I have always had it in me, wanderlust. It's pretty much forever been my dream to explore the world through long-term travel.
Forget those short stolen twelve days of annual vacation allotted to working America (even though that's all the time I've had these past few years). No, that kind of travel is frenzied, restricting the majority of life to an unnatural cycle of constant want of more. I'm talking about the kind of long-term travel where you give up owning most things, leave behind a stable home, learn to live simply on a budget, and really see the world.
To leave home for a year just to travel somehow feels unattainable, like a piece of expensive art we'll admire but never buy. There's a broken record of reasons why not to interrupt life in order to go on such an adventure—no time, no money, a career. The list of unknowns is long and scary. Practicality holds most of us back. So does fear.
But really start to think about your life.
Understand that this is it.
Once you feel this, I mean really absorb and sit with the reality of it, it's clear there is only one thing to do: figure out how to live your dream.
I grew up with parents who loved exploring new things and who instilled that same curiosity within me. I remember my mom taking us on camping trips in Canada, or my dad bringing my sister and I along on business trips out west where we explored the Grand Canyon and the Goosenecks of the San Juan. We were not rich, my parents just loved travel and figured out a way to make it happen.
As I got older, I became interested in traveling internationally, something we didn't do much of as a family. After graduating college, I lived in Europe for two years doing odd jobs to support myself. My lifestyle then was simple and minimal. I consumed little, shared a tiny two room apartment in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, slept in an old 15th Century piccionaia or "pigeon loft" in Italy with birds and other critters, Couchsurfed, and wandered around meeting new people. I felt alive.
While living abroad, I fell in love with how simple everyday things became more complicated and thus more interesting. I told myself that there was time enough later to get a real job and settle down back home. I belonged there in that moment, despite my worries and fears of what would come next—how would I earn money? Wasn't I damaging my professional career with this delay? Even while I was learning so much, it felt like it couldn't last.
There were times when I felt terribly homesick; I was so very alone. I had a panic attack one day after a French family I was staying with accidentally locked me inside their apartment. Days would go by when I'd wander the streets of Paris, wishing for a companion. I thought I was lonely. In truth, I had found solitude.
Solitude is different from loneliness, an old friend used to tell me.
Solitude is finding peace, purpose, and happiness within the deafening silence of being in an unfamiliar place entirely alone.
Loneliness seems to have a more pathetic definition that verges on hopelessness or depression. For me being lonely embodied the fear that I'd fall into some terrible hole, disappear, and no one would notice for days.
But solitude meant that I’d found my place all alone on the streets of Paris, that I reveled in the silence with confidence, deliberation, and peace. I chose this vagabond life of scrapping by, and I was happy with that choice, I reminded myself on those down days. The wonder and adventure of living abroad was worth this discovery.
Then one day I finally got that real job back in the U.S. In Los Angeles I spent an average of two hours a day commuting to work even though I lived only nine miles away. It became normal to return home stressed and tired. But I was happy to be salaried with benefits, each month putting aside money for another trip.
The days dragged on, turning into years. I managed my vacation time and squeezed in travel whenever I could. After each trip though, I'd return to the office feeling a pull for more. Slowly, life seemed less glossy and more than mundane. I wasn't lonely, but I could no longer find solitude. I wasn't bored, daily life just lacked that extra intrigue. I was doing everything everyone else told me was the right thing to do.
I took a meditation class and practiced yoga. I wondered how the generation before me managed to keep the same desk job for decades. I felt spoiled; I thought I should be happier. I have so much in life that so many others don't, but somehow it didn't feel like enough. The wanderlust I still felt was simultaneously a curse and a joy.
I now understand why people say travel while you’re young because once you’re older, you won’t get the chance.
But it’s not that you won’t get the chance. It’s that it seems so much harder.
To leave it all behind—to give up your house, your paying job, your life—a thick ugly shadow of fear lies deep within such drastic change. With age you become increasingly stuck in a well-worn pattern. You have bills to pay, health insurance, a car, a family, retirement savings, taxes, pet chickens (well, maybe you don't, but I do). The real world doesn’t want you to leave the safety of cubicle land, for it is filled with security and comfort. It is also filled with endless limitations, real or imagined.
But you see, this is life. Everyone has this. It won’t ever get easier, and it won’t ever go away.
Back in the office routine carried on. Whenever I had real conversations with close friends about my future plans, I'd still say: all I really want to do with my life is to find the time and money to travel the world. I felt like a broken record on repeat. It seemed that day would never come.
But then one day, amidst the stress and clutter of normal life, everything suddenly changed.
I got laid off.
Believe it or not, it wasn't obvious to me at first what should come next. In fact, the initial weeks right after the slap-in-the-face shock were filled with frantic job searching and phone calls trying to figure out what to do. None of my fellow colleagues had any warning that such a jolt would hit us all. I guess this is how it goes in today's unforgiving "financially strapped" America of Corporations.
As the weeks passed, it dawned on me. I had been talking about really traveling for so long. Now was the time. This realization was exciting, but it came riddled with fear and apprehension, insecurity and doubt.
Today as I write this, I have been on the road for seven months. I have seen so much. It feels like a dream, this blessed reality. I still have fears and doubts about the future, but that's how it always goes. Failure to embrace what's become of the present would be forgetting all I've gone through to arrive here. And here is so beautiful.