As my 30th birthday lingered in the forefront of my mind, I dealt with it as well as I know how to deal with anything else daunting: completely immerse myself in something else and hope that I’ll be so distracted that I won’t think of it.
And oddly enough I was fairly successful at that. I worked a 12 day stretch, keeping myself a stupid level of busy and exhausted so I could pass out each night only to start all over again.
On day 12, I swung by the airport at midnight to pick up my cousin, Tonya, who was kind enough to fly in from Omaha and distract me during the final few days before I entered a new decade.
One of my favorite things in life is the anticipation of someone greeting you through the gate at the airport after a long journey. Seeing the warm faces of people who I love and who I’m excited to be reunited with is almost overwhelming to me.
But Tonya and I have a long history of cousin camaraderie. I went to visit her multiple times when she and her family lived in Greece, and when she moved to England I made it a point to always drop in when I was traveling through–and she and her family take me in routinely with little to no notice.
So from eating at the best little mom and pop restaurants on Crete, to hiking miles through goat carcasses in old monastery grounds in Greece, to going to watch the Olympics in London, she’s set the bar pretty high for cool travel adventures.
I was nervous about what I had to offer here in Seattle. Could I play local guide as well as she had? I doubted it, but I knew we would have a good time simply enjoying each other’s company.
I was thrilled to see her walk through the gates, greeted her with a massive hug, and we trekked back to my apartment to catch some shut eye before cramming all we could into two days.
I don’t get to play tourist here enough, and I always find it encouraging to see Seattle through other people’s eyes. Even though she landed here for two rainy, shitty days of Seattle weather, we made the most of it, hitting the Chihuly museum and then heading to see the Terracotta Warriors at the Pacific Science Center.
Tonya had been talking to me about how the warriors were in Seattle, and I, unaware of this fact before she mentioned it, was hesitant to go but figured I’d never even made it to the Pacific Science Center so it would be worth it.
We went through a temperature controlled butterfly garden where they explained to us that we were not allowed to touch the butterflies, but they were more than welcome to land on us. Oh, and we had to watch where we stepped because they like to hang out on the ground and we can’t kill them.
The amount of stress brought on by the fact that I know I’m enough of a klutz to be the one to kill an endangered butterfly made me incredibly nervous, which was only amplified by a little girl running by and saying “Don’t step on the butterflies anybody!”
“I know! I know, alright?” I wanted to yell. But I kept it in and just watched my feet every time I moved, determined not to be the one to crush one of the beautiful creatures.
I watched them fly by, and thought to myself that my natural reaction when a bug lands on me would be to smack and kill it, so I would have to really practice a lot more restraint so I didn’t accidentally murder one of the things in front of a room full of children should it land on me.
Then I saw one fly down and land on a girl’s face. I knew I would have freaked out and wouldn’t have let it just hang out like she was doing. Better her than me.
As we prepared to exit, an employee near the door checked all of us for butterflies so we didn’t leave with one on our person. I saw a butterfly on the ground and made the comment that it was just chilling there.
“I think that one may be more than chilling. I think it’s seen its final days,” he said.
I looked back down, glad I hadn’t been the one to murder it, and glanced back at him, shocked at how nonchalant he was about the whole thing after all the warnings we had gotten. I checked myself in front of the mirror for any lingering butterflies, and then my cousin and I headed toward the Terracotta Warrior exhibit.
I never know what I’m going to think before I go into a museum exhibit, but Tonya was amped about this one and I trusted her judgement. Little did I know this would be the best decision we made her entire trip.
I was drawn into the story about the first emperor of China and his Terracotta army and his tomb that is yet to be uncovered. The detail to the warriors was amazing. And the story was like something out of Indiana Jones. A real life mystery about his tomb that will never be excavated in my lifetime.
But it lit a fire under me.
“Great. Now we have to go visit China,” I said to Tonya in passing. I knew if I planted the seed now, she would be the one to go see the full Terracotta Warrior army with me. It might just take a bit more planning than I’m used to.
I always have this travel list going in my brain. The more I visit places though, that list tends to grow rather than dwindle down. And that was my main problem with turning 30.
What had I accomplished? I wasn’t settled down with a home base–in fact I flush an ungodly amount of money down the drain for an apartment every month. I still do contract work, so I’m far from sorting out a career path. And I know I’d like to move again sometime in the next year.
But most of all, I made the decision when I was 17 to prioritize travel. And I’ve stuck by that. It’s an unconventional life, but it’s what I love. And I’ve traveled and lived more places that most people my age. There was this sense of turning 30 that made me feel like I should be toning that down a bit. But I decided then and there, with one of my favorite travel accomplices around, that I may as well give it another decade. Minimally. Probably a few more.
Age is but a number. Maybe I get tired earlier and sometimes if I sleep funny my body aches in weird ways the next day. But if anything, my travel list is multiplying, so I’d better stay on top of it while I still have it in me, which hopefully will be a long time.
I’m lucky enough to have a family and friends that support me in this endeavor. And Tonya was the perfect person to be there when I ushered in my new decade in the wee hours of the morning, as she is one of my favorite travel companions.
We said our goodbyes after what was a whirlwind trip with not enough time to catch up. But there never is. Maybe someday we will manage to live closer to one another, but until then, it’s good to have someone who will venture out to visit me as well as let me crash with them at a moments notice.