I caught the travel bug when I was in middle school, when our French teacher Ms. Paoli organized a trip to Paris in eighth grade, sans parents. I began to travel a lot after that — and never stopped. I now realize I was the girlfriend who left for long-term adventures abroad — to France to study, to Thailand to teach, to Montreal to write — and looking back, I always expected the guy would still be there when I returned (and was surprised and heartbroken when he wasn’t). Timing was off. Chemistry wasn’t there. Or perhaps, when it came down to it, we didn’t share the same outlook on life; we didn’t share that same spirit.
In those years, I hadn’t really found the right fit.
I certainly didn’t expect to marry a traveler.
My husband Nick and I befriended each other through a now-defunct travel startup, Trazzler. I was an editor and community manager, and he was a freelance contributor who wrote about Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. The first thing I learned about Nick, from afar, was that he was an expat living and working in Cairo. Another one of those nomads, I thought. His picture across his social profiles was a close-up of his face, half-masked by a blue cloth wrapped around his head. Some kind of desert nomad, it seems. You couldn’t see all of his face, but his eyes were big and blue and kind. He had a warm smile.
I loved the name of his blog at the time, Delicious Chaos, because it reminded me of my own blog name, Writing Through the Fog.
Meandering through the maze of life, facing the uncertain.
Paving a path through the madness, the haze.
Not all those who wander are lost.
I often see this Tolkien quote on blogs of wanderlust, in profile bios, in travel books. We like to lose ourselves in a new city. But at the end of the journey, we find ourselves — whatever we want that to mean — and our place within it.
We hope that our wanderings have meaning. We shape our stories — fleeting encounters with strangers, a wrong turn — so that when we tell others back home what we did, there was a purpose. And even when we fail to find a purpose, we say that our failure is a stepping stone: a moment of learning.
On the surface, traveling is romantic. We dream, we yearn, we grow. When Nick and I were dating long-distance, everything was romantic, from our emails to our Skype calls to our WhatsApp messages, and then our adventures in Turkey, and England, and Egypt. I’m going to meet my beloved, I’d say, and we met in wonderful, faraway places: we held hands as it snowed on the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Istanbul; we hiked along the cliffs of Cornwall in the summer, as the ocean sparkled below; we laid in hammocks on a desert beach in the Sinai, along the Red Sea.
Three years later, we pay mortgage and HOA bills, manage rental tenants, complete our joint taxes, and fold each other’s laundry. As the dust settles from our rendezvous around the world, I think about how our lives have changed: how a romance that blossomed elsewhere now evolves inside a little house in a small town in California, and how two people who fell for each other on the road now attempt to shape a shared life of both wandering and roots.
When we travel, Nick pores over maps. And it’s how we interact with maps that makes me realize how different we are when we wander. He studies maps for what seems like ages; he likes to completely orient himself before venturing out, to see how points connect, to understand how he relates to and can interact with the physical space before him.
I don’t use maps like this. I plan a day’s travels around subway and metro stations: I pick a station, then compile a list of landmarks or things to do and see within walking distance of the station. I arrive, pick an exit, walk up the steps, and hope for the best: that I’ve gone in the right direction, that I’ll see a sign telling me where to go, that I’ll find what I’m looking for.
Once, we got lost in Hong Kong. He stared at his map, while I told him to let go of the grid in his head. To just walk and see.
We stood on a street corner that apparently didn’t exist. He said to me:
He who tries to hold map in head does not feel ground beneath feet.
I smiled. We laughed. Eventually, we figured out where we needed to go.
I’m not good with maps, but I’m great with landmarks. If I see something I’ve seen before — a street corner, a storefront, a sign — I begin to patch my own map. Nick, on the other hand, doesn’t see visual markers in the same way.
And so there we are: my knowledge of points A and B, and his ability to fill in what’s in between.
Lost together, we’ll find our way.