We tend to assume we’re the norm, and that our life experiences are commonplace. I know this, yet like most people I often find myself shocked upon discovering some mundane detail about someone I know. Once such detail that still catches me off-guard is when in discussion, it becomes apparent that the other person has never traveled outside of the country. My shock will grow even bigger still when they add they have never left the state, nor even felt the desire to do so.
I take wanderlust for granted because I am a wanderer at heart. However, since so many are content with remaining in familiar surroundings, I sometimes ask myself how I came to be a wanderer.
Some of it came naturally. As a child, I was very curious and liked to understand how people worked. I was also intellectually restless and easily bored. There was always knowledge to be sought and adventures to be imagined and experienced. I also had a certain facility with language that led me to seek opportunities to learn and study them.
On the other hand, my environment had much to do with my acquisition of the wandering bug. My parents exemplified qualities that made travel more than just what other people do. For example, in the 1970s, when many of their countrymen were opting for immigrating to Canada and the U.S (both already home to a sizable Haitian population and a short flight away), my parents chose Switzerland instead. Work and educational opportunities presented themselves, and my parents took the leap. At that time, they were certainly forgoing the familiar. For perspective, consider this: in 1980, I was the first Black baby to be born at the rural hospital where my mom gave birth. Before the move, the only place my parents had seen snow was on TV. With that outlook, it isn’t surprising that they took me on my first international flight by the time I was 7 months old. The fact that I almost died while abroad only makes for a more interesting travel tale in my opinion.
Aside from the leap of faith they took, my parents also lived in a way that encouraged interest in other cultures. Our living room always seemed filled with friends from all over the world, and my father made it a point to ask all those friends to teach him basic greetings in their native languages. Additionally, although we limited our travels to the places where our extended family lived, my mother always talked about her desire to see the world.
Growing up, I was lucky to experience regular trips to see family in Haiti, the U.S, and Canada, and the proximity allowed for quick trips to France as well as a week-long school field trip to Hungary. By the time I was in my mid-teens, I had seen and experienced enough different environments to crave more adventure; I asked my parents to let me move to America for (what I thought would be) a couple years. Somehow, my strict Haitian parents said yes, and I found myself living in Upstate New York. College took me to New Jersey, and eventually my parents, my brother and I ended up in Florida.
Now that I have been in one place for over a decade, the wanderlust is back. I am ever so grateful for the worldly opportunities my parents gave me, and aside from my own selfish need to wander, I can’t help but feel like my son too should have a playing ground bigger than our backyard.