrison’s grave in a plastic canister meant to hold a roll of film. Days later the canister would spill in my backpack, scattering the soil over my clothes. It may not have been a shaman in the desert, but I took this as a sign that I was meant to follow an unusual path.
We flew back to Canada on the 4th of July, first landing in Minneapolis after a long flight from Europe; limp balloons and streamers hung in the airport to remind us of the American holiday. There was only a 45 minute flight to Winnipeg remaining.
It was a tiny plane, big enough for only four seats across, with two on either side of the aisle. I sat in one of the first rows of economy class; our group was dispersed throughout the cabin. Beside me was a young man, perhaps in his early 20s, unshaven and unkempt. Misfit. He was thumbing through his passport, its pages beaten up and full. Even at 17 I knew that he was showing off, inviting me to ask questions, to inevitably ooh and aah over his status of world wanderer. Still, I fell for the bait. Other than my parents, I’d never spoken to someone who had done so much travelling.
“Wow, you’ve travelled a lot.” He took a long swallow of his ginger ale before answering me, fizz popping up to wet his lips. His fingernails were dirty, and he wore a ring on his index finger. Looking back I imagine him as the quintessential backpacker, a composite caricature of all the people I’ve met since. If I squint hard enough into my memory, I see more: a tattoo in Hindi on his arm, a beaded dreadlock hanging behind one ear, a battered copy of On the Road peeking out of his dirty canvas bag.
“Trying to, trying to.” Years later I’d remember him saying this; I use the same answer to the same question. “There’s always more to see, of course.”
He told me about his time fishing in Montana, and of running with the bulls in Spain. How he worked his way through Thailand in hostels, how he thought a vendor at the spice market in Istanbul was going to kill him for taste-testing a fig. He laughed when he told me all of this, a laugh that crinkled his eyes and endeared him to me, made him accessible and real. I had never met anybody like him. I had never met anyone who was doing what I wanted to do. I was spellbound.
He lunged across my body to point out the window, jolting me out of the reverie of his words.
“Look at that!” I turned to look out at the blackness. And there, thousands of feet below, little pockets of fireworks were exploding over the Dakotas. Our conversation stopped. From our perspective, we could see dozens of different fireworks, tiny bursts of red and blue and white fracturing the expanse of darkness. On the ground they must have been miles apart, but to us, they were so close we could trace our fingers between them, connect the dots before they turned to smoke.
As we left America and flew over Canadian soil, the fireworks receded, and we reclined in our chairs in tandem. He took the last swig of his drink, the remaining chunks of ice clinking against his teeth.
“I’ve never seen that before,” he murmured to himself, or maybe it was me who said those words aloud. My mind was buzzing, its synapses bursting with energy, adventure. Of what else could be seen from airplane windows. Of what else was beyond the horizon. All the things he had just told me, all the happiness I’d felt in France, all the pent-up desires to experience the world – I stared straight ahead at the in-flight magazine of the seat pocket, a picture of Machu Picchu on its cover. This was more than just a teenage obsession.
“So what about you? Do you want to travel?” The fingers of one hand were still absentmindedly running over the thick pages of his passport.
I was ready to join this crazy world of misfits. I had never wanted anything more. I had discovered wanderlust, or, maybe, it had discovered me, oozed its way into my veins. As the Korean word stipulates, there would be no cure.
“Yes,” I answered without hesitation. “Yes.”
Please note: a version of this story was first published on my blog here. If it seems familiar, you’re not crazy.
When did you discover wanderlust?
This moved me to tears. Because it is so beautifully written and because I can relate.
I have always been very anxious, and a couple of years ago my therapist told me that I had social anxiety, which explained many things. I have always been scared of not only trying new things, but simply living. And this is a really painful realization. I cannot count the number of times I’ve said “no” to things or people, out of fear, and took refuge in books to forget my incapacity to live.
When I was 19, I got a tattoo that says “oui” on my ankle, and while most people don’t understand it, it probably holds the biggest meaning to me. Saying yes, is something I find hard.
But travelling somehow gives me courage. When I was 19, I went on this trip through Europe, and I discovered, for the first time I think, the feeling of freedom, a feeling similar to the one I had experienced when attending shows, lost in the crowd and the music just erasing both the limits of my own body and those of my mind.
I think it hit me the most in Budapest, when I felt like I was experiencing summer for the first time. And in Russia, where I had quite a few troubles.
After this trip, nothing was ever the same really. I now love geography, spend hours planning trips only for the pleasure of doing it, I save money and every holiday is an opportunity to go away. Even my future job goes hand in hand with travelling.
Indeed I don’t think there’s a cure, and that’s all for the better!
People like you really inspire me, you’re open, kind and full of beautiful stories to tell !
Your blog also fed my wanderlust, and is now one of my favourites, so thank you.
Wow, what an amazing comment, Emy. Thank you so much for sharing your story here and for taking the time to always read and comment on my blog. I totally understand the feeling of anxiety and of being too scared to actualise your dreams; travelling really helped me get over that, and now I feel like I can face almost anything. I still like to hide behind books once in a while, though.
I’m also glad there isn’t a cure… I wouldn’t want one! Thanks again for your beautiful words; you are so supportive and encouraging, and I appreciate it so much.
What a great story and beautiful writing!
Thank you so much, Jenn!
its so nice to see where others wanderlust came in. for me, it was when i was too young to really remember. my family lived in europe when i was a kid for my dads job and i just remember airports being all i knew. as i grew up and played sports (after moving back to the US), i made sure i was very good at sports so that i could play them at a traveling level. that was my only way to travel the way i wanted as a kid. my parents spent every last penny paying for my travels around the US and beyond through my ‘sports’. i was the kid who studied maps on roadtrips to sports events and checked out books about iceland and alaska while my friends read mystery novels. i won my schools geography bee when i was nine and was just a total nerd when it came to travel and maps and geography. i knew one day i was destined to see the world on a bigger level. while i cant ever be a permanent nomad (i like my health routines and having a dog too much), i still travel around 3-4 months a year in total, which is good enough for me 🙂
its so amazing that different things can inspire us to all end up doing the same thing. hope we cross paths at some point!
Thank you for sharing your story, Megan! I think even though I was a bit of a homebody as a kid, I still longed to see something new and foreign. I don’t think that I fully understood that I had such wanderlust until I was a teenager, when I could articulate what exactly it was that was drawing me to a life of travelling.
As you said, so amazing to see how different pasts all lead us to the same love! It would be nice to cross paths.
This post spoke to me. It’s by far the best post I think you’ve ever written.
Thank you so much, Olivia, I’m glad that you enjoyed it.
Please, please, PLEASE write a book. Your writing is so beautiful. It completely captivates me. It’s perfect.
I think I might be in love with you, Brenna Holeman.
Thank you ever so much, Liane. I am writing a book as part of my Master’s degree… whether or not it ever gets published is the real question!
Thanks again for your amazing comment…
“A friend once told me that there are three types of traveller: the misogynist, the missionary, and the misfit.”
Damn, what a great line. 🙂
And “At Père-Lachaise I scooped up dirt from Jim Morrison’s grave in a plastic canister meant to hold a roll of film. Days later the canister would spill in my backpack, scattering the soil over my clothes. It may not have been a shaman in the desert, but I took this as a sign that I was meant to follow an unusual path.”
Great stuff. I totally get the world becoming an obsession in and of itself.
I have to credit the first line to my friends Sarah and Kate… it is indeed a wonderful line.
Thank you for your comment – I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post!
This is an absolutely fabulous and moving post, Brenna. I too am anxiously awaiting to read a book about your wanderlust. As one also afflicted – in the best possible way – with this wonderful wandering gene, I applaud your bravery and curiosity as you explore the world and meet its people. It’s always a highlight of my day to go to thisbatteredsuitcase and read your stories and thoughts and find inspiration in your amazing photos.Thank you!
Thank you so much for your comment – and for being my biggest supporter! I couldn’t have done any of this without getting a few of those genes myself…
What a great story! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’m glad you liked it! Thanks for your comment.
Beautifully written Bren. You are such an inspiration to me xoxo
Thank you, sister. You are an inspiration to me, too xo
I love this post, indeed wanderlust will always find you in the end.
I think it started with regular family holidays during my childhood , and although I was too young to really remember the places we went, bits and pieces of memories of foreign lands, people, foods and smells remained with me, which spurred on my wanderlust!
I agree – wanderlust will always find you in the end!
What a fantastic piece of prose. I’ve never heard the misogynist/missionary/misfit line, but it’s intriguing, to say the least. Am going to mull over that. What do you think she meant with the misogynistic part?
I think it was directed toward men who travel to partake in sex tourism…
Beautiful story, as always. I experienced something similar to you when I was 18 on my first holiday with friends in Crete; discovering for the first time the freedom and sense of endless possibility travel can bring is magical. I still get flashes of that feeling when I travel all these years later.
It’s so nice to remember/to have that feeling – I hope I never, ever forget it!
great story! you are a fantastic writer! I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Thanks for sharing
Thank you so much, Rebecca!
[…] I recently read an incredible post on This Battered Suitcase (one of my favourite travel blogs) about discovering your wanderlust. […]
[…] I recently read an incredible post on This Battered Suitcase (one of my favourite travel blogs) about discovering your wanderlust. […]
Hello Brenna !
I don’t really know how to begin with… Maybe by saying Thank you ? I love every word you write here. I love the idea of you, of your travels, of what you embody. I went to Greece with my school a few weeks ago, and I had printed some pages of your blog to read it when I was there. Because it makes me think everything is possible : travels all around the world are possible, dreams are possible. I’m 17 now, and i can’t say when i started being obsessed with the idea of travels, of meeting new people, of Learning, of eating international-delicious-food, of helping, of loving.
You’re an inspiration 🙂 Just as travelers were for you when you were a teenager… Oh i want to apologize for my English, i’m french and i try to improve 🙂 I want this message to be a positive one, to show how positive you are for me ahah, even if I can’t say everything I would. You’re talented. And passionate. And kind. You’re a dreamer and you know how to love. So thank you for everything ! I wish you all the happiness and joy in the world, thanks again,
Wow – thanks for this amazing comment. It makes me so happy to think that I’ve given you even the slightest bit of inspiration or motivation. It’s great that you think your dreams of travelling are possible; I think so, too, and it sounds like you are on the right track to actualising those dreams. Travelling is a fascinating thing for all the reasons you listed here, and I’m sure you’re going to have a very exciting life.
Once again, thank you so much for writing this (and your English is great!). I’m sure I will reread this comment whenever I’m feeling a little bit low or wonder why I spend so much time on this blog. Happy travels and wishing you all the joy in the world, too.
How strange it is to read my own words more than 5 years later… And still the same desire to see the world, to follow your footsteps. I am maybe a tiny bit less naive, a bit more experienced; I’ve filled the past years with university courses and solo adventures, lived in 3 foreign countries, fell in love, discovered sex and got my heart broken, met wonderful people who were my best friends for a night, slept in countless hostel rooms, ran to warm tropical waves, felt lost and exctatic and so free – and it’s just the beginning… so much has changed and yet everything is the same; there’s nothing I want more than making my way around the world, with an open-heart, an open-mind… letting it change me, trying to be good, kind, to listen and learn from others. Again, most sincerely, thank you, for being an inspiration along the years. I keep coming to your words and each and every time they bring wonder and emotion. You’re a talented writer and a beautiful individual, merci Brenna.
I wish you all the best in your own adventures, finding peace and contentment and being surrounded by loved ones.
[…] out some more unavoidable truths of travel: You Will Discover Wanderlust, You Will Question Your Role as […]
[…] I got the idea for this post by reading similar posts from two of my favourite travel blogs: This Battered Suitcase and The Irie Explorer. I highly recommend you check them […]
Hi Brenna! I absolutely love your blog, especially this post. I was very inspired to write my own “How I found my Wanderlust” post on my blog, so I thought I’d let you know! I mentioned you: http://searchingformagic.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/how-i-discovered-my-wanderlust/
hope that’s all good! 🙂
Aw, that’s terrific, thank you for this Isabel! It’s always great to read about how others have found their wanderlust.
[…] Stories like the one about my grandmother, or the one to my ex-boyfriend, or the one with Kerri, or the one with the random backpacker, or the one where I thought I fell in love in Guatemala, or the one in India, are all good examples […]
Whenever I’m itching to read something beautiful, I always end up on your blog and it’s a new experience every time. I never fail to find exactly what I’m looking for here. Thanks for your beautiful words Brenna. Keep writing!
Aw, thank you so much Leslie! I really appreciate your kind words, they definitely inspire me to keep writing.
[…] open her site and there’s a new article to read. My personal favorite is her narrative on discovering wanderlust. Brenna’s description about travel’s way of cyclical trip-spiration really resonated […]
[…] eyes). A few years later I went to France with my school, and that was the trip that really lit a flame under my wanderlust, so to […]