I have a long list of things I would like to do and/or purchase if I ever miraculously won a multi-million-dollar lottery payout. I realize that this would require me to actually buy a lottery ticket, which I’ve never done, even when the frenzied masses are lined up outside of gas stations waiting to take their chance at a $300 million or $400 million jackpot. I’m not a gambler and don’t have the greatest luck when it comes to that kind of thing, so I liken buying a ticket to flushing my $1 bill down the toilet. But still, a girl can dream, right? The first thing I would do if I suddenly became a multi-millionaire is pay off any and all debt that I and my family members might have. My mom’s house would be paid off in full and she would receive more than enough money so that she could retire and do whatever the hell she wanted for the rest of her life. Trust me, she’s more than earned it. I’d also buy her that red VW bug she’s wanted for the last 10 years or so. My sister, who undoubtedly would be the voice of reason in my ear telling me to invest the money and live off the interest, would get that Lamborghini she’s always wanted and the one-story house of her dreams so she wouldn’t have to climb stairs every day that wear out her achy knees. My dad and step-mom would get an ocean-front villa on the tropical island of their choosing, although I would have to work to get my dad to accept it. I wouldn’t spend too much buying myself things. I’d like a nice house, but nothing too big or fancy; I’d buy enough Disney Vacation Club points to live in Disney World all year if I wanted to; and I’d be perfectly happy with a new Honda CR-Z (red, please!). I’d listen to my sister and invest (some of) the money, but a big chunk of my change would be used to travel.
My bucket list is made up mostly of traveling to various places throughout the world. My mom introduced me to the adventurous road trip when I was just a toddler playing “I spy” in the backseat of her brown Chevy clunker. My dad introduced me to traveling by plane when I was about 5 years old and we went to Florida for the first time. He also unwittingly sparked my love of Disney World with that trip, although neither of us realized it at the time. My sister and I were more content using the faucet we found in the hotel pool filling up the Mickey head balloons that my dad bought for us in the Magic Kingdom and playing with the giant water bombs as we swam. (Why there was a faucet in that pool, I’ll never know, but we put it to good use.) One of the benefits of having divorced parents was that we often got TWO vacations in one summer, with my mom taking us one place and my dad taking us to another. Thanks to them, I’ve been to 23 states and four countries outside of the U.S.
Some of my best childhood memories have come from those trips, including the time my mom took my sister, me, and a friend to New Orleans and Biloxi, MS. We spent one day of that vacation on the shores of the Gulf of Mississippi in Biloxi collecting seashells and building not a sand castle, but a huge sand stegosaurus. We wanted to bring the shells home as a souvenir from the trip, but they were salty and dirty and stunk to high heaven. My mom had the idea to put them in the bathtub in our hotel room and soak them overnight to clean them up. Little did we know that those shells were actually homes to dozens of hermit crabs, which we found crawling all over the bathroom after we were all woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of their claws tapping and scratching on the tub and tile floor. Needless to say, we didn’t bring home any shell souvenirs from that trip. When I was in middle school, my dad and step-mom took my sister and me out west to see the Grand Canyon. Admittedly, as a pre-teen I wasn’t all that interested in nature and the amazing wonder that is the Grand Canyon, so I didn’t pay as much attention on that vacation as I now realize I should have. One of my best memories is from that trip, though, when we picked up our rental car at the start of our voyage in Las Vegas. I don’t remember how my dad found the rental agency or why we ended up there, but it was a dump, to put it nicely. When they brought our car around, it was a putrid yellowish/brownish rattletrap that looked like it was held together with scotch tape and twisty ties. I think it was an Oldsmobile, but that’s not what the guy behind the counter called it. “You got the Old Gold One,” he proudly exclaimed. We all stared in disbelief at this hunk of junk that was going to be our mode of transportation across two more states for the next 10 days. For whatever reason, my dad decided to give it a try but we didn’t keep it very long before my dad was returning Old Gold One to Avon Rent-A-Car. He proceeded to find another rental agency that hooked us up with a nice luxury car. To this day, we still talk about the Old Gold One and laugh until we’re in tears.
I was incredibly fortunate to travel to France, Spain, and Andorra (a tiny little speck of a country in the Pyrenees Mountains) when I was in high school with several of my fellow students and friends from my French class. There also were several adults who came along for the journey, including one man who brought his elementary school-aged son. On one of the first days of the trip in Spain we stopped to see a beach that just so happened to be topless. I’ll never forget how quickly that dad swooped his hands down to cover the eyes of his curious son before whisking him away to our tour bus. The trip was a breathtaking, eye-opening experience (obviously in different ways for different members of our group) that changed my view on the world and the people living in it. There were hairy armpits and legs galore, lots of B.O., and just a few rude French natives (much fewer than I expected), but there were also magical corner cafes, walled medieval villages that still looked like fortresses, and winding mountain roads that our bus barely maneuvered through. I tried to soak in as much of the culture, history, and architecture as I could in those two weeks, but I know I only came home with a miniscule amount of everything Europe has to offer.
My favorite part of the trip was visiting the ancient and elaborate churches in France and Spain. I would stand there in the middle of these vast stone buildings, marveling at the details and wondering how in the world people constructed them so long ago without modern tools. I had countless memorable experiences on that trip: wandering through the bizarreness that was the Salvador Dali museum near Barcelona; walking into a public restroom in France only to find it was nothing more than a concrete bunker with a hole in the floor and a handle on the wall (I gladly shelled out a few Francs to use the pay toilet that was nearby); listening to the Spaniards in Valencia say everything with a lisp (Welcome to Valenthia!); getting elbowed in the ribs by a Japanese tourist as I tried to take a photo of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre; ordering what I thought was a sandwich from a Spanish vendor who spoke no English, and receiving a large plate of peas dotted with small pieces of ham; the day we were on our own in Paris when I and one of my classmates went with a small group to see Versailles, and the two of us navigated our way through the Metro to make the 45-minute trip, only to find when we got there that the palace was closed that day because the workers had gone on strike; walking through the gardens at Giverny that inspired so many of Claude Monet’s paintings; and the night the students left the accompanying adults behind and went with our tour guide, Virginie, to a French discotheque, where coincidentally almost all of the music they played was American. The whole thing was fantastic. When it was all over, I was happy to be home, but ready to go back again and see even more.
It would probably be easier to list the places on this earth that I don’t want to visit than it would be to list the places I hope to travel to someday. I think I can cross Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea off the list, at least for now. I’m open to exploring just about everywhere else, though. Seeing more of the United States is at the top of my list, especially the eastern half of the country. I’m a history nut, especially if it deals with the U.S. Civil War or the American Revolution, so I’d love to see Gettysburg, PA; Richmond, VA, where I understand some dedicated rebels still fly the Confederate flag (Hey, Johnny Reb, I hate to break the bad news to you, but the war’s over…and you lost.); Boston, MA; and I want to go back to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. to see everything I missed the first time. I’d also love to see as much of the rest of the world as I can. I want to see everything in Europe, so I’ll just put the entire continent on my travel itinerary. I’d love to go to Egypt and see the Great Pyramids and the Nile River; on a safari in South Africa, Tanzania, or Kenya; the rainforests of South America; the Galapagos Islands; Japan; China; Tahiti, Fiji, and other South Pacific islands; and Australia. Suffice it to say I want to go just about everywhere. My own personal corner of the world is pretty small, and there’s so much out there to see and experience. Unfortunately, my list of places to visit is much more plentiful than the money in my bank account, though, so for now I’ll have to stick to watching the Travel Channel. But maybe one day. I guess I better start buying some lottery tickets!