The travel bug

I grew up in a typical middle-class household in the suburbs of Boston and were it not for a quirk of fate, my vacation experiences would have consisted solely of drivable family trips to Cape Cod, New Hampshire, and Maine, with a once-in-a-childhood trip—on a plane, no less—to Disney World.

But what set my family apart from those of my friends was that my stepdad worked for the Federal Deposition Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the curiously-named U.S. government agency tasked with insuring bank deposits. And because of his work-related training requirements, we spent two summers in Washington D.C.

I’m not sure what my brother and sister took away from those trips. We visited all the sights, of course, and we took driving trips to places like Luray Caverns and Virginia Beach. We even saw the Beach Boys perform on the Washington Mall before the 4th of July fireworks from the roof of a federal building one summer. But to me, the star of the show was Washington D.C., the city itself.

On the second of those summer trips, I was old enough to go into D.C. myself on foot. That year we were staying in a hotel in Alexandria, so I would walk from there across the Francis Scott Key Bridge into Georgetown and either explore that area or take the more arduous trek right into D.C. itself, where I could visit some of the best museums in the world for free.

Paul with family at a White House reception, 1983
Paul with family at a White House reception, 1983

It was on those solo walking visits into D.C. that I got the bug. The travel bug. The insatiable desire to explore new and different places, to extend my understanding of the world beyond the confines imposed by my unadventurous parents. Those D.C. trips were eye-opening in every way, but on a very basic level, they exposed me to the notion that there is an entire world out there occurring without my knowledge, and that much of it is beautiful and interesting.

In an odd coincidence, my birth father reached out to my mother shortly after that second D.C. trip and asked if he could meet me. My parents had divorced when I was three, which I knew, but he had remarried and had had three daughters, and they had moved out west in the late 1970s, first to Phoenix, Arizona, and then to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for work. Long story short, we did meet, and then I headed out to Albuquerque to meet my other family and explore the American Southwest.

Without getting into the pros and cons of discovering you have another family as a teenager, this experience opened me up to further worlds of which I’d never dreamed. My father was affluent, drove luxury cars, and had traveled all over the world, especially to Europe. Was, in other words, nothing at all like the family I had grown up with.

The Southwest, too, was fascinating, an alien world that I couldn’t get enough of. On my first trip there, my father drove me around the Four Corners area, visiting places like Durango and Mesa Verde, Colorado, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Green River in Utah, and of course various places in New Mexico like Acoma, Santa Fe, Taos, and the ghost towns north of Albuquerque. I couldn’t get enough and I returned again and again.

Paul in New Mexico, 1983
Paul in New Mexico, 1983

Looking back on these formative travel experiences, I now realize that I was developing patterns I’d repeat as an adult. When I found a place I liked, I wanted to visit it repeatedly, and I would do so whenever possible, seeing and learning more each time. And I could suddenly consider living in these places, too. Each destination was a potential home, and I analyzed each with that possibility in mind.

By the time I met Stephanie, I had lived in Albuquerque with my father’s family, first for a summer and then for a year, and I wanted to move out west after we got married. And we did so, three years later, moving to the Phoenix area after showing my wife each of the Four Corners states to determine if she liked any place enough to live there. Our son was born there five years after we moved.

Interestingly, my birth father had moved to London around the time Steph and I were married, and thanks to him paying for our flights and giving us a place to stay, we were able to visit London and various nearby places in England on one trip and then expand out to Ireland and Paris, France on a second. These were trips we could have never afforded otherwise at the time, and thus would never have even considered. But here again, I could feel the bug.

Paul and Stephanie in Paris, 1993
Paul and Stephanie in Paris, 1993

And yet another world had opened up to us. And while it would be several years before we returned to Europe—two kids and us moving back to the Boston area would happen in the meantime—once we did return, in 2003, we spent about a month there every year for the next 15+ years between summer home swaps and smaller trips with the kids or just the two of us.

Our experiences were almost universally positive, and we fell in love with Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Lisbon, especially, visiting each several times, especially Paris, a place I now know as well as Washington D.C. or any of the places we’ve actually lived. And thanks to us working from home for many years—I’ve been doing so since the mid-1990s—we had long looked forward to a future when we could split our time between two places. One international, of course, somewhere in Europe, probably, and one back home in the U.S.

That time is rapidly approaching: our son has finished college and our daughter is halfway done and is already spending her summers elsewhere. But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made travel to Europe difficult to impossible in 2021, we researched other trips that were more accessible at that time. And that’s when Mexico—more specifically, Mexico City—came up again and again. Not just as an interesting place to visit. But as a potential place to live.

We had never really considered Mexico, having visited some border towns and then Cancun, neither of which left a positive impression. And so the possibility of visiting and even living in Mexico came out of nowhere, a set of events about which we’ll write more later. But the short version is that we’ve now spent over two months in Mexico, most of it in Mexico City, in just the past year. We’ve spent much of our time in Mexico City scoping out different areas, reconnoitering, basically, to see if any felt like they would warrant more time, or made sense as a potential home, part-time at first.

By our third trip, in January 2022, we succumbed to a decision that we had thought might still be years away. We had fallen in love with the Roma Norte neighborhood. We wanted to keep spending time there. And we would, most likely via some series of Airbnb stays or perhaps longer-term rentals over time. But then, on the last day of that trip, we walked out of the Airbnb we were staying in at the time, walked around the corner, and unexpectedly found a home, scrambling whatever plans we had made to that point and instantly changing everything.

We’ll get to all that soon enough. But this is how it all started, with a love of travel, a seed that was planted at an early age. And it’s like we’ve been training for this moment ever since.

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