I Don’t Do Sleepovers
I found out about Anthony Bourdain’s death on a long-haul flight to Israel. Like most people, I was shocked to hear the news, but posthumously I won’t pretend his impact on my life was any more than it was –– not much. I’d watched some episodes of No Reservations, enjoyed his articles, and been meaning to catch Parts Unknown. I’ve read too many articles and seen too many social media posts from heartbroken fans, and I’m definitely not qualified to add to the pile. Most are genuine in being gutted over an icon that left such a prolific mark on cultural awareness, but the cynic in me can’t help but suspect that many are inadvertent means to make a celebrity death about them personally. But, I suppose, who am I to judge how someone should process grief.
Afterall, it was really my newsfeed full of other people’s photos and quotes from Bourdain that had the most impact for me. Like I said, when I heard the news I was on the longest flight I’d ever taken going farther than I’d ever been for the greatest amount of time. Any other moment, his death would have potentially passed me by, but the uncanny timing led me to think about his legacy as I embarked on my own adventure.
It’s safe to say I am, and always have been, a homebody. I was raised by two homebodies. And unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I chose a partner who’s also pretty terrible at leaving the comfort zone. If it’s any indicator, both of us missed our eight grade trips to Washington D.C. because we hate being away from home. The fear runs long and deep.
We love home. We love our bed. We love our routine. It’s nice to share a love of the life you built, but how can you truly appreciate anything without leaving it? Even when you know this rationally, it can still be hard to act on it. While there are a great many areas where my partner and I’s strengths complement each other’s weaknesses, this is one aspect where we’re both fall short. Two little objects at rest, staying at rest, in the comfort of their own rent-stabilized LA apartment.
If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food, it's a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move. - A.B
But, with applied force, these two objects will move. For us, it was a family wedding…in Israel. Our cousins had traversed the world for our own wedding eight months earlier, and it seemed as though the whole family was taking the opportunity to pack up to meet in the Holy Land. There was really no way out of doing something that scared us. And, it did scare us, no matter how much we wanted to go. We were going to have to spend 18 hours traveling to Israel. We figured as long as we were making the journey, we might as well maintain the momentum, which is how we ended up on a two-week vacation to Israel, Germany, France, and England.
Anxiety is, well, a motherfucker –– and my partner and I both have it. Though these days, it seems like it’s those without who are the minority. Because of this affliction, we procrastinated flights, hotels, and trains. It wasn’t really happening if we nothing was booked. But, eventually, planning happened. It had to, even though it felt like we were bleeding money at every turn. Never having to make a significant investment in travel, it felt drastic and suffocating to watch our credit card bill increase. It didn’t help that my husband quit his full-time job a month before the trip, and I took a week unpaid. I had to remind myself that this is why we work. There is no point in making money if you don’t spend it on seeing the world.
You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese. - A.B.
That was the calming thought I forced my busy brain to remember, as we spent weeks stressing, hours packing, making sure we remembered every little travel-sized creature comfort possible. Did I bring two tubes of Advil, a new pack of Immodium, Pepto Bismol, and a druglord sized Ziplock bag full of digestive enzymes that somehow passed through security? Oh yes, I did. Also, this packing list is quite revealing in where our major anxieties lie.
Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once. - A.B.
But it’s not just a very real fear of our stomachs imploding at any given moment, we actually get homesick as adults, even in the most idyllic of places. A few years ago during a stay in Cape Cod, after a particularly picturesque day, we both looked at each other embarrassed that in literal paradise, all we wanted at that moment was to go home. We missed our bed. We wondered if the cats missed us. Of course, it passed as quickly as it came. If you’ve ever felt homesick, then you know, it always comes on strongest at night. For me, it’s perhaps a residual fear from childhood sleepovers.
Sleepover parties were always out of the question for me; I usually left before everyone went to bed. My anxiety related to sleeping away from home became the most debilitating after one impromptu overnight at my best friend’s house in third grade. We’d been having so much fun on a Friday evening after school, that I accepted an invitation to spend the night –– without any of the things that made me feel safe, like my blankie and pajamas. My friend fell soundly asleep, but I was wide awake with discomfort. I got up and found her parents watching TV in the living room. “I think I want to go home.” We tried calling my parents to pick me up. No answer. I’d just have to spend the night, they told me. So, I went back to bed but paralyzed with fear, I still couldn’t sleep. Well after my friend’s parents had turned in for the night, I quietly got up and went to the phone. I tried calling my mom to come and get me for hours, but the phone kept ringing and ringing. She had taken it off the ringer to sleep undisturbed. I found a photo of my mother and me in my backpack that a teacher had taken and given me that day, which I brought to bed with me, clutching it as I waited for the sun to rise.
Look, I’m a fun gal. I’m a Gemini after all –– easygoing in a group and usually choosing to follow trouble over going home, but I’ve never been the take-off and go somewhere for the hell of it girl. Absolutely not. And, it kills me because I’ve already got most of the spices for that type of personality. But still, I’m missing the key ingredients.
If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go. - A.B.
I’ve always wished I was more spontaneous, that I didn’t mind sleeping in unfamiliar beds, or that traveling filled me with a bigger ratio of excitement than fear. I wish I had the money and courage to have studied abroad. I wish I was more adventurous with tasting food without an irrational fear that it will make me sick. I wish I was one of the early-twenty-somethings at the hip jazz club I went to in Berlin, drinking, smoking, and dancing with their eyes closed because that’s what they think it looks like to enjoy music as an adult.
Never more than on this trip do I regret not taking more advantage of being younger without baggage and life experience telling me all the things that should and could cause concern. I regret not spending money I didn’t have, sleeping on floors no one should sleep on, and agreeing to follow strangers you should never follow to places you’d never see unless you turned off your brain and just said yes.
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind. - A.B
Two weeks ago I exited my comfort zone, and skipped a whole day to travel for almost 24 hours. I rode planes, trains, cabs, buses, boats, and even a pedicab (just once when we were desperate for a break from walking in Paris, and yes it was weird). I slept in apartments and hotels, in the most uncomfortable beds. I lay awake from jet lag. I lived out of a bag that I packed and unpacked six times. The time difference made my period late and then arrive with a vengeance as I explored the Musee D’Orsay in a cramping haze. I had a panic attack, felt exhaustion, and yes…even in the most incredible cities known to mankind, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for experiencing homesickness as I wandered the streets of Paris and London. Staying present is tough, no matter the picture Instagram paints.
That without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.- A.B
But look, I also walked through a half-dozen museums, finally put my five years of studying French to real use, sampled spices at the a Jerusalem Shook, saw the Eiffel tower light up like it belonged on the Vegas strip, ate cheese for breakfast for a week, climbed the tower of the Dom Köln to see a 360 view of the city where my grandparents grew up, listened to jazz in a smoky Berlin speakeasy, drank a cocktail that required two hands in London, went to a nude spa in Cologne, and asked a man, who turned out to be the VP of German Parliament if he would switch seats on a train. He said no, but then later did anyway.
The adventure of a lifetime…certainly not. But, it was definitely a small adventure in my lifetime.
I wanted adventures. I wanted to go up the Nung river to the heart of darkness in Cambodia. I wanted to ride out into a desert on camelback, sand and dunes in every direction, eat whole roasted lamb with my fingers. I wanted to kick snow off my boots in a Mafiya nightclub in Russia. I wanted to play with automatic weapons in Phnom Penh, recapture the past in a small oyster village in France, step into a seedy neon-lit pulqueria in rural Mexico. I wanted to run roadblocks in the middle of the night, blowing past angry militia with a handful of hurled Marlboro packs, experience fear, excitement, wonder. I wanted kicks – the kind of melodramatic thrills and chills I’d yearned for since childhood, the kind of adventure I’d found as a little boy in the pages of my Tintin comic books. I wanted to see the world – and I wanted the world to be just like the movies. - A.B
I think everyone wishes their life were more like the movies –– at least the ones that end well. Growing up, I preferred sitcoms to cartoons. I’ve always been drawn to stories that depict a slice of life, even when they involve a domesticated witch or genie. I can’t tell you how much of a sucker I am for a good coming of age story.
Maybe that’s why my idea of adventure doesn’t have to feel extreme. Escapism doesn’t always equate to distance or risk. To me, exhilaration is found in everyday moments with a long-term payoff. Is there a greater risk than committing your life to another person?
Traveling isn’t always a vacation. It’s cumbersome, sweaty, and fraught with complicated feelings. Mostly though, it’s exhausting. At least, that’s what I keep telling people when they ask about my trip. But it is the single most important thing you can do for personal growth. Anthony Bourdain is right; life isn’t worth living unless you invest in cheese and ultimately, travel changes you –– no matter how small or great of a distance you go.
I do wish I’d traveled more in my twenties, but there’s no sense in feeling regret. All I can do now is continue to find the time, money, and courage to be uncomfortable for the sake of allowing myself to change and grow. While not all thrill-seeking needs to happen thousands of miles from home to feel a sense of wild exhilaration, if some of it never does, then how could we ever know how good it feels to come home –– even if you were a kid who was totally fine at sleepovers.