A week from today, we go to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday. Shouldn’t there be an exclamation point at the end of that sentence? It’s the City of Lights! Everyone keeps asking if I’m excited, and I am, but somewhere along the way, I lost the forest for the trees.
I used to travel differently. I went to Japan when I was 16, arriving with at a quiet train station on the outskirts of Sendai, where a chaperone dropped me off on the platform to meet my host family before quickly hopping back on the next train. The only English I heard for 7 weeks was Madonna singing “Like a Virgin” on the cassette I’d brought for my bright yellow Sony walkman.
In my 20’s, I flew alone from Bangkok to Cambodia where I wandered around a market until I found a van willing to take me on the 8 hour drive to meet my travel partner. On that trip, we crossed bridges made of 2x4s guarded by men with machine guns. Fortunately, a Cambodian teenager spoke some Japanese, so together we were able to cobble out a conversation when it was important, such as, “If you want to go to the bathroom, you should go now. In those bushes. We won’t stop again.”
In my 30’s, I drove cross country recreating a trip that my grandmother had taken in 1939. I relied on paper maps to find the tiny towns that she had visited, and sometimes I slept alone in my car.
Now, turning 40 and planning for Paris, I have walking tour apps and translation apps. I’m trying to figure out whether or not to get a European sim card. I’m anxious about leaving Hugh alone for 12 days. I’m pondering whether or not to buy travel cubes so my clothes won’t wrinkle. I downloaded Skype on my phone. I found where we are staying on Google Earth and then zoomed into street view, then took a walk down the block.
I don’t know if it’s me getting older, technology becoming more advanced and invasive, or becoming a mom, but somehow these elements have combined to turn me into a traveler I don’t recognize.
When people ask me what I plan to see in Paris and Italy, I tell them, it’s not the Mona Lisa, but the Amanda who used to let travel take her places.