By June 2005, the itch had grown unbearable. I could no longer look in the mirror or the eyes of my girlfriend and deny it any longer -- I was a junkie. My addiction was not for drugs, sex, adrenalin, or the typical gamut of vices, but for travel -- and not just travel, but full-blown expatriation. Cost meant nothing, nor danger, nor stability, nor the damage it caused to relationships with loved ones. The only thing that mattered or provided any joy in my life was chasing the dragon down roads less traveled. And yes, it made all the difference.
Thanks to the US government, I carried a golden ticket. Two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia had qualified me to teach English as a foreign language and added a formidable reference to my resume which opened the door to nearly any school in the developing world. Combined with the intense desire for many of these countries to westernize in business, trade, and technology, I was in hot demand, so long as I didn't mind working in quasi-legality. In fact, I preferred it. It intensified the rush.
But the heart of the addiction lay elsewhere -- no doubt partially in a host of psychological issues instilled in childhood by Québécois nuns, partially in the improved social status living abroad brought (known locally as "foreign fabulous"), partially in the increased access to exotic women, but far more in the power of the blank page.
At home, the pages of my life already seemed written -- go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house and car, have babies, die. But stepping through the West Gate in Canterbury, England during my first year abroad as a student at the University of Kent, the tale was mine to write. And I was determined to beat Chaucer at his game.
There was plenty of encouragement by compatriots. The Caledonian School in Prague alone, where I spent those final blissfully ignorant months preceding 9/11, employed at least a 100 other teachers like me -- some old, some young, some running, some settling, but nearly all feverishly embracing the most hedonistic aspects of Bohemia. Luckily, the Staropramen brewery was just across the street.
However, like any good addiction, it eventually smacks into a wall. Mine came while staring into the growling eyes of a guard dog in a farmer's field just outside of Koper, Slovenia. Having finally exhausted the financial good graces of friends and family, I came to the point where an empty stomach and empty bank account demanded thievery. Working up an alibi about being a professional photographer, I snapped a few pictures before quickly filling my backpack with several days' worth of grapes, persimmons, and medlars. Suddenly, there was barking.
Fast forward a few years, and I'd finally reached the absolute end of endurance in Istanbul. Lying on a humidity-soaked bed near Galata Tower, hacking up the contents of my lungs grown by the ever-spreading ceiling mold and picking at a red line of bedbug bites on my ankles and wrists with a curved Uzbek knife, I finally resolved to change direction.
In one of those remarkable twists of fate, the new editor of the Istanbul issue of Time Out magazine just so happened to go to high school with me in northern Vermont and assigned me an article. This led to many others and eventually a fellowship at Emerson College in Boston, where I earned a master's degree in writing. With that under my belt, I moved to the one place where the world comes would come to me -- New York City.
Today, the addiction remains, albeit mellowed by age and a greater desire for high thread counts. Fortunately, I'm able to satisfy it enough with both the intercultural access New York offers, but also in my work as a travel writer.
In this column, you'll find both the itch and scratch, whether it be reviews of the world's best restaurants, chronicles of my latest trips, coverage of cultural festivals, investigations of current travel-related events, interviews with specialists in the field, or simply meaningless tidbits you can throw around while chatting up your seatmate on the next flight to Bangkok.
Whatever the case, it's all part of the expat recovery room.