The sun is shining, lost tourists are breezing around on bicycles and seagulls are chirping as we finally pull into the Quarterdeck Motel in Wildwood, New Jersey for the almost-seventh year in a row (one year skipped). However, even after the fitting relief that comes from arriving from your destination after a three-hour drive, something is definitively different.
For all of these years, Sandra and I have been coming to Wildwood for two or three nights in the summertime. It began as a couples’ trip with our then-boyfriends – two breakups later, we now do the same itinerary, minus two people, despite both of our new ‘taken’ statuses.
There’s something incredibly comforting about this trip. Usually, I spend the before-days of my other vacations reading guidebooks, planning restaurant outings and checking out reviews online. But when we go to Wildwood, our itinerary remains pretty much the same, with a few safe detours.
Growing up in Long Valley, a small, one-traffic-light town in northwestern New Jersey, I had a real penchant for sleeping out.
No, not like that, but it seemed like in a effort to quell my boredom and my discomfort with being in yet another new home (and one that was constantly in jeopardy as that one sat on the market for years), I would often sleep at friends’ houses, where I felt more comfortable and more at peace than I did in my own bed.
Ever since my freshman high school volleyball team made a not-so-hard pass at my membership more than 10 years ago, I’ve been a runner.
With hundreds of 5Ks, five-milers and 10Ks, four spring and four winter track seasons, two half marathons and one full marathon under my belt, I’m realizing now, as I fight my nearly year-long battle with posterior tibial tendonitis which has kept me out of my sneakers since December that like a crappy boyfriend, I’ve been taking running for granted.
Long before Ubers or before I could even fathom paying a hefty taxi fare, there was one way and one way only to get to and from the airport – via my dad’s unreliable, smelly and stuffed pickup truck (all of which were of various ages and models, but possessed the same decidedly unsatisfactory qualities).
Even though my dad frequently missed the Newark Airport exit and cursed out traffic – coupled alongside my bag’s unavoidable soaking from the storm that always seemed to be happen on the day it was loaded into the pickup – I could never really imagine another, if not more uneventful, way to depart and come from my latest journey.
Today, I was hanging out in my kitchen when my roommate, Alex, came home after going on a hike with our friend Megan. As only roommates can do (because no one else cares enough to listen), we began chatting about the most minute details of our day.
“I hadn’t seen Megan since before I got back from vacation (about one week ago),” Alex said. “And, of course, even though I put it in my bag, I forgot to give her the bracelet I got her.”
I told her how much that drove me nuts too. I hate having other people’s stuff in my house, I hate it when people leave things behind and, of course, I hate leaving my own things behind.
The average person has several coveted milestones in their life – the prom. The graduation. The first job. The wedding. The baby. For those who travel, there is also another important milestone – the first time that they must get a new passport.
Since I got my passport when I was 16 years old rather than 15, I narrowly missed the five-year-renewal mark, and instead, I got to keep my horrifying passport photo for an extra five years, leaving airport security to seriously question my identity when they saw a photographed face slightly similar to mine, only much more pimply, braced and skinny (thankfully).
However, upon my return from my trip to San Juan in early March, I knew it was time – with a bit more than six months left on my current passport, it was time to renew.
When you’re living in your childhood bedroom as a 24-year-old and basically using a 12 x 9 space as your entire living area, you start to get a little wacky. This is only accentuated by a one-and-half-hour-plus traffic-ridden commute and a mind-numbing office job. You start to dream – big.
Throughout my time living in northern New Jersey, Morristown was always the place to be. Even though we hadn’t been to many of the restaurants and bars there, we knew they were cool. We knew that there, in what seemed to be an alternate universe 45 minutes away, there were people our age who had cool jobs, modern apartments, new cars, tons of boyfriends and always had something to do on a weekend night.
Thus, once I saved some money, ran out of sanity and secured a roommate, I was out. I was going to Morristown.
One year later, I’m not sad that I did. Even though I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when friends who live with their parents tell me how much money they’ve saved and the awesome meals that their mom cooks for them, I know that’s not what my life at home was like and I’m pretty psyched with what I created – a new life in a small city with a cool job, a short commute and a nice apartment.
However, to no fault of its own, Morristown didn’t crack out to all I hoped it would be. The restaurants aren’t as good, the bars aren’t as fun and I don’t have a ton of new friends as originally planned. Thus, when my roommate heads off to graduate school next year, I will probably venture somewhere else.
Throughout the last 25 years of my life, my real estate mogul father has endlessly harassed me to buckle down, save some cash, make a commitment and actually purchase a home. With the promise of impossible rents ahead of me, I finally thought about it – maybe I would actually purchase my very first abode.
However, not in Morristown. Instead, nearby small cities with better restaurants, better bars and more things to do are luring me in. I didn’t anticipate my father’s reaction, a helicopter dad who lives only a few minutes from Morristown.
“Dad, I think I’m going to try and save money to buy a house soon.”
“Really?! That’s awesome! I’m so excited. I can help you fix it up, and I’ll give you my realtor’s number, and – ”
“Well, I don’t really want to live around here. I was thinking of a place maybe 45-minutes or so away.”
Dad wasn’t thrilled. He went on a tangent about how I just can’t go that far away, and where I was thinking was a crappy area, and if I did venture that far, he wouldn’t be able to help me fix anything up. (Side note – my three-years-younger-sister moved to North Carolina about a year ago).
At first, I was SO ANGRY. Deanna moved to North Carolina and no one said a word! Where I wanted to go wasn’t even far away, and is very up-and-coming! How could I possibly do all this work on my own! And Dad, why are you still texting me real estate listing of houses in your neighborhood!
But then I stopped. And I thought about it. And I came to a very strange realization.
I am an adult. (A 25-year-old adult trapped in a 16-year-old’s body). And I can figure out how to do any work myself, or pay someone to do it like a normal person. And I can live wherever I want. Just like I chose to move to Morristown one year ago, I can choose to go somewhere else, and if I feel like it, then I can go somewhere else still.
When we think of travel, we generally think of an undeniable, animalistic excitement – that which stinks of newness and possibility. For me, it’s that feeling that keeps me getting on plane after plane, punching in my credit card number several times a year.
However, travel isn’t like that for everyone. Some of us don’t get to get home because travel has forced us into a whole new one.
My friend was employed by a large sales company near our hometown following graduation, a great company at that with awesome pay and killer benefits. When she earned a promotion, she was informed that following a few months of training, she would be assigned a territory and she would have two weeks to move.
Upon moving to her new city, she was given a phone, an iPad, a laptop, a car, gas money, grocery money and a hotel to stay in for a few weeks until she was able to find a place to live. After a few weeks, she settled into a cushy luxury apartment in the city where she received her assignment. She has a walk-in closet and very impressive adult furniture. Not too shabby, right?
To me, her life is dreamlike. To be sent to a new, exciting city where one has no lingering ghosts. To make an enviable salary and live in a beautiful apartment. To buy your own groceries and make as much noise as you want and come and go as you please.
To someone who lives in a boring town without the means yet to move out, this is truly otherworldly.
Being as loudmouthed as I am, I eagerly conveyed my excitement to my friend. She couldn’t wholeheartedly agree.
“It’s kind of exciting at first,” she says. I listen to where she goes with this and I start to think. My friend can’t just pop over to a new, cool restaurant because she has no one to go with. There are not yet bars to frequent, friends to see or parties to go to because my friend doesn’t know one soul in the city.
Any semblance of a life that she once knew is now gone, replaced by possibility, yes, but nothing solid in sight. In the long run, I’m sure it’s great. But when you’re bored on another Saturday night at home, now apt with possibility does this really feel?
This is true work travel.
And it also didn’t really occur to me when I was busy dreaming of what it would be like to go somewhere cool and nowhere near anyplace that I had ever been.
Travel is exciting. It’s fun and new and cool. But when you can’t go home, because you have been relocated in your travels, the novelty can wear off before a comfortable sense of familiarity can seep in.
This is Cowbee, and he is the most-loved stuffed animal in the entire world.
He also happens to be the world’s most well-traveled miniature stuffed cow (fact).
Cowbee is going on 20-years-old now, and he has visited about just as many countries at my side. Internationally, he has visited, but has not been limited to: Turkey, Croatia, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, the Dominican Republic, Scotland, Canada and Puerto Rico. He has had his ventures across the United States as well, including having visited: Arizona, Washington, Missouri, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Florida.
However, he is about to about to go on his most important journey yet.
As you can probably tell, Cowbee has seen better days, even if those days were at least 15 years back. At one time, he actually had a mouth, a tail, more than one ear and two horns (lost via golden retriever accident). He is also currently sporting some unsightly bald spots which are leading the bell in his belly to itch to escape his blue fur. I also recently learned via some old photographs that there was once a polka-dot pattern on his bow. Who knew.
At least Cowbee looked better than this gross dog, Chocolate, while in Nova Scotia.
As a result, I have come to the responsible adult decision to send Cowbee to Realms of Gold Stuffed Animal Hospital, the most reputable doll hospital around. Unfortunately, by “around,” I mean on the other side of the country.
Through my meticulous research, I have learned that trusty Dr. Beth of the hospital is an avid blogger which is a great comfort. Also, I came across this clever blog post by Daisy, a fellow overgrown stuffed animal lover, who sent her fluffy companion Lamby to the hospital and was thrilled by the results. Cowbee also identifies with Lamby because he, too, is a small farm animal.
Being that I live in the middle of nowhere, the closest doll hospital is about four hours away so I don’t have much choice but to ship my best friend in a box via FedEx and hope for the best. Apparently, stuffed animal restoration is not a budding industry.
Cowbee’s usual traveling quarters.
It pains me that he has to resort to this type of travel, since usually he is carefully tucked away in my trusty backpack (never in a checked bag) and I obviously never leave my bag unattended, even if I don’t come across one of those dumb airport signs. Cowbee is literally the best travel companion one could ask for – he takes up little space, never complains, and is always cuddly – so I can’t believe that now I have to pack him in a box with styrofoam peanuts all by himself and send him across the nation.
However, in these days before I ship Cowbee off to be recowed for a month, I am reminiscing and appreciating all the cool places we have been together and how much (I) have grown in that time. He has, quite literally, been around before I can remember (I frequently come across photos of me younger and younger clutching this small stuffed toy) starting with his first journey from the pharmacy where he was probably purchased for less than $3 and brought home to a blonde baby.
See you for New Orleans, Cowb.
Everyone loves a five-inch-tall farm animal, especially in Florence, Italy.
When you live your life eternally rummaging through a suitcase around the world, although you end up with an interesting collection of ticket stubs, post cards, knick-knacks and foreign hot sauce, you are also left with an astounding lack of clothing.
Most of my trips have encompassed a strapped-on backpack, not a rolling matching suitcase set, leaving me with no other options but to recycle clothing over and over again, mercilessly wearing them down until they have only two options to deal with their remaining shelf life – get abandoned or get lost.
Abandoning clothes at various airports throughout the world due to one too many holes, a lack of effectiveness of the sitting on a suitcase for those few extra inches of space, or simply the obvious end of an item never makes me feel guilty – instead, it makes me feel like I got my money’s worth and I actually made an economical purchase in buying something that I kept until its unfortunate end.
Not everyone makes it through customs.
However, in my possession, besides the fact that most of what I own turns to dust, the rest of what I own simply disappears which does make me feel an insurmountable amount of guilt. Dresses, sandals, boots, shorts and tops all mysteriously vanish as they journey across the world with me, almost as if they decided all on their own that it was time to part ways and move on to a new, nameless owner.
There aren’t many things that are more frustrating than using time and effort shopping for clothing, spending hard-earned cash that could easily, and possibly more responsibly, been spent on food, and creating a place for it in an already minuscule closet only to have it evaporate into thin air and leave one forced to think back on trips weekends and weekends ago, wondering whose car or whose hotel room it could possibly be living in. I find myself constantly digging through my own laundry room, trying to remember the last time I’ve seen an item and questioning if the dryer is really eating things like I’ve always suspected.
Just today, I realized that a piece of clothing I brought with me on a weekend away was missing and I unapologetically harassed the concierge desk at the hotel asking if they had it stuffed in their lost and found. They seemed baffled that someone would call in for anything other than jewelry, wallets, car keys or other irreplaceable items, but for someone with limited time and money as myself, even this is good enough reason to inquire.
Someone lost one two many t-shirts.
As I began to deal with the loss of yet another item, I began to really wonder where these things were ending up when I realized I was keeping my own island of lost clothes – things I had (embarrassingly) found or been given that had once belonged to another. A tank top a friend found on the side of the road at Syracuse University, a red dress the same friend had stolen from a laundry room and sent to me, accompanied by a clever poem. A bracelet I found outside of a dining hall, a designer top an old employer had passed over to me after digging through her exceptional closet.
They were just faceless items, but like what I currently had in my own closet, I truly hoped that my past things had found new homes somewhere else on their own island of lost clothes. I hoped that someone had found them, probably a 14-year-old girl that fit into my stuff, and felt like she was having a pretty lucky day in the fact that she had just scored some nice thing for absolutely nothing.
Clothes are clothes and things are things – and they don’t carry real memories like we do. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have history. And I, for one, like to think my own things that have been left globetrotting about have quite the stories to share as they jump from closet to closet and country to country, soon to be left in the hands of yet another relentless traveler.