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The Travel Philosophy of a Native North Dakotan

Maybe, as you read this vacation-themed issue of Appleton Monthly, you yourself are considering a getaway of some kind. Perhaps you saw a commercial for Southwest Airlines, with its suggestive “Wanna get away?” tagline, and thought, “How did they know?” It’s even conceivable that you’re actively in the process of escaping your own mundane daily existence, and that this issue is only reinforcing how soothing, how all-encompassingly cathartic, it can be to exhale loudly as you wake up in a bed that you’re paying someone else to reassemble.

Having grown up in the flat, frigid, generally featureless state of North Dakota, the pleasure of trip-taking was something that I came to understand innately, and for an obvious reason: anywhere we went, in any direction, was more enjoyable than home. By default, any time we breached our state borders was a vacation of a sort. Even North Dakota’s former tourism slogan -- “Follow in the Footsteps of Legends,” with advertisements starring Teddy Roosevelt, George Custer and Sitting Bull -- was instructive, since it subtly name-dropped icons that came to the state, poked around for a few months, and then promptly hit the bricks.

This underdog mentality made me something of a Pollyanna when it came to vacations, much to the delight of my cash-strapped, ever-resourceful parents. Visiting the hilarious-in-hindsight Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD? Best day ever. Picking peaches in Manitoba? Trip of a lifetime. And must I even mention the freaking Mall of freaking America? Don’t wake me, for I’ve died and gone to some sort of shoppers’ netherspace.

My adult version is still easy to please as travel is concerned, which is a pleasant way of saying that I’ve slept in more cars and eaten more gas-station burritos than I’m comfortable admitting to my financial planner. This lack of pretense during planning -- which my wife would probably call something more akin to “a total lack of foresight” -- makes me both an up-for-anything travel companion and a source of considerable frustration for anyone who happens to be along for the ride. But what does all of this mean for my future as a citizen of the world?

After marrying a Wisconsin girl, buying a Wisconsin home, and adopting a Wisconsin diet, it’s fair to say that I enjoy it here. Yet, I still believe in one philosophy that carries over from my time in a state whose greatest cultural export is, depending on who you ask, either Lawrence Welk (ed. note: Who on earth is Lawrence Welk?) or the film Fargo, which has almost no actual relation to North Dakota outside of its name.

The philosophy is this: the amount of joy you take from your vacation has less to do with where you’re going, and more to do with how exciting it is to escape where you’re from. For example, if you send a child who’s grown up in California to Disneyland, they’ll probably respond with some variation of, “Oh, great, more California.” But if you send a 33-year-old native North Dakotan to Disneyland on the exact same day, he’ll probably demand to wear an Aladdin outfit, sprint to the front of every line, eat too much cotton candy, and be crabby and needing a nap by supper. I have empirical evidence that this is true.

Fortunately, returning to Wisconsin in January isn’t quite as defeating as having a desolate winter hellscape waiting for me in North Dakota, so it would seem that I’ve reached an equilibrium of sorts: in Wisconsin, the benefit of taking a vacation isn’t negated by the crippling sadness of coming home.

And just in case I’m betraying by home and my blood, I still love you, North Dakota. It’s just that I loved leaving you so much more.

December 2016

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