False Starts and Other Excuses
I Want vs. I Will
The first time I felt compelled to travel longterm was back in college. My major had a study abroad partnership with a theater and film program in Dublin, Ireland, and I had always had a fascination with Celtic folklore (to the point that I seriously considered minoring in Medieval language and literature). However, studying abroad was not in the cards, or at least not in my financial aid package.
The second time I thought about traveling longterm was in graduate school. The University of Virginia was home to Semester at Sea, and there were a few classmates who studied international education opportunities and pursued opportunities abroad. But I decided against it, because I just wasn’t experienced enough.
In 2014, I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (you know what comes next, gag). I was going through a particularly hard time at that point in my life and decided that something needed to change. So I promised myself I’d either move to a different city or hike the Appalachian Trail in 2015. The deciding factor would be whether or not I could get a job offer by March. I got a job offer in Chicago in February.
I almost backed out of going to Southeast Asia too. All throughout 2017, it was just a hypothetical that I happened to tell other people about. “I’d like to do a long trip in Southeast Asia, maybe in 2019,” I would say. My internal deadline was before I turned 33 (that seems like a good general milestone at the moment, so why not?). But then a series of different things began happening. A new relationship. Involvement in new projects and activities. More responsibility at the full time job. My own place.
Other things started happening as well. Those friends who spent their 20s single were now in their 30s and starting to settle down. Those who were already married were now having kids. The artists I knew were either making it or turned in their side hustle lifestyle in for a steady 9 to 5.
In other words, I felt like I needed to shit or get off the pot.
Here’s the thing: The people who do longterm travel are typically still in their 20s. So I knew that the longer I waited, the less likely it would be that I would actually do it.
The most difficult part about making the decision was that my life felt pretty stable, and leaving meant choosing to disrupt that stability. While I’m not afraid of change, I tend to be passive when it comes to the details of making big decisions. I’ll do something, but I’ll let circumstances dictate what that something is. Uncertainty is fine, as long as I have an anchor (typically a job) holding me in place.
I haven’t left yet, but I’m already glad I decided to go on this trip.
Since I announced I was leaving, a few different things happened. My inspiration to write returned. Several random storytelling opportunities came to surface. A couple friends mentioned potential remote working opportunities for when I got back from traveling. And suddenly, I really wanted to take pictures again.
As I started packing and was reorganizing my external hard drives (apparently firewire hasn’t been a thing for several years, whoops), I noticed a distinct drop in the number of pictures I took beginning in 2012. Before then, I used to carry my camera around with me all the time. Take pictures of my friends, of random people on the street. Hop in my car and drive several hours just to capture new scenery. And then I stopped, because someone close to me made me feel like I wasn’t a good photographer unless I was making money from it, and I while I was making some money from it, I wasn’t necessarily making bank. But looking back, I was actually a really damn good photographer and I’m really mad at myself for letting someone else make me feel otherwise.
The quality of art shouldn’t be quantified with the amount of money you make. Success shouldn’t be determined by how you stack up in comparison to others. Their happiness doesn’t equal your happiness.
A Rant About America’s Fixation on Wealth
I read a blog post about Homelessness in the U.S. by Stacey from One Travels Far, which gives an interesting take on homelessness from an expat’s perspective, and what stood out to me in that post, along with some of her other posts, is America’s fixation on wealth and status. And it’s so true. This entire post, I’ve been waxing on about not being able to travel because of a job or money situation. What if we lived in a world where the amount of money we have doesn’t drive what we do with our time? Where our jobs don’t form our whole identities and self-worth? What if we had time to actually focus on being creative and bettering the world and helping each other, rather than spending a third of our lives or more staring at a screen and pushing buttons?
Of course, I’m writing all of this from a position of privilege—I’m an American citizen with random connections all over the world who has the luxury of quitting my job to backpack around Asia for a few months. As I’ve been budgeting for this trip, I’ve started to get used to seeing how far I can stretch the US Dollar, and I balk when I have to spend more than $50 on a flight to a different country within the region. And there are miners in East Java who make the equivalent of $58 USD per week climbing up and down Ijen to collect sulfur. And that’s well-paid for Indonesia.
You Do You.
All this is to say that there really is no such thing as normal or the right way to do things. Everything is relative. And everything (at least in America) is a choice. The idea of building a successful life through a career and home ownership and family is a very American way of thinking, but there are other ways of going about finding “success” (whatever that means to you) as well. We’re all going to die eventually, so we might as well enjoy the journey rather than treat life like a means to an end. So find your happy. And treat other people with respect. You do you.