Imagine you’re really good at something that people struggle with. It makes you happy. You feel energised by this activity, even though many find it taxing and draining. You look forward to when you can do it again. If it were up to you, you’d do it every day. You fall in love with it a little bit more every time you do it. You can’t picture your life without it. It becomes a part of who you are.
Now imagine that something happens. Something happens that makes you afraid to do this activity. Instead of the joyful and successful feelings it brought you, it now brings dry mouth, nausea and shakiness. You dread the thing that you once loved. You loathe the parts of yourself that you gave to it.
I have always been a traveller. I never planned to stay in my hometown. Some people love the idea of ending up with someone who has known you since you were 15, I find that suffocating. By the time I was 15, I had already travelled outside of the United States 5 times – and not just to Canada or Mexico. I spent my freshman year in high school spring break in Australia, sophomore year winter break in Italy, junior year spring break in France and Spain. I kept a list of places I wanted to visit before I turned 25. I lived for the moment right before take-off when you know that the next time you touch the ground, you’ll be somewhere else.
And I’m good at travelling. I don’t need Xanax or alcohol to calm myself before a flight. I can pack for five days in a medium sized Longchamp bag – which I currently use as my daily handbag. I can sleep through a red eye, no problem (melatonin, an eye mask, earplugs and Evian facial spray). I can overcome a 5 hour time difference in 24 hours. I’m happiest when I’m planning to travel. I’m happiest when I’m overcoming jet lag. I’m happiest living out of a suitcase. If travel were free, you’d never see me again. I’m not the kind of person who wants to put down roots – I want to leave tendrils of myself somewhere to establish a base but I was born to roam the earth, collecting stamps on my passport and absorbing the world like a custard cream sops up tea.
But I’m afraid.
After April’s incident, I’m terrified. I learned that entry is a privilege, not a right. I learned what it feels like to be at the mercy of a government and to be treated like less than a person. And I never want to feel like that – so helpless and terrified and not in control – ever again. When I flew to Frankfurt this summer, I spent the entire flight awake – it was a red eye – and anxiously waiting to go through Passport Control. As a result, when we finally got to Frankfurt to change flights for Croatia, I had a raging migraine that took me all day to recover from (my migraines are crippling. They come on nowadays with very little warning and they are resistant to everything except for one prescription…which I just ran out of. When they stop responding to that, it’s the Imitrex pen for me). I then spent my holiday worrying about going back through Frankfurt and being stopped at Passport Control. And it’s not even just flying internationally, which I haven’t done since August. I panic when I’m dropping someone off at the airport. I panic when I fly domestic. I panic looking at my passport. I get so jealous of people I know who are travelling or plan to travel because they don’t understand how lucky they are that they just can without consequence or the crippling anxiety that they won’t be allowed into a country.
I was a great traveller. I was born under a wandering star, I’ve been here for too long and my feet are itchy (which makes me incredibly grumpy since I’m saving for grad school this autumn so it makes zero financial sense to move). I am craving Europe the way I crave Cheetos sometimes. And I am longing for the days when scanning my passport didn’t give me heart palpitations and when I could pop from country to country – when visiting my favourite place in the world wouldn’t require hundreds of dollars in visa applications. When travel made me feel completely free.