I’m a volunteer at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site in Hyde Park, NY. What I love most about being there is talking to people from all over the country, and the world. Today I met a woman visiting us from Maine. Her father had asked me about the other historic sites in our area, and he and I got to talking about where we’d been. She wheeled over to us and joined the conversation. Her father started talking about a trolley that took folks from Springfield, MA to the Berkshires. He casually said, “I don’t know how familiar you are with Massachusetts.”
“I lived in Boston for five years,” I said.
“Oh really? Why did you leave?” he asked.
“Because I thought I wanted to buy a house. So I moved in with mom and dad here and started saving only to realize I really didn’t want to own a house by myself.”
“Good for you,” his daughter responded. “I was 38 when I bought my house – there’s no rush.”
“I’ve moved every year since college, and I don’t really know where I want to settle yet – if at all – so I’m fine with renting right now. I might never buy something – I like the freedom of being able to just up and go,” I explained, though I knew I didn’t have to explain myself to her.
“How old are you?” she asked in a lower voice.
“Oh – plenty of time. Get out there, do it all while you can. I’m glad I did,” she said as she looked down at her legs in her wheelchair. “I spent two months driving across the country when I was younger,” she continued. “And thankfully he let me go,” she said, smiling at her father. I asked about her route. She lit up as she talked about her travels. “I met a lot of blue hairs who said they wished they had done the trip when they were my age.” She explained that she had no idea at that time that she’d end up in a wheelchair at this point in her life.
It was the “blue hairs” she mentioned that had inspired me to travel as well. When I first started working as a Park Ranger at Vanderbilt Mansion, the place was flooded each day with tour buses of senior citizens. Plenty of them would come up to me, in my uniform a mere eighteen years old, and say “Travel while you’re young! And especially when you have hardly any money! You can sleep anywhere and you’ll have a lot more fun!”
Since those wise words of wisdom, I’ve been to Europe twice – once all by myself. I’ve hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I took internships in places I’d never heard of just to experience living in another part of the country. I volunteered in Mississippi and realized how amazing our own country is, and how strikingly different it can be from north to south, east to mid-west to west.
So when I need a little pick-me-up, I don’t go out shopping. I volunteer at my local national park, and find I get a lot more than I give:)