Europe, Travel Stories

“Why are you REALLY traveling?”

“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.

Taking a snowy walk with my sister before saying goodbye.

Traveling for six months has uncovered and transformed me in unexpected ways. I got my first tattoo in Barcelona and cut my hair.

“Keep the earth below my feet. Let me learn from where I have been, keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.” -Mumford and Sons

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.

TheBarefootBeatThe 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. 

TheBarefootBeatTaking selfies and eating macaroons in Marseille, France

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.

TheBarefootBeatCarrying 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.

Marseille, France

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  • Reply sophia boykin April 13, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    wow. I truly see where you are coming from, especially since all my life I have been told to never trust anybody and I guess life has proven that to me. I want to run away from the mid west too, but being young and unexpirenced scares me and It leaves me open to harm. I wish I could travel to find my inner self and pursue a direction that will lead to me to happiness but I’m so afraid.

    • Reply Mariah April 14, 2014 at 8:29 am

      Hi Sophia! Thanks for leaving a comment and sharing your story. One thing I’ve learned lately is that there are only two forces in life: fear and love. Every choice we make and decision we take comes from one of these places or the other. So, I would encourage you to listen to love instead of fear. Find that place within yourself that contains all of the courage you’ll ever need to pursue your dream, and ask it for help. It’s always been there and soon enough this courage will be the only voice you hear. Sending you warm thoughts! <3

  • Reply Isabella Noble January 4, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Mariah,

    Just a quick line to let you know I really enjoyed reading this post, which I stumbled across when reading about solo female travel. Some very interesting and relatable questions raised and as everyone else has said, we don’t necessarily need an answer to them! Hope you’re enjoying your trip and keep up the good work.


    • Reply Mariah January 5, 2014 at 12:49 am

      Hi Isabella! Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m so glad other women are pursuing their dreams of travel so we can encourage and support each other. Wishing you joy and adventure for the New Year!

  • Reply Beverley | Pack Your Passport October 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    This is my first time on your blog and this post was really, really beautiful. As Suzy said, I think it’s ok to not have all the answers. It’s ok to want conflicting things; half of me is loving being home from 3 years of travelling and looking for a job and excited to move to London. The other half of me wants to pack a bag right now and get on a plane.
    Beverley | Pack Your Passport recently posted…Facing My Fears: Black Water Rafting at Waitomo Caves, New ZealandMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah October 7, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting and sharing Beverly! I definitely feel conflicted about this as well. Where were you traveling for three years? I can’t imagine how happy you must be to be in one place for awhile, even if you miss traveling!

  • Reply Suzy October 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Very thought-provoking! Sometimes its ok to not have all the answers I think.
    Suzy recently posted…A Case of Debugging: How I Survived a Bed Bug Encounter in GreeceMy Profile

    • Reply Mariah October 6, 2013 at 6:19 pm

      Thanks Suzy! I’m learning to live with the questions daily but that in itself is a challenge. Thanks for commenting!

  • Reply Raghnailt Jekyll September 30, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Can I say I love your tattoo? 🙂 Anyways, I feel like there is always an unseen obligation (still not sure of the word I used) to answer these kinds of questions, unseen because we just happen to do it first before finding out why we decided to or why we are still doing it. If ever I met this guy you bumped into one day, I’d have to slap the answer on his face twice, because I have two reasons for traveling: experience and a sweet reward (but it happened that the experience is already a reward right? Got confused as well!).
    Raghnailt Jekyll recently posted…Trump Opens Hotel In D.C.My Profile

    • Reply Mariah October 1, 2013 at 5:48 am

      Thanks Raghnailt! It was a very interesting and thought provoking conversation. One of the reasons I love traveling is getting to exchange ideas with people from all over the world! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  • Reply vanessa kramer September 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Hey Mariah, I really love this post and relate well to it. Keep up the great writing and travelling. Enjoy where you are, wherever you are. and let me know if you ever make it back to KC.
    Vanessa 🙂

    • Reply Mariah September 24, 2013 at 5:22 pm

      Hey! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Are you back home from Mexico now? Where is life taking you next? Yes, it’s hard for me to admit that traveling may not be what I want anymore because I’m not sure how to find the alternative yet! Keep in touch and of course we’ll have to hang out again in KC and eat some tacos!

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