They were the times before mandatory car seats and seatbelts, when a family could stuff a beat-up old station wagon to the gills then pile in and on whatever surfaces were leftover and hit the open road for a family summer vacation.
The safety laws now are a good thing, but I sure have a lot of sweet childhood memories lying on top of a stack of suitcases and coolers in the back of “Wanda the Wonder Wagon” staring out the window as the world went by.
One such trip changed me forever.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’ll never forget that family vacation to California. We’d been on many road trips before, but this was going to be different.
We were venturing out of our home state. We were going to stay in hotels, not campgrounds or impose on shirt-tale relatives. We were going to eat in restaurants, not out of coolers. We were going to do activities that cost money including Disneyland, Universal Studios and SeaWorld, not hiking or fishing (though I do like those things). We were given twenty dollars of souvenir money to spend however we wanted. It was all I could do not to blow it all on candy at the first gas station we stopped at!
It was going to be the most epic vacation ever, and we’d earned it.
For 2 1/2 years our family cleaned a CPA office building once a week (twice during tax season) and saved every collective cent for this trip. As third kid, I got delegated to clean the coffee area, ashtrays, and the men’s bathroom while my older sisters vacuumed and empty garbage cans.
It was crappy work, and I swore I’d never marry an accountant as they seemed like the filthiest people on the planet to me, but it was all going to be worth it.
As we headed out, I assumed my favorite spot, sprawled across the suitcases in the wagon bed with my head against the angled back window creating a kind of IMAX theater effect. I soaked in the southern Utah landscape, then zonked out through Nevada.
When I woke up, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Two perfect rows of palm trees shot up on both sides of my 3D peripheral vision. They swayed gently below the azure SoCal sky in a salty sea breeze I could smell wafting through the car windows. To the right I could see ocean waves crashing on the beach and silhouettes of surfers riding through the sunset. To my left was a quaint beachside café, the patio seats brimming with people sipping tropical drinks and eating seafood.
In that moment, the little bubble I’d lived in burst wide open and I caught the bug: “wanderlust.” The German word meaning “a strong desire to travel” perfectly describes the sudden and deep yearning I had to explore every corner of the world.
Well, I didn’t marry a pilot as planned so I haven’t traveled as much as I’d like, but I have been blessed to see some of the world. Most recently, I got a last-minute opportunity to go to France and Italy.
You’re going to catch wanderlust.