Eternal Arrival
Wellness

The Real Reason Why I’m Always Traveling

When updating a friend from home about my travel adventures, she remarked that it’s like I’m a whole different person when I travel. I go over the events of the last month in my head: learning acro yoga, getting my SCUBA certification, spending a week on a tiny island in the Caribbean with virtually no wifi, boarding down an active volcano, camping atop another one a few hundred meters away from its smoking crater…. and I realize she’s entirely right. New-York-me would have never done most of these things.

I intend no deceit – I feel I live honestly, as much as I can. But when I travel, I feel liberated from my conceptions of myself. I’m not just someone who hates to talk to strangers, to get wet or sweaty, or to look like a fool. I’m anything I want to be.

In my day to day, non-travel life, I know I can be a bit negative. Honestly, this is partly realistic — the world we live in is shitty, and with Trump at the helm, getting shittier by the day. But with respect to me personally, my negativity is a self-limiting exercise.

I hate clubs – so I don’t go out. I hate socializing with strangers – so I don’t go to that party where maybe I only know one person. I hate sunburns – so I rarely go to the beach. I hate looking like an idiot – so I don’t try that new fitness class I’ve been thinking of.

For me, what’s so intoxicating about travel is this unrelenting permission to be myself at my most bare. Stripped of my context, I’m forced to reckon with in-the-moment decisions that show me my mettle. My fortitude. And when I experience these moments, I realize I am so much more than the words I describe myself with in my head in my weakest moments.

I realize how permeable my identity is – and how this is a good thing. I can reinvent myself as often as I like because I don’t have to answer to anyone for my fickleness. For all anyone else knows, I’m a bar-chatting, beach bunny, volcano boarding champion.

As someone who suffers from mental illness, I often place so many expectations on myself based on past failures. I think of the days when I had trouble even going to work because my anxiety was so severe it felt like lead in my lungs. I think about the days where even as I knew how much fresh air would revitalize me, the thought of putting on my human suit was so overbearing that I stayed inside, letting day pass into night without ever seeing the sun.

But when I have no context, no prior experience to link it to, I’m somehow able to override that anxious channel in my brain. I’m able to say, nope, not interested. I’m not just an anxious person who hates X and Y and would never in her life Z. I’m the girl who starts conversations in bars. I’m the girl who climbs volcanoes. I’m the girl who can balance on the limbs of a complete stranger.

In the back of my head, I know that the girl who hates every single stranger on the subway and the girl who trusts strangers enough to balance atop them are one in the same. But they feel so separate sometimes that it’s hard to reconcile that they’re both equally me.

One day, I do hope that I can keep travel-me even when I’m not moving. That I can override my self-defeating, self-defining tendencies even when I dare slow down. For now, travel is almost a form of therapy – repeated exposure to situations that would normally paralyze me. And now I move through them, languid, often not even afraid.

But when removed from this contextless context, I remember that I am afraid. I think of all the ways in which I define myself in relation to what I can’t do, don’t do, won’t do. I forget that I once did all those things with ease, and that they brought me great joy. The real challenge is to merge the two. To get a bit meta here – the challenge is to eternally arrive into myself, even as I stand still.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    The Barefoot Backpacker
    February 2, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Yes.

    I mean … I don’t really know what else to say, except ‘yes’ (but I’ll have a go!).

    I’m very much an introvert, and a cynical one at that, in my home life. But when I travel, I feel far freer than I do at home; I feel more ‘able’ to take random buses to nowhere, to walk forever, to visit sites, and, heck, even talk to strangers (well, maybe not when they speak a foreign language, which makes me retreat right back into my shell!), I’m far more likely to stay in backpacker hostels, to take small side-trips with other travellers (I normally go solo) … I care less how I look, what I wear (I venture out barefoot far more than at home) … generally I’m very different when I travel. And it’s often quite hard to take my ‘travel persona’ and make my ‘home persona’ match it!

    I think in part it’s that, because I’m travelling, I’m probably never going to go to these places again, or see these people again, so I care less about how I seem and act, because there’s no ‘comeback’; if I tried it at home I think it would be so tiring to always be the jolly, bubbly person I am when I travel, to always have to keep it up as everyone around will see me regularly etc. Maybe I just don’t want to be ‘noticeable’ as much when I’m at home?

    Plus at home life is mundane, it’s the same shtick every day, there’s less scope for being me. Or maybe that’s an excuse. I don’t know!! 🙂

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      February 2, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      I totally agree with all of this! I’m definitely an introvert and value my privacy; even when I’m traveling long-term, as I usually do, I often give myself breaks from staying in hostels… otherwise, I burn out from too much interaction. Still, I find myself socializing wayyy more than I would back at home.

      I definitely relate to feeling freer – I have no problems asking for directions in a foreign country, even in a foreign language that I know I’m bungling, but asking for directions on my “home turf” terrifies me… no idea why!! I do think that the anonymity of travel is a huge help, and lets me experiment with exploring alternate interests and aspects of my personality. I wish I could make my travel self my “full-time self” but, in lieu of that, I’ve just opted for being my travel self almost full-time by traveling most of the year 😛

  • Reply
    Prianka
    February 9, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    This post really resonates with me, as someone who has discovered anxiety as an adult (yay! …), I find myself struggling with why and what I am hampered by in my everyday setting. Leaving my supposed comfort zone is the best cure because it absolutely gives space to just be what I want. My end goal is to bring that freedom into my every day life. Any tips?

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      February 9, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Hi Prianka! While I’m glad this post resonated with you, I also sympathize with you as someone who struggles with anxiety. That’s my end goal as well, and while I wish I had some helpful tips for you, I’m afraid it’s a journey I’m making as well. Which is why I’ve taken to the road full-time, hoping to learn some lessons that will help me stand still more comfortably. I find that a combination of medication, light exercise (yoga), mindfulness and breathing help me deal with the physical/psychological symptoms of anxiety. However, so far, it hasn’t done much to address the root causes of why I’m so much more anxious and unhappy at home. Best of luck to you in your journey and hope that you can find some helpful takeaways from traveling that help you feel more rooted in the everyday!

  • Reply
    Robin
    February 18, 2017 at 8:18 pm

    YES. You summarized this so beautifully. Everyday me needs a tremendous amount of downtime buffering every social interaction and workday. Vacation me wants to pack as much into a single day as is humanly possible, because every second that I’m not soaking in the wonders of that place is a second that I’ll regret when it’s time to leave. The answer is to travel as much as possible – but also, to find a happy medium between these two mindsets that I can try to move toward in my everyday life.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      February 19, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Yes, I feel exactly the same way! Glad that there are people out there who know what I mean… I was starting to think I was a split personality or something 😛 I’m working towards the happy medium as well… it’s harder than it sounds, though!

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