Travel Fantasies, Work Realities and Impulsive Plane Ticket Purchases

Last week I found myself entrenched in 8 straight days of work. So I did what any rational, well-adjusted person would do—I bought plane tickets to Italy.

I got a new job. (You know, those things us writers and artists do for rent money.) It’s a good job and I wanted it bad. It’s a major step up from the place I’d been for the last two years, one of the foodier (yes, I just made that a word) restaurants in the East Bay, full of good vibes and positive people and no ex-boyfriends. But it’s put a hitch in the go!-go!-go! giddy-up of my travel plans. So, instead of reconciling the home versus travel conundrum stretched taut beneath the surface of nose-to-the-grindstone work days, I went for the fast and easy fix: late-night impulse buying. On Orbitz.

Timing is a funny thing. Three days before I was called in to stage, I was about to buy my tickets to Southeast Asia. Like seriously about to hit the “purchase” button. I’d been saving, had tracked down a friend in Hanoi, had plotted out a vague itinerary. But something told me to wait. This is notable because nothing ever tells me to wait, especially when it comes to travel. It persisted, like the even but firm voice of an old school teacher. Well, shit, I thought, I guess I’d better listen.

I told myself that my consolation, if I didn’t get the job, was that I’d buy those tickets. But I did get the job. And contrary to what some people still seem to think, waiting tables isn’t a no-brainer gig for ditzy cute girls, especially in the Bay Area. I received 20 pages of wine and liquor notes to memorize (read: spending all my time not actually at the job pouring over my flash cards—go ahead, ask me about the dominant Sicilian varietals, I dare you). Training at one location while phasing out of my last job, then training at another location while working my first shifts at the new spot—it added up to more work than I’d busted out in a couple years. I felt immersed in work, distant from my writing, and even more distant from travel.

It’s not, I’ve told myself, that I’m canceling my Southeast Asia trip, just postponing it a few months. The weather, I’ve consoled myself, will actually be better in the winter anyway. And in the meantime, I’ll head out on shorter jaunt to an amazing sounding street art festival in Italy. I’ve given myself three weeks, which means I’ll have roughly two weeks after the festival to cruise (literally) over to Montenegro, Albania, maybe even trek all the way to Istanbul if I get the gusto. For most people, I’ve reassured myself amid sheet-tossing attempts at sleep, this would be one of the epic trips of their lives. For me, it’s a tide-me-over until my real trip. That’s not bad.

But something doesn’t sit right. It’s either all an elaborate cop out, or else I’m exercising some degree of acceptance that feels entirely too mature.

On my first trip out of the country, I went to Buenos Aires. I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since. It’s been my ultimate goal, in various imaginings, to move there, live there. But there’s always some trip to come first, one more thing I’ve got to do. It’s been “next year” and “next year” and finally, it’s been five years and I’m nowhere closer to packing up and moving than I was when my plane took off from the Argentina earth.

I recently read Revolutionary Road, which completely rocked my world. In it, the main characters have this plan to move to Paris. It’s going to solve all their problems, set them free of the confines of 1950s suburban America. But the guy in the story just can’t break loose. He doesn’t have the guts, is a little too comfortable in the familiar misery. He accepts a good job, assures himself and his wife that Paris is merely postponed. Then everything falls to shit.

It’s not that my life is going to become Revolutionary Road. (Mostly because of modern-day divorce and abortion rights.) But there are some striking parallels, no? Maybe I don’t have it in me. Maybe I’m too attached to the comforts and predictabilities of home to break loose and do some serious long-term traveling. Maybe I’d gotten a little too close the last few months, working part-time and focusing on my writing and having some successes. Maybe I wanted a reason, an excuse, something to anchor me in the familiar. Maybe Buenos Aires will just be a little fantasy I harbor, in the reddest part of my heart, until the fire of it dims and it becomes one of those youthful fancies we raise a half-smile to. Maybe it’ll become that dream deferred.

Or it could be that I’m accepting my life—my real life. (You know, that thing that happens while we’re making other plans.) Barring some unforeseen stroke of overnight success, I won’t be supporting myself writing anytime soon. Best case scenario, I’ll be waiting tables for a least another few years, and better to do it at a solid, legit place that I really like instead of being unhappy in a place that’s steadily sliding downhill. I love travel, but this is as much of my life as the galavanting-around-the-planet part. Maybe it’s more.

At the end of every yoga class I go to, they ring the Tibetan singing bowls and read an inspirational quotation. (You know, that hippy shit you like to scoff at but find yourself contemplating later.) It’s cheesy as hell, but the one they’ve been on lately seems to be speaking to me, in that bang-you-over-the-head-with-symbolism way we like to think only happens in novels:

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

Damn yoga, damn good jobs, damn my own ideas of what my life should look like and be like and feel like. Buenos Aires or not; Southeast Asia or not; having a successful travel blog or supporting myself writing or just being a goddamn waitress for the rest of life. Either way, I’m still pretty happy, and still lucky as hell. And going to Italy to boot.

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16 Responses to “Travel Fantasies, Work Realities and Impulsive Plane Ticket Purchases”


  1. 1 Andi May 17, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Hi there, first time reader and commenter, came over from traveling-savage who I just discovered this past week. I kind of blogged about this briefly last week, I think travelers are always thinking about travel. And that traveling begets, or feeds more travel, it’s like a disease! One that most people are happy to have. But it is really hard to give up a “stable” life to do it all the time and I really admire those people who can. I think it is something that a lot of travelers struggle with. Love the line about waitressing in California, I think it’s true, similar to Europe where it’s viewed as a profession.

  2. 2 Lesley May 18, 2010 at 7:28 am

    It’s funny how we’re always thinking that we should be doing something else with our lives, no? Something “better.” But what if what we had now was actually pretty good, and it was just a matter of recognizing it, and enjoying it? You pretty much said this at the end of your post…

    I’ve kind of been going through the same thing — not in terms of getting a new job (congrats on that, by the way!) but in terms of wanting to do 1,000+one things and wondering if I’m ever going to achieve what I really want. I think these things take time — like YEARS, to find the job you’re really passionate about, to discover what you’re really passionate about, and then to figure out a way to fund your passions. The good news is that you already know yours (travel, writing) and I already know mine (writing, food). So we’re actually in a pretty good place. Yay for gratitude. 🙂

  3. 3 Nick May 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Sounds like you are actually pretty sorted, Lauren. Congrats on the new job! And, just so you know, I’ll be popping in to your new restaurant when I’m in SF at some yet-to-be-specified point of this year. And yes, I will be asking about dominant Sicilian varietals… but only coz I want to know if it actually means anything!

  4. 5 mickey May 18, 2010 at 7:59 am

    I am always impressed by the way you can stand outside yourself – be the articulate,witty observer of yourself – what is the deeper passion: traveling or writing?

  5. 6 Dianne May 18, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    Girlfriend it will go down as one of the biggest crimes of the century if someone doesnt just pay you to damn well write and explore the planet for us!

  6. 8 Keith May 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I think most people are secretly waiting for a perfect alignment of circumstances before they pull the trigger on whatever it is they’re shooting at. Perfection does not exist. The sooner we stop waiting for it the sooner we can make changes that impact our lives.

  7. 9 Paul May 19, 2010 at 11:53 pm

    Hey Lauren,
    Just found this site and I like your writing.
    This particular posts parallels many of the internal dialogues I had with myself for a few of years until I finally made the decision to break the habit – the fix being my comfortable life, my friends, my routine, my paycheck, my fear of the unknown, my… I could go on.

    It was almost a year ago when I made the decision to change the structure of my life. And that’s the point I want to make, you don’t have to make the decision to go right now, but to enable you to make the break you need to fix a point in the future when you will. “Tomorrow”, “soon”, “next month”, never come. They never came for me anyway. So I put the date as 5 months into the future when my working visa in Japan expired. So I lived some of the best 5 months in Japan working to the point when I left.

    For me, there was one thing that kept me from making that decision. Fear – of a few of things, but once I’d neutralised them, the rest was easy. Granted, not everybody’s circumstances are the same, but a fear you haven’t addressed yet might be the something that told you to wait. Perhaps.

    Anyway, this comment is turning into an article in itself and may not be entirely relevant anyways. Congrats and best of luck with the new job and keep up the writing. It’s great reading!

    Paul.

  8. 10 pam May 20, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I agree with Dianne!

  9. 11 Abbie May 20, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Italy? I’m jealous!

  10. 12 Ekua May 20, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Your Buenos Aires is my Salvador, Brazil. Almost four years after visiting it for the first time, the main thing that keeps me from going back is that there is sooo much more I want to see. That, and feeling like if I go back, I won’t want to leave. Which could keep me from seeing all those places…

    I feel like in the past couple years, I’ve gone from living a fairly unstable life to a fairly stable one. I don’t mind it and I’ve learned a lot from stability. I think it’s not so much about where you are and how long you’re there, it’s about what you’re doing and whether or not you’re living your life with passion. And with your travel and writing, I am pretty sure you are.

    One more thing… I’m big on doing things when the time is right. I’d actually wanted to go to SE Asia 5 or 6 months before I actually did, but it just didn’t feel right. And when I did go, I was ready for it.

  11. 13 Naomi May 23, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    You know, I checked out that festival’s website and….well, I think that’s a pretty awesome thing to get to while waiting on SE Asia 🙂

    Today, I came across this site, written by a woman who up and left her steady job and comfortable situation to travel, and this quote immediately jumped out at me:
    ‘You don’t need a safety net. You can figure this out. The idea of being out there, with nothing to catch you if everything goes wrong may make your stomach do little flips, but really, you’ll be just fine.’
    I think all of us (well, the travellers in us!) have our Buenos Aires, but just remembering the above and taking that first tiny step to get there is the hardest part.

    Also, not to sound like a huge creeper, but if you have red hair then I think I might have had dinner at your restaurant recently! And I might have lost an earring while at it, so if you find any strays, it might be mine 🙂

  12. 14 Ian [Eager Existence] May 24, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    I know exactly how you feel. I’m going through the same situation (other side of the world). I’ll keep an eye out for that book too.

  13. 15 chio June 29, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Lauren, I am a first time reader, I just had to comment on this.

    I am a well seasoned traveler (my dream is to be able to just do documentaries all around the world and not starve in the process!) and I know how much of a struggle it is to have money and available time at the same time to travel.

    I actually went for my Barcelona, which is your B.As, I have been living all around the shop the last 6 years sometimes struggling a lot, sometimes being really comfortable. I always go back to Barcelona as my home and I`m really happy I took the decision to live a crazy youth.
    I certainly will never looked back and think what would have happened.

    I`m from Mexico, and it took me 5 years to pay my family and friends a visit after I left, because I usually spend all my money traveling to other places, in my art education or trying to avoid the waiting tables issue. My mom really hates me, and I am happy!

    Enjoy your new job, get rich, go to S.E Asia and MOVE to B.As. Its a lovely city and there are jobs there too. You have to give it a try!!! The Bay Area is probably one of the best places to live in the US, but, it´s always going to be there. It wont make a difference if you miss it for a year or two.

    My boyfriend is a native english speaker, he made a TOEFL course for a month, (a month!!), in Ireland and he has so many job offers around the world that he cant decide where his highness wants to spend next year, with a pretty decent salary. It´s a great gift you guys have, the fact that everyone wants to learn english, maybe it would be a good way to survive in B.Aires?

    Just a suggestion. I`ve been where you are. Just take it a step at a time and don`t accept the reality that hasn`t even happened yet.


  1. 1 FAME Festival Pre-Coverage @ Hi Fructose « Lonely Girl Travels Trackback on July 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm
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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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