how growing up in a family of outdoorsy camping nerds fostered my love of international travel

In retrospect, the realization that my parents were travelers at heart should not have surprised me… my siblings and I were all named after beautiful places (Kenai is an Alaskan peninsula).

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I grew up in a family that loved anything related to the outdoors. I have many memories of sliding down a giant plastic fish at REI, or messing with bike horns while my dad shopped for gear and talked shop with the guys at the store. Many a childhood weekend was spent either bringing my mom coffee and playing at a park after she finished her long run, or spending hours “geocaching” (google it) in odd places.

Of course, as any good outdoor family is known to do, we also spend a large amount of our family free time going on camping trips.

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We camped all over the Pacific Northwest, from the sand dunes of coastal Oregon as far inland as Wyoming. The names of many of the places we visited blur together in my memory, as do the places themselves. When I was little all I was really aware of was the climate of the places we were heading towards. For mountains I knew it was going to be cold and wet and we’d go hiking a lot, and I knew the beach meant lots of sunscreen and seaweed (salt water taffy, too, if I got lucky and we stayed somewhere small and vaguely touristy).

In addition to our frequent camping trips, we traveled a bit for my parents’ athletic endeavors (San Diego for the Rock n Roll marathon, a tiny town in Idaho for a marathon with so few participants they hand-made the medals, Canada for the Ironman triathlon), and headed to the Methow Valley several times every year.

By the time I reached middle school, my younger siblings and I had seen an astonishing amount of nature in the US. We had gone on walks on Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker and probably some other mountains I can’t remember. We had visited the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, accidentally got stuck in a herd of bison at Yellowstone National Park, stayed in a yurt, a million tents and eventually a tent trailer when my little brother was born.

Basically, I grew up travelling constantly.

Here’s the funny thing: until recently, I didn’t even realize it.

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When I hit a certain age (ahem, puberty) I became a complete pain-in-the-butt whenever I “had” to go camping. I complained all the time about how much I hated staying in tents, why couldn’t we stay in a hotel for once? and how I really wish we would actually go somewhere exciting, instead of just looking at more “stupid” trees.

My parents tried to accommodate my desires by doing things like tacking a day in San Francisco onto our trip through the Redwoods, but the truth was we didn’t have the kind of money that would enable them to fly us to Paris or Milan, the places I really wanted to be.

It didn’t help that at the time I was beginning to harbor dreams of becoming a fashion magazine editor in New York City, and was aspiring to the jet-setting lifestyle of my idols. Camping definitely didn’t fit into the image I was trying to adopt.

This was my usual camping expression at this point…

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As much as I may have outwardly seemed miserable, part of me was always able to appreciate the places we went, the fun we had, the things we saw. In retrospect, what an amazing way to grow up. I can’t believe my parents were willing to spend years doing this for so many years with three young kids, and eventually three pre-teens and a newborn.

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As I’ve grown older and toppled into this wanderlust-filled lifestyle (my travel plans for 2018 are super exciting, stay tuned!), I’ve begun to think more about how I came to be this way. I was actually on a walk and smelled something that reminded me of campfire smoke while I was thinking about this, which is when a whole load of memories came flooding back to me, things I’d never considered because I had decided I was the kind of person who “didn’t like camping”.

I remembered making s’mores in a million different places, under dusky grey skies and in chilly forested campgrounds where I would have to inch from the warmth of my sleeping back out into the cold with a flashlight, clenching my mother’s hand, just to pee.

I remembered looking up and seeing so many stars it seemed impossible, tucking my flashlight away for a moment so I could see every last one as they blanketed the pitch-dark sky.

I remembered the morning sounds of my parents frying sausage on the camp stove, pushing open the tent flaps or crashing through the rickety door of our tent-trailer into the dewy morning to receive a cup of hot chocolate in a bright yellow plastic mug.

I could still feel the trails beneath my feet, hear the wind in my ears as my mom and I ran across the bluff trails in Humboldt, California, which led me down a long path of similar memories… that one run in the middle of nowhere that led us onto some old and sketchy train tracks, when some guy hollered at us from a truck… those endless hills that led to a beautiful lighthouse. Running barefoot along the edge of the ocean, running through forests and alongside scenic roads…

I started remembering other, arbitrary things- the sounds of jets from air shows we hit up on the road, the time my sisters and I thought it would be fun to jump in the ocean at Haystack Rock, get soaking wet, then roll around so sand stuck to every inch of our bodies. I can still recall my parents’ looks as we ran up to them, screaming “sand monster!” while they tried not to think about how much sand we were about to track into the tent (we were still finding sand in odd places three days later).

I could go on and on about the memories I have of growing up hugging trees, naming rocks and giving them names before bringing them along on hikes as “pets”, piling in the car at the end of the day just to speed off towards a better view of the sunset…

But the point is that it made me realize how much my parents actually set me up with my love of traveling and exploring.

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Every instance of frustration with dirt, lack of hygiene, limited food availability, being tired or hungry or I don’t even know what else I found to complain about… All of it gave me the skills and personality to benefit my travel adventures today.

Because of my lifetime of camping and road trips, I am able to adapt to new situations, roll with the flow, whatever happens.

Because it’s how I grew up, I prefer to spend my time exploring, seeking new experiences, looking out at the world and then jumping into it.

I still prefer to hang out in bigger cities, but I’m comfortable roughing it. I know how to travel and enjoy it on a budget, which has enabled me to get out and go more places than if I had to spend half my monthly salary on one week in a hotel room.

It may seem obvious to some, but this was a revelation for me.

I had made myself into the person who hated camping.

Who knew it would have the greatest hand in shaping the person- the traveler, the explorer, the adventuress- I would become?

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Just some things to think about, and some beautiful memories I wanted to share.

How did you become a traveler?

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