My parents tell me that when I was younger, and they were younger, our family used to travel. We would go sightseeing everywhere from Boston, to Washington DC, to New York City, to Toronto. Unfortunately, I was too young to remember much of it, even when shown photographs of myself amongst classical paintings and hedge scultptures. But now my parents are old; my father is sick and my mother is unable to leave his side, so the traveling has stopped. Vacations are spent at home, and even for day trips we leave after 9am and have to be home by 5pm. My mother assures me that when I’m “old enough” (done with school) I can travel wherever I want with “other young people” (my friends?).
However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to travel the way I want to. Cross-country road trips and train-hopping across Europe – the ideas are numerous and the success stories can be found in the form of Facebook albums full of photos of rest stops in the middle of nowhere and brews in dark pubs. But for me, the allure of other countries is not in their cosmopolitan centers, their historical landmarks, or even their natural wonders. I don’t need to whiz through 20 cities in a whirlwind tour to see as much as possible in as little time as possible. To me the allure is seeing and understanding the communities where people live, where local traditions are persevere, where subcultures flourish within a greater national culture. Maybe it comes from having grown up in a small, tight-knit community like Ithaca, but I have not pounced on the chance to leave and I have no desire to take up residence in bustling cities like NYC or LA where so many of my friends are now flocking for their first jobs.
I often think that a college-town like Ithaca is the ideal place to be. There are opportunities and sources of intellectual stimulation that only a university can provide, but at the same time, the surrounding town is small. Neighbors run into each other at the grocery store, and at the biggest event of the year, the Ithaca Festival, the booths sell handmade jewelry and homemade fudge. I also know that there must be places like Ithaca, but also very different, scattered across the world. These are the places to which I want to travel.
So then what’s stopping me? It’s a mixture of financial limitations and family obligations. Once I finish school, I’ll be under pressure to find a job and settle into a financially stable situation and start “planning for my future.” Even without the burden of paying for my education, international travel is expensive, and aside from choosing to move abroad, temporary residence even for months or years could be impractical, leaving behind a career and and empty home. Finally, I have to take care of my parents. My parents waited until late in their lives to have children, and as a result they are quickly approaching retirement age; soon it will be my job to care for them. If anything ever happened to them, it would be difficult for me to be there from halfway around the world.
I’m certain that before I die, I will have visited Venice, and Paris, and Rome. But I lament that it most likely will be as a tourist passing through, rather than a leisurely explorer, making an exciting weekend trip from a nearby town.