One year ago today, I left Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a six-week trip to Italy. Seventeen weeks later, I returned.
I spent six months planning this trip and when I embarked, there were still gaps in my itinerary. That was okay. I had enough bookings for air travel and lodgings reserved to frame the overall itinerary; enough to soothe my natural anxiety about needing to have plans in advance.
Overall, I’m not a spontaneous person. Spontaneity has never worked out for me. The “let’s play it by ear” and “we’ll figure it out when the time comes” has always left me frustrated and sad. I end up alone or the plans become too expensive, or too complicated. Without plans, I have a tendency to do nothing, to simply stay home. Plans force me out of my comfortable little world. Plans propel me forward.
As the Scottish explorer William Hutchinson Murray famously said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.”[i] Plans make me commit.
And so it was with this trip. I HAD to go to Italy. Nothing was going to keep me from this adventure. Not a limited amount of funds, not unemployment, not even a world-wide health crisis.
When I left the United States, Italy had the highest rate of Covid-19 in all of Europe. But the cases were confined to the north. And I had no plans to go north. Despite my love of the humanities, despite all the admonishments that I simply must visit Florence and Venice, I had definitively decided I would stay South. I didn’t want to be a tourist. I didn’t need to see art or visit museums. I didn’t need a pilgrimage to the holy grails of history.
Rather, I wanted to experience Italy. I wanted to travel, to explore places I knew nothing about. I needed a transformational experience. And that couldn’t happen if I restrained myself to the safety of the typical Italian itinerary.
I also knew this trip had to happen exactly at the time I had planned for it. It had to be at the very beginning of March, 2020. I didn’t know why exactly—though I had several reasonable explanations to deter the endless questions from friends—I only knew that I felt this with an unshakeable certainty. This trip was an absolute necessity and it had to begin exactly when I had planned.
As it turned out, I was right. I could never have had the adventure I desired at any other time in history. My trip was transformative precisely because I trusted my instincts. I was present to a profound moment in history. I wasn’t watching it on TV from the comfort of my home, I was living it.
Of course, I didn’t know this until six days into my journey.
The hero’s journey always begins with a departure from the familiar. When we leave that which is comfortable behind. Sometimes this begins with a “call” – a voice inside telling us to go; an inner knowing urging us forward. Other times, we are kicked out. Something propels us out of our all-too familiar existence. We resist, wailing and screaming, as we bounce to the curb.
My journey included both. It began in 2019 when I was absolutely miserable in my job. Of course I have had jobs before where I wasn’t completely happy. Jobs where there was conflict or it didn’t feel like a great fit. But this job, well, this job was pure misery. I hated it. In theory, I should have loved it. I loved where I lived, I admired the institution where I worked, and I really liked my co-workers. But I was miserable. I was depressed. My body started rebelling. I cried constantly. There were days when I didn’t trust myself to drive. Something desperately needed to change. And it was in the midst of all this that I began planning my trip to Italy.
Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, after all, how we spend our lives.”
I remembered this quote at the height of my misery—as I sat sobbing and rocking in my discomfort—and decided this was not how I wanted to spend my life. This could not be my life.
But I didn’t trust the voice that told me what my life could be. What I could be. It scared me. I was a single woman in her fifties. Alone. Surrounded by so much love from friends, yes, that being alone didn’t bother me. In fact, for the most part, I truly relished my independence. But it weighed on me. I knew there were people who would take me in if something tragic happened but still… I was responsible for my life. I had to pay my bills. I had to feed myself. I had to work. There was no one else with which to share this burden. It was all up to me.
So while I couldn’t wrap my arms around the bigger possibility of a life that was waiting for me, I could at least see one thing: I needed a trip to Italy.
This is how my adventure began. With one 21” carry-on and one under-the-seat duffle bag, I left my home on March 3, 2020, and traveled to Italy.
What happened next, I could never have imagined, I could never have planned.
And therein lies the beauty.
My trip was a hero’s journey. What dragons did I slay? What boon did I capture?
Join me on my adventure and find out.
Follow me at https://findinghome.substack.com/. I will be revisiting my trip, one year later, through paid subscriber content ($6 a month, $46 for the year). I will dive into all the trials and fears, insights and surprises, that I didn’t reveal in previous posts during my stay. More than travel writing, I will explore home and the hero journey: calls to adventure, terrifying trials (including one recurring dark night of the soul), helpers along the way, and the inevitable return home. No sports, no fencing, no revenge, but plenty of monsters, torture, escapes, true love, and miracles. In other words, I’ll do my best to keep you awake.[ii] Please, I hope you’ll join me.
This is me at the airport and my original *planned* itinerary.