People tend to think that because I travel so much, I must be some confident, fearless girl who can handle anything life throws my way.
But I can tell you right now that I travel precisely because I am not those things.
For me, traveling isn’t about being fearless at all; it’s about feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. Because I’ve found that no matter how much hesitation I have before a trip, or how hard it is to drag my anxious ass onto that plane, I always end up thinking “thank God I did that.” Travel is my greatest teacher.
Every single time, I am reminded, almost immediately, why I do this whole “travel” thing in the first place; of the reward that travel never fails to give me: the more I expand my horizons in the outside world, the more deeply I come to understand my inner world.
Sometimes it’s terrifying. Sometimes it’s enlightening. Sometimes it’s both. But it’s a simple, shattering truth that I will never stop seeking.
This was both my first solo international trip, and my longest trip so far. These eight weeks tore me apart so many times, and in so many different ways, but somehow, in the end, I feel even more whole than I did before.
I couldn’t possibly summarize everything I learned, but I do want to share some of my biggest takeaways, because maybe it’s exactly the motivation someone else needs to push past their fear and get out there.
- Travel teaches you, whether you like it or not, that you can’t run from what’s trying to drown you. Your patterns will follow you, no matter where you are. Your bad habits and shadows will still come up, no matter where you are. And chances are they’ll come up even faster than usual, too, without all the distractions and routines of your everyday life. This is a unique opportunity…so listen hard, and make note of what follows you. Tend to it, before it turns from a whisper to a scream.
- You may meet certain people throughout your travels who make you feel like you’ve gone backwards, into some old version of yourself who you’ve since outgrown; one who’s naïve, insecure, and desperate for approval, no matter what the cost. Pay attention to this feeling—there’s a reason for it. It’s not that you’re in any way deficient; it’s that those are not your people.
Do not shape-shift, or throw away all that you’ve become to fit in with them just because you’re lonely. Stay firm in who you are, be patient, and keep looking until your find your people…because they’re out there, I promise. And the right ones won’t ask you to bend.
- You will, perhaps even for the first time in your entire life, be completely on your own schedule. No boss to answer to, no deadlines to meet, no loved ones to satisfy, no obligations to anyone…and that can be incredibly intimidating as much as it is freeing. It’s on your shoulders to make the most of this experience…which also means there’s no one else to blame if you don’t.
It will be tempting to latch onto others. To try to meld their experience into your own. To ease some of the burden, and try to create some form of certainty in the endless unknown that presents itself every single day. But when it comes down to it, no matter who you spend your time with, and for however long, this trip is yours and yours alone. You came here for a reason. Don’t lose sight of that…because it’s in that very place of uncertainty that you will grow the most.
- Whatever you do, stay open—to experiences, people, food, plans…all of it. Expectations and entitlements are what get you into trouble. As soon as you have an idea in mind of how you want things to go, it is almost guaranteed that things will go differently than that. Be flexible, and know that even the most stressful situations or the worst days you can possibly imagine all present an opportunity to learn—and more importantly, almost always a great story.
- Travel affords you the chance to see some pretty amazing sights, and those sights are a huge part of the fun. But the most meaningful moments are experienced, not captured…
Like staring out from the balcony on your very first night, just you and the city, taking in the beauty of the skyline and trying to grasp the magnitude of what you’ve just begun. Like swapping stories with a complete stranger on a 13-hour train ride, wondering, by the end, how you ever went a day without knowing each other.
Like late-night drives to the beach when neither of you can sleep, to look up at the stars, bury your feet in the sand, and talk about how sad it will be to leave all this behind. Like the local woman sitting next to you on the bus who doesn’t speak a word of your language, but has enough kindness to share her last few pieces of candy with you.
Like the deep friendships forged, even in the face of an unspoken understanding that the two of you will likely never see each other again. Like the constant reminders that nothing lasts forever, and that maybe nothing should. Like the constant hellos, and just as constant goodbyes, and the mystery of what happens in between.
The pictures you take will be invaluable, and you’ll love to look back on them. But don’t forget to put your phone away every now and then and just be. Because cliché as it sounds, all of this will be over before you know it. In my experience, the best memories are often the ones social media never sees.
- There will be high highs, low lows, and little in between. You will be busy most of the time, and exhausted much of the rest. But in those moments where you are neither, sadness has a way of creeping in. The kind of sadness that thrives in a travel environment, where everything is so transitory; where the intensity of each moment meets the understanding, in the big picture, of its insignificance. And it’s a resilient motherfucker—the kind that a phone call to a friend back home can’t quite fix, because beneath their comforting words lies the sobering truth that they’ll never quite get what you’re going through.
And it won’t feel like it at the time, but there is so much beauty to be found in that space.
- As with anything in life, the time will come for you to leave this adventure behind…to return to the land of work and routines and structure. And chances are, you won’t be ready. Boarding that first plane will feel almost like a small death; like a piece of you has been ripped out and left there.
But it doesn’t end there—home will feel different, too. You’ve been gone, but everything there has stayed the same…and you might even find that you don’t quite fit anymore. That in some subtle way, something has shifted, and it doesn’t feel as much like home as it used to.
This can be hard, and maybe it hurts. But be proud of this in-congruency. It is, at its core, only an expression of your growth. And of all the measures of success in this world, this, to me, will always be the greatest.
Also published on Medium.