Overpriced organic fruit & nut bar from airport terminal
Ergonomic travel pillow
Phone with astronomical roaming charges
Sketchbook (knockoff Moleskine)
Assortment of pens and pencils
Old version of myself
As soon as I see the blond girl bouncing down the aisle, I know she's heading for the empty seat beside me. It's just my luck. A woman in a floppy hat already fills the window seat. After three minutes of laboring at a sudoku puzzle, she starts to snore--even though our plane's still at the gate of LAX.
The girl tosses herself into the seat with a gusty sigh that practically rattles the double-plated windows. She's wearing a stretched-out sweater and drawstring pants, her dark blond hair in a sloppy pile on top of her head. Her fingers are covered with wooden rings.
I'm wearing quick-dry khaki capris, a crispy Windbreaker, and hiking shoes that make my feet feel like Clydesdale hooves. They're brand-new. Like my too-short haircut and my purple suitcase, along with everything in it.
I'm pretty sure the woman in the window seat is wearing a tent.
"So where you headed?" the girl asks, wedging her skinny knees against the seat in front of her. I shut my sketchbook and slip it between my legs.
"Guatemala," I reply, "same as you."
"Well, obviously. But where in Guatemala, exactly?"
"All over the place."
I grasp for a name and come up with nothing. I never read the itinerary for my Global Vagabonds group tour. "I don't really travel with a set plan. It's too restricting."
She raises her eyebrows. "Is that right?"
Once I start, I can't stop. "I've found it's the best way to travel. Heading to whatever place intrigues me, you know? If I feel like sunbathing, I go to the beach. If I'm hungry for culture, I hike a Mayan ruin. I'm a photographer, really."
What I am is full of shit. My mom gave me the camera for my birthday last month, with a warning not to tell my dad. Just like the stack of art books my dad slipped me last year, when I was preparing my portfolio for the art school I'm not attending. I think their secret presents make them feel like they're each gleefully undermining the other in their endless uncivil war. At least I get consolation prizes.
"You're a photographer?" The girl's blue eyes widen. "How old are you?"
"You must be really talented."
It's the really that gets me. She doesn't believe me. And why should she? It's not like I look particularly well traveled. Or talented. Whatever that looks like. My Windbreaker makes crunching noises as I shift away. I should have brought a better jacket, something funky and artsy. But even in the days I considered myself an artist, I never had the guts to dress the part.
Plus, the Windbreaker was on my Global Vagabonds Packing List:
1) photocopy of passport
2) under-clothes money belt
3) crispy Windbreaker the color of gutter water
And like always, I followed the rules.
Just when I'm about to implode with embarrassment, the woman in the window seat taps my shoulder. "I couldn't help overhearing," she says. "I'm traveling in a big group. I could never travel like you do. I think you're so brave."
I grin. "Thanks! It's no big deal . . . I just know how to take care of myself."
I think I sound pretty convincing.
It all began with a stupid question:
Are You a Global Vagabond?
The cashier at the sporting goods shop jammed the pamphlet into my bag, like a receipt or a coupon for a discount oil change, something easily discarded. But to me, it seemed like an omen, appearing the exact moment my resolve started to crumble.
Blame my wilting willpower on my best friends, Olivia Luster and Reese Kinjo. They've never agreed on anything--except backing out on our trip.
The trip had been my idea in the first place. We'd chosen Europe, the obvious choice for eighteen-year-old travel virgins fresh out of high school. But after just a couple weeks of emailed images of the Louvre and La Rambla, links to online travel guides and airfare deals, Olivia and Reese dropped by my house. They never hang out together, so instantly, I knew something was up.
"We've decided we can't travel with you this summer," Olivia said. "The timing's just not right--we're sorry."
I sat on my bedroom floor involuntarily, like someone had snipped my marionette strings.
"Look, Bria--we're not trying to be assholes," she continued while Reese's nonconfrontational eyes scanned my ceiling. "We're only thinking of you. You're just not in the right headspace for traveling. Remember what happened on your birthday last week?"
"Yeah, I remember," I said, annoyed. "You almost fell off the balcony flashing half of Tijuana in the hot body contest--"
"I'm talking about the fifty billion kamikazes you threw back before puking in the taxi on our way home. You're lucky we didn't get into worse trouble than that. What if it happened in Czechoslovenia?"
"There's no such place as Czechoslovenia."
Reese, who hadn't gone to Mexico and probably never will, squatted beside me. "We just don't think you're in the right headspace to take a trip, Bria," she said in that amateur philosopher's voice that makes my eyes spiral. "You and Toby have been broken up for, like, six weeks, and you've barely left the house. You didn't even go to prom. You're obviously still healing--running away isn't going to expedite the process."
"You guys don't get it," I protested. "I need this . . ."
They waited, but I couldn't continue.
"We're really sorry, babe," Olivia said. "We'll have an epic summer right here in town, all right? I'll find you a new boy before college--or several. Remember, no strings!"
Reese waited for Olivia to leave, then gave me one of her feeble, girlish hugs. "Maybe we'll travel next summer. After a year of college, we'll have so much more perspective for a trip like this, anyway." A piece of her black hair fell into my open mouth.
As soon as my bedroom door shut, I noticed the plate of raspberry bars on my nightstand. A typical Reese Kinjo gesture: reconciliation by fresh-baked goods. I've known her since second grade, Olivia since eighth. They're like the opposite poles of my personality. Mild-mannered, responsible Reese is who I used to be, while in-your-face Olivia's who I want to be--with a few sharp edges dulled. We've never been a threesome. More like two twosomes, with me in common. I should have realized the three of us traveling together would have been uncomfortable, to say the least. And spending boatloads of money to serve as a pal's crying shoulder is a lot to ask. But why couldn't we have figured that out earlier?
I guess it's good they never learned my real motivation for heading abroad.
Excerpted from Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard. Copyright © 2012 by Kirsten Hubbard. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.