Day after tomorrow my calendar has an appointment named “flight to Paris.” I’m not actually going to stay in Paris long, just touch down long enough to clear customs and get on another plane. Yet part of my brain sings “I’m going to Paris.”
I first dreamed of a trip to Europe when I was sixteen years old. I’d heard of some summer-long teen ambassador program which pitched itself as a hugely educational connection between teens from other countries. I dragged my dad with me to a meeting, where he worried about supervision and I was discouraged by the hefty price tag. Life intervened, I didn’t have the resources to come up with that money, so I didn’t go. (Though I did get to do a week-long school trip to Washington DC a year later for a much smaller price tag and supervised by people who were familiar to us.)
I next made plans to go to Europe as a sophomore in college. There were semester abroad programs. I researched and intended to take out a loan to go. Ultimately I chose fiscal responsibility over an exciting trip. Which turned out to be a good thing because shortly after that I met Howard. We got engaged during the semester I would have been gone.
My third moment when Europe seemed possible was brief. Howard and I were discussing plans for our honeymoon. He pointed out that he had enough money for us to pick Europe if we wanted. Except I knew that money needed to carry through the rest of my schooling. It was the fund we planned to use to allow Howard to pursue a creative career instead of being tied to a job. We chose the long-haul dream over the fantastic trip. We picked the dream of family and stability over travel. At the moment of that decision, I knew I might be giving up Europe forever. I knew that we wanted kids and that having kids limited travel options. I knew that my life was changing, but I chose to set aside the idea of seeing Europe.
Fast forward twenty three years from those decisions made so long ago that they might as well have been made by another person. I don’t regret them. Yet somehow the musician I married turned into a cartoonist. And this small podcast he was invited to join got bigger than anyone expected. And then the podcast started hosting retreats and paying for instructors to come. And then one of those retreats was planned as a cruise tour of the Baltic sea. So instead of me making Europe happen out of determination and force of will, it has come to me of it’s own accord. And it has come in a way that I can afford without jeopardizing and of my longer-term, more-important dreams.
I get to fly to Paris, then Hamburg. I get to shuttle to Kiel where I’ll board a ship that stops in Copenhagen (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden), Tallinn (Estonia), and St. Petersburg (Russia). Then I fly home, touching down briefly to change planes in Amsterdam. At the end of ten days I’ll have added seven countries to the “places I’ve been” list. I’ll get to see their art, hear their languages, and tour both a viking ship and a Russian cold war submarine. I’m going to fill my head with new experiences, and then I get to return home to all my favorite dreams.
Excited isn’t quit the right word for how I feel about this trip. I’m too calm inside for “excited.” I feel anticipation, peace, curiosity, anxiety, and happiness. I get to go with the flow of a trip with scheduled travel and guided tours. For ten days I don’t have to be in charge of everything, I get to be a passenger. I get to make choices based on my feelings of the moment instead of the requirements of my responsibilities. And I get to be on a ship. I’m surprised at how much I long to be on a ship again.
Tomorrow is the day of last minute preparations, Wednesday I depart.