There is nothing I love more than traveling. I was born with an indomitable wanderlust. I have always felt it but my traumatic childhood skewed my understanding of my love of travel. For many years, I believed it was simply an escape. I thought I loved it because I could get away. But as I have healed, I have come to see it differently. It is too innate. The urge to visit the world runs too deep. It has to be real. And I am realizing I can no longer hold it at bay. Travel was meant for me.
This week, I am taking a trip I have been contemplating for years. I knew there would come a day when I would take the kids on their first overseas trip. There were fears there, but the fear of staying still was bigger. And the destination picked itself for many reasons. So my children and I are visiting Norway. It is challenging to cart two children across the ocean. But it is a beautiful experience. The children are excited to explore this new world. And it definitely has so much to offer.
But there is one thing I have noticed about my preferences when I travel. I have noticed it because it is particularly unavailable to me this week. When I travel, I like to be invisible. I don’t want people to know I am there. I especially don’t want people to know I’m American. I am not saying this because I am embarrassed to be an American. I am saying this because I am painfully aware of what many Europeans think of Americans. We are considered loud and obnoxious. I know this. And I have gone out of my way to be a good ambassador when they know I am American. I try to show a reverence for other cultures. I try to listen more than I speak. I try to take things in without judgment. It is how I prefer to be.
Traveling with kids has taken this privilege from me. I am completely without anonymity. They point to everything and let me know what they think in their loudest American voices. They ask about foods and declare they would never eat it. They suggest we should try to speak with a Norwegian accent. They speak to everyone as though they should understand exactly what they are saying in English. I watch these things and my stomach twists around. I know they mean nothing by it. They are kids. They don’t know all the nuances that are required to be respectful when traveling. Honestly, most adults don’t either.
It has brought some of my fears to the surface though. I am truly terrified of being seen. I am even more terrified of being judged. It hasn’t been obvious to me lately because it doesn’t seem to apply to the internet. But in Norway, it is alive and well. While I have learned to be more and more unapologetic in my authenticity, it is less available to me here. Maybe the rest of the world feels unspoiled to me. My family doesn’t live here. My abuse didn’t happen here. I get to be like everyone else. I get to be a tourist with no past, no history of abuse and a clean slate. I get to start over every time I walk off the plane in a new location.
And maybe I don’t want that clean slate spotted with loud opinions about brown cheese and mispronounced Norwegian words and questions about who skis better, the Americans or the Norwegians (silly question). I do know it is kids being kids. And I do know that nobody judges me more than me. But according to my parts, invisibility has served me so well. If nobody knows anything about me, they can’t judge me. But is it really how we should be living? Is invisibility really the answer? Of course I know it’s not. I just want all my visibility to be positive. It is so much safer that way.
Maybe one day, I will be able to come at life from a “no holds barred” perspective. Maybe it will never feel quite safe enough. But I am sure of one thing. There is something special about travel no matter who sees me and judges me, no matter how unclean that slate is. And for this week, I get to enjoy Norway and all its breathtaking beauty. For this week, I get to be me doing exactly what I love, even if they see me.
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