“Why are you traveling? No, REALLY. Why are you traveling? What are you looking for?” I’m flabbergasted as I try to comprehend what is happening. Moments earlier I had been sitting with my toes in the water, watching the sun set over the old harbor in Marseille, enjoying what I thought would be my last night in France. I had been writing in my journal, trying to make sense of my feelings and emotions, looking for closure when I sensed him standing next to me and looking down.
“Hi…?” I look at him questioningly. He sits down next to me and immediately cuts to the chase. “What are you doing here? What are you looking for? Are you hoping to meet someone and fall in love? Why are you taking the hard way?”
I have no idea who this guy is but I feel like he’s in my head, asking me the same questions I’ve been struggling with, starting to doubt the rehearsed answers I’ve given myself and others.
Watching the sun set in Marseille, France
Tomorrow is my six month anniversary on the road. Six months since I walked away from my job in the middle of the night, sneaking away before the goodbyes became too real. Six months since I cried myself to sleep and slept in my mother’s bed for the first time in a long time, not sure exactly what I was running from, just knowing I had to leave. Six months since I got on a bus with the intention of not coming back.
I’ve spent most of my adult life moving around. When I do choose to stay in one place, leaving and the idea of leaving is constantly on my lips, reminding myself and others that I’m not really planning on sticking around for long, so don’t get too comfortable. I told myself this time was different. I was healthier and had faced my demons. I had spent four years in the same place and now I was choosing to leave for the right reasons, chasing after something instead of running away. I wrote a manifesto of what I was hoping to find- community, sustainability, wellness, and simplicity. I wanted to set free the anchor of obligation and burden that had been keeping me in a city where I was unhappy, working in a profession I hated. I wanted to find myself, or rather, recreate myself into a version I liked better than the one I hoped to leave behind with the cold Midwestern winter.
Traveling for six months has uncovered and transformed me in unexpected ways. I got my first tattoo in Barcelona and cut my hair.
I’ve become more passionate about women’s rights and confronted my own beliefs about sexuality and gender. I’ve learned to trust in the kindness of strangers and the goodness of a Creator that provides. I’ve learned to live day by day, becoming more flexible than I thought possible. I’ve lived in community with people all over the world and had conversations and experiences that no doubt have changed my life.
The people I met during my first Workaway changed and shaped my perspective on travel and life.
“Why do you want to stay in France?” He pauses and looks at me, “Why are you smoking? You should stop.”
I stare off into the distance, avoiding his piercing stare and line of questioning. The truth is, I’m not sure what I’m doing, or why I’m really doing it. I still feel like I’m running. Traveling has revealed a different side of me, it’s true. But it’s not one I’m sure I like. I’ve started smoking and eating too many pastries, measuring time by minutes left until the next bus arrives and drags on a cigarette. I’ve kept up a pace of leaving when all I really want to do is stay in one place for awhile.
Leaving is my default. Traveling is my second best. It’s a wonderful, incredible, life-transforming second best, but it’s not my first choice. I’ve never admitted that to myself or anyone else before now.
What I really want is to build a life with someone, to raise a family of adopted kids who run and play in the garden, barefoot and happy. I want a log cabin in the woods, I want to grow and raise my own food, I want to write and provide a safe place for friends and strangers to gather around a warm hearth. I want stability and consistency. I want to stop being afraid. Afraid to love even when it hurts, afraid to give someone else the opportunity to leave before I do, afraid of failing at my first choice.
I’m not sure how to reconcile these two versions of myself, the one who finds leaving so familiar and the one who longs to stay. I still think I made the right choice when I walked away from my home and life in Kansas City. I needed an external change to begin making some necessary internal changes. I needed freedom and time to envision a future that didn’t cause me sleepless nights and heart racing anxiety. But I’m not sure I can keep progressing and growing in the way I really want to by keeping up this stream of constant goodbyes. I am lacking purposefulness and permanence. I want to contribute to my surroundings instead of just observing them. I’m not sure this is possible as a nomad.
Carrying around a backpack and a passport full of stamps doesn’t exactly convey the message, “I want to settle down.”
I’m not ready to go home or throw in the towel. Part of the transformation that has taken place is that I no longer identify any one place as “home.” Rather, home is a choice of loving and caring for wherever I am and whoever I’m with. I’m not giving up on traveling, either. But I have to be more honest about what I really want for my future and go about seeking it. This might mean staying in one place without hinting of future goodbyes, or working a low-paying job that I love. It might mean finding the compromise between freedom and security, the balance between selfless and selfish.
“Why are you really here?” I try again to explain that I don’t have the answers to any of his questions, in fact the questions only spur more questions until I feel as if I’ve lost all sense of self and direction. But what I do sense is a feeling of endless possibility. I feel as if the horizon is only the beginning and this journey only a glimpse into what my life will become. I feel free to admit to myself what I really want and to begin pursuing it. I no longer feel trapped or panic stricken when envisioning my future, associations I felt all too strongly before I embarked on my travels.
So, I don’t have any more easy or rehearsed answers. I’m sure of absolutely nothing. Why am I really traveling? I guess I’m still finding out. I’ll let you know what I discover along the way.Google+