Nicole’s Travel Origin Story

Nicole on the Great Wall of China

My family were campers and road-trippers. We stuck to our beautiful state of Oregon, venturing out of our Douglas fir bubble when I was seven to take our turn at Disneyland. I’m not sure which one of my parents threw up their hands at that decision (someone, probably me, had yammered about it nonstop), but we loaded the orange VW camper and drove to California.

I can’t say how much planning, if any, took place for this grand adventure. I recall a number of torn and not-too-helpful road maps, a lot of crossed fingers, late-night pull-ins to California camp grounds, tired whispers from my parents and stops at every VIP’s restaurant in the entire state. It felt like we were just going . . . south. And it took forever. Mom wanted to break for every fruit stand and roadside attraction. And people, we did. Somehow, my brother and I found ways to cope by reading (thinking about it makes me queasy), playing SlugBug (still have scars), and driving my father insane with every variation of “Are we there yet?” At times it felt like my parents had kidnapped me. I had one goal—Mickey Freaking Mouse. What were all these other nonsense things we were stopping for?

My first memory is of hitting Redding at 110°F with no air conditioning. I believe that was also the camper’s first-of-many flat tires—dad covered in sweat and grit and barking out swears.

Another breakdown happened as we came around the highway off ramp before Disneyland. Oh so close. A state trooper got us a tow to the VW dealership where we spent the night so we could be the first vehicle out the door the following morning. It was a weird place in what felt like nowhere. There were bugs and a truck stop diner straight out of the 50’s. I woke to a mechanic knocking on the camper’s window. Luckily, he got the VW running and we were on our merry way so I could barf on the tea cup ride.

There are memory bits of Fisherman’s Wharf, Shamu, a wax museum, and a brief run to Tijuana, where mom kept saying we should not drink the water. I still have the blanket she bought from a vendor who chased us back to the border. I also have a vague recollection that when we got back to Oregon and had our house in sight, my parents abruptly turned the camper around and headed us to Reno.

In high school, I had the opportunity to apply for a scholarship for a Summer Abroad program—three months in Germany with a host family. It was the first time I had taken control of the direction of my own life. Me at the helm. I was terrified. I was thrilled. I had to get a passport. I had never been on a plane. I had never been east of the Cascade Range or west of the Pacific Ocean.

“This is New York. They will hit you.” A man told me at a crosswalk outside JFK. Then he kindly helped me get my enormous suitcases (three gi-gundus brand new Samsonite suitcases—no wheels—and a backpack) onto the bus. Our conflagration of teenagers congregated overnight to be sorted by destination and off we flew the next day. My little Germany-bound group acclimated in Cologne before we were picked up by our host families.

Everything was different. Everything smelled different and looked different and sounded different and tasted different. My terror at not understanding anything or anyone was allayed somewhat when I heard myself saying hello, please, thank you and a smattering of other words in German. Here I was, a little raindrop from Oregon, in Europe!

My host family was wonderful and I was immersed. I remember lying in bed one night after madly studying vocabulary words for the next day and thinking, I will go to college. I will travel the world.

The wanderlust instilled in me by my parents is stronger than ever and my wide-eyed yearning for knowledge and experience and connection has never changed.

I went on to do another study-abroad in China, painting workshops in France, diving excursions in Thailand, and finally met Jeff—my soulmate and greatest travel companion. We’ve had so many adventures together. I can’t wait for the next one.

Nicole on the Great Wall of China
Nicole painting in France
Nicole in Thailand

What’s your travel origin story?