It wasn’t so long ago that I was the reader, not the writer, of travel stories.
Looking back. Looking forward.
At home, tired from a stressful day of work and scanning the pages of my favorite travel blogs, I was looking for the inspiration to carry on for another day, another week, another month and another year until it was my turn. Someday…
I imagined what life would be like when I was a full-time traveler.
In these mental journeys I was the star in a non-stop adventure, sitting in sun-soaked ancient plazas, wandering unknown streets, having wild romances with handsome and mysterious characters, swinging in hammocks and being transported to exotic locals by bus, train, boat, dog sled and camel. These thoughts gave my skin a tingle of exhilaration.
And here I am now, in my tenth month of traveling, and in fact sitting in a sun-soaked plaza. In beautiful Chania, I’ve had time to reflect on my situation. And I want to share some revelations I’ve had about what long-term solo travel really means.
Solo travel is sometimes lonely.
Solo anything is sometimes lonely. At my age, I am not immediately accepted by young backpackers, nor am I an obvious member of the traveling retiree set. Making inroads is sometimes a challenge. Fortunately for me, I like my own company and entertain myself easily. But like any modern monkey, I occasionally need to socialize and unless the universe intervenes in a spectacular way such as it did on the Camino or in South Korea or with Max and Hans, I am forced to push through my shyness in order to meet people. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, I am alone, which honestly is most of the time. Sometimes there is a melancholy sweetness to this, and sometimes not. Which leads me to the next revelation…
It all depends on me.
Never before have I so completely understood that my destiny is in my hands. It’s been true all along, but I did not see it. Who wants to really? Complete responsibility is a scary proposition. At home, it was so easy for me to unconsciously blame my lot (good or bad) on my boss, my partner, my upbringing, my money situation, my height, my sex, you name it. Traveling solo makes these excuses far less accessible.
Now, I build my castles or dig my pits every day anew. Every single day is my own creation. I see now that I am responsible for my everydayexperience in this life. This revelation, which has only broken through because there is nobody around to blame, is at once a true liberation and a heavy load.
If I am not happy, there are no fingers to point! If I am hungry (physically, mentally, spiritually), there is only me to fix that. If my body doesn’t feel good, I must be my own doctor, nurse and dietician. Last night I was a podiatrist. Tomorrow, I might be an accountant or a therapist.
Conversely, If I am having a perfect day, I can relish and roll in that like a pig in slop. “Look where I am!” I think to myself. “Look what I’ve done!” I create my reality. The pleasant and the not so pleasant.
My point is that the buck stops with me. This is a position of power that I have always had. We all have it. But until I started traveling alone, I never fully realized or claimed it. Now I know that I alone determine the quality of my life. It’s up to me.
It’s not always exciting. In fact, it’s sometimes boring.
Surprise, surprise! In between the highlights of my travels, there is a lot of mundane. Yes, I’m in an exotic location, but my laundry still has to get done, bills still have to be paid, relationships still have to be nurtured and maintained, emails answered, my stomach filled, my body cleaned and plans for my next destination made.
Sometimes, I don’t leave the confines of my room all day or the most exciting thing I do is go to the grocery store!
I have discovered that constant travel is tiring – arriving in a new place every few days as I did last year does not work for me. The logistics involved in moving around so fast take up half the time: “How do I get there? Where will I stay? What do I do once there?” And then upon arrival a good portion of time is spent figuring out how to maintain life i.e. where to get food, how to get money from baffling ATM machines, and how to get around.
I have discovered that traveling slowly is the key. With travel, less really is more. And less sometimes means a day in bed.
It’s not all carefree fun.
The path is not always so clear.
There is always the matter of “What next?”, a question that is as nagging as a sore tooth.
My life until this point was always calculated. Admittedly, my equations were often contorted and lengthy but in the end they summed up. There was a reason to my rhyme. I had an answer.
Now, by my own choosing, I am in an abyss filled only with faith – an ocean without a shore in sight. Like a bottle on a rough sea I do not know where I will land.
And that is sometimes terrifying.
I can soothe this sore, nagging question from time to time but like an ingrown toenail, it keeps coming back.
The fear is most often aroused by people I meet who ask me appropriate and innocent questions: “How long are you going to do this?” “When are you going home?” “Do you have a job at home?”
Each time I explain that I have no home, that I left my job and got rid of nearly all my belongings to pursue my dream, a lump of fear builds in my throat. I perceive worry in their eyes. I wonder if I have gone crazy but never got the memo. Really. I wonder.
Ten months ago, I flung myself off a cliff on faith that chasing my dream would lead me down a path that resulted in greater life satisfaction and a more defined sense of purpose.
I am in the story at the moment and so the big picture is not clear. But on the metaphorical branches of my life, which were dormant for many years, I now see blossoms where fruit might grow. With sun and rain and more nurturing, I wait for a ripening. I wait for answers but live in the now.
This is often not a comfortable place to be! Some days, fear gets the best of me and all I see is a bank account that gets smaller, a body that grows older, and a set of career skills that only grow more obsolete. And I worry: “What will become of me?”
Just like most people, I am sometimes flailing. That’s life no matter where you are. That can’t be escaped by travel, only by growth. And with growth comes more flailing, and so on and so on.
For now, I continue to do what I love. Writing this blog is one of those things.
It’s awesome and I wouldn’t change a thing.
After ten months, and eight countries, do I still like what I’m doing? Yes. I love it.
Traveling has taught me so much about the world and more about myself. Flinging myself off the cliff had to be done. I was living a passion-less life and that is not a life. Life is too short to carry on without passion.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller
I’ll take the daring adventure any day. How about you?