Archived Opinion

Resurrecting – and passing on – my wanderlust

op travelIf I described my childhood, it may sound to some like I was raised by a band of gypsies. And while that wasn’t exactly the case, I had quite a unique early life that I didn’t fully appreciate until rather recently.

My parents were older in age when they had my sister and me. The doctors told them there was nothing they could do about their infertility, so my parents never expected my sister to come along after 13 years of marriage and then three years later, me. 

Both my mom and dad will say they were so excited to have us in their lives, there weren’t too many rules other than to be nice and take on life with gusto.

My grandmother’s anxiety resulted in my mother never being allowed to play sports or be involved in any extracurricular activities, so my sister and I were involved in a slew of afternoon classes including dance, piano, baton, musical theatre, and gymnastics. My mom wanted to make sure we had opportunities she may have missed out on. 

We traveled every weekend to one competition or another. TV dinners and late bedtimes were the norm. To my mom’s credit, when we were at our house, she cooked delicious Southern meals from scratch. My dad loved flea markets and haggling with local collectors so he would often come home with eccentric items like a wooden shoe stretcher or a fondue maker. 

They were teachers during the day and to earn extra money, my mom sold Avon and my dad was the night manager at the old Roses that once stood where Stein Mart on Merrimon Avenue is today. Hard work and endless energy have always been admirable qualities in both my parents. 

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My dad raised us on the classics. And by classics I mean vinyl. Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, George Jones and Merle Haggard were constantly crooning in our house, in the car, wherever. My mom was also a huge fan of Marty Robbins, but other than that she pretty much only listened to Elvis and Christmas music. I absolutely credit my dad for my lifelong love of and admiration for solid, talented musicians and distaste for obnoxious, flashy, fame-hungry bands. 

When we weren’t traveling for competitions, we traveled for fun. Before I was 18, I had been to New York City multiple times, various cities in California multiple times, Florida, all over South Carolina, Mexico, Europe and other places. Traveling at a young age resulted in a lifelong, insatiable hunger to see the world. It also gave me the confidence to travel on my own once I was in college and adulthood. 

When people travel at a young age, the world doesn’t seem like a big bad scary place. It seems like an endless playground full of euphoric swings and twisting slides and intricate games of hop-scotch. 

After backpacking multiple times in college, staying in hostels, jumping on and off planes, trains and automobiles, I finally slowed down to get married and have children. I could feel the wanderlust creeping in periodically but the thought of taking small, screaming children with diapers any further than three hours away sounded like the opposite of fun and relaxing. 

But now that the boys are seven and four, I’m starting to resurrect my love for traveling and my desire to see as many parts of the world as possible. Even as a very young traveler, I noticed the similarities among people, no matter the language, culture or geographical regions. 

People are people. No matter where you are, good people are good people and bad people are bad people. It comes from within. 

This time of year always makes me think of adventure. Perhaps it’s because summertime was when I traveled the most in my early life, in college and in young adulthood. Or perhaps it’s simply a beautiful time of year to travel. Whatever the reason, I know I’ve got to get back out there. There’s so much world to see, cuisine to taste, music to hear and histories to learn. 

But most importantly, I want my boys to grow up confident that they too can take on the world. While I love that their roots will be grounded in a beautiful place like Western North Carolina, I want them know and learn cultures and people away from here. I want them to be conscious of world affairs but not fearful of everything foreign. 

Only by traveling and experiencing life do I feel a person can realize that kindness and goodness really do exist in humanity. When you see it sprinkled here and there around the globe, you know that it’s safe, that it’s grounded, that it will be taught to younger generations of every culture and that there’s hope for a beautiful, more peaceful tomorrow. 

(Susanna Barbee lives in Haywood County and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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