Melanie Martin was so cool, 10-year-old me thought as I dove into another Martin adventure. Carol Weston’s adventurous Mel and her brother, Matt the Bratt, had already been to Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and of course New York by the time she was 11. I could only dream of such things.
Growing up on the Central Coast of California, it wasn’t as if I was lacking in adventures of my own. We’d been everywhere in the state from San Diego to Sacramento, Disneyland twice. With Mom’s family in Missouri, I’d been there a few times to Kansas City and Rogersville; Arizona the day California was too foggy to fly into and we had to disembark in Phoenix, in July. I was eight the first and only time I had been out of the country, to Mexico for a day.
But my dreams extended far beyond the Golden State, as much as I loved the Pismo Beach area (though I did end up taking the beach for granted.) In fifth grade, I came home and informed Mom I had decided to move to New York and work for the Times. That’s where all the writers lived, right? Well, according to Hollywood, anyway.
The desire to see beyond my home became especially intense when we moved to Missouri, smack dab in the middle of the country, during the summer before sixth grade. Over the course of my adolescence, my sister and I would visit our dad in Colorado most summers, with road trips through Kansas and Texas. I would stay in Corpus Christi for a week at age 12 when my Youth group attended a missions conference, resulting in my second trip to Mexico. I’d been to Branson more times than I could count. Mom took us to St. Louis and the capital in Jeff City before I even entered secondary. Tournaments with Academic Team would take me through a good majority of Missouri small towns and Columbia. We even rode through Camp Snoopy on a layover in Minneapolis.
I got my first glimpse of the world outside our isolated continent in the World Showcase at Disney World’s Epcot when we went for my sister’s twelfth birthday and it only reinforced my determination to see across the pond, although I knew the chances of doing so with US vacation time were slim. Upon acceptance as a Student Ambassador for People to People in junior year, I was twenty steps closer to Europe and 500 steps back when I couldn’t raise the required six grand and spent the summer doing anything other than rapelling off a castle in Wales.
The summer before I started college, Mom took the three of us on what she labeled our “Historical East Coast” trip, where I finally got a taste of the Big Apple, along with DC, Philly, Atlanta and New Jersey. We walked Times Square, caught the ferry to Ellis Island to see where Great-Grandma wrote her name on the immigrant wall, sat through traffic on the Fourth of July in DC that took us all the way to Arlington, visited a plantation in Jonesboro and walked the steps of the forefathers. Aside from mining for gold in Sacramento, traveling back to a time of musket fire and despicable treatment of the Chumash Indians at La Purisma mission in Santa Barbara (of course, they only told us fourth graders the good things) and touring the Laura Ingalls Wilder home in Mansfield, it was the first time I got to actually see the places I read about in my history textbooks or historical fiction novels.
I moved to the Springs in Colorado for college, convinced I would spend a semester abroad. I had dabbled in French in fifth and decided to become more fluent in college, after studying Spanish as a teen. More than anything, I wanted to learn Italian - but not through a textbook. And not through a language program. I wanted the real thing. I wanted to spend a semester abroad in Italy.
But as my French studies increased and turned into my minor, I realized it would be more beneficial to study in France, which ultimately wouldn’t happen. My biggest regret after graduation was that I ended my school career without studying abroad once, pulling the one application I tried. It was a choice that I still feel was the best for me at the time, but no less disappointing.
Instead, I went back to California: two trips to LA, one to San Diego. I roadtripped through Colorado: Denver, Vail, Leadville. I flew with my fellow Scribers to Chicago for a journalism conference. On a summer vacation home, it was round two of the East Coast: Manhattan and New Jersey for a second time; Nashville, Richmond, Virginia Beach, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Iowa. (I have yet to get to Boston. That, along with Louisiana and Maine, is one of the places I still want to see in the US.) Oklahoma during trips on the Greyhound. Arkansas one Fourth to see the first Wal-Mart.
Then, I got accepted into the Disney College Program and Orlando became my home for the fall semester of 2014. Thanks to endless days spent at the World Showcase and many overheard conversations from the ICP’s, plus friends made from various corners of the world, I changed my 13-year plan. I loved Manhattan, but it was no longer where I was going to move. No, I resolved, I would much rather live in London.
Mom decided if I was going to move to London, I should probably see it first. So, one morning before an early shift at Coronado, I opened my Christmas present: a ticket to tour Buckingham Palace on my next birthday.
It was finally happening. Exhiliration built through the rest of DCP, the spring semester and separate visits to Mississippi and Little Rock. I’d had my passport since the failed People to People attempt. The Expat Explore tour was booked. My brand-new REI backpacking pack was all set to go. I cashed in every savings bond I had for additional funds. And, this time, everything went as planned.
I landed at Heathrow on the first of August, 2015. One three-hour Uber ride later (it was the day England began its annual cycling race,) I was at my hotel in Greenwich. Two days later, I met up with the tour and went to Dover to catch the ferry for Dunkerque. The next three weeks were spent forming friendships with people from England, Australia, Mauritius, South Africa and, shockingly, St. Louis; taking the metro in Paris; learning chocolate helps vertigo in Switzerland; eating pasta in Florence, pizza in Venice, artisan gelato in Rome and feeling my great-grandmother’s presence in the Vatican; a pit stop in Austria; getting lost in Munich and stuck on the German Audubon; seeing how clogs are made in The Netherlands; eating waffles in Belgium; and saying goodbyes in London (but all of that is a story for another time.)
After a week in London by myself, in which 10-year-old April was delighted to walk near the Traitors Gate that took Anne Boleyn to her death and stand next to the tomb of Good Queen Bess, walk down the staircase at Buckingham Palace, see Wicked on the West End and eat a Cornish pasty, I was headed home, convinced the plane would crash and I’d die on the way back to the States because my biggest dream had already come true.
But I arrived in one piece, fought off jet lag and graduated. A year later, I was back in Europe, this time on my own finances and after an extensive application process, to visit Crystal in Iceland and then on to Ireland to stay the year - a year that would include Manchester, England; my second trip to London; Edinburgh; Copenhagen and of course various travels throughout Ireland.
I came back to Springfield in October and now it’s been nearly a year since I’ve stepped foot in an airport. The furthest south I’ve been is Branson; the furthest north, KC; furthest west, Leawood in Kansas. I know I’ve been blessed; not many kids from middle-class families whose parents have struggled over the years can see what I did.
But I know I’m not done travelling. Whether it’s in four months, six months, a year, five years or 10, I’ll definitely pull out my passport again and hop back on a plane.
After all, I was born with an insatiable appetite for adventure that still longs to see Napoli, Greece, Egypt, Australia and Vienna.
And, of course, that Emerald Isle now owns my soul.
Guess what, Melanie Martin? I’ve seen more places than you ever did.
And, unlike you, I never lost my luggage.
Well, not to the point of never getting it back, anyway.