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When you’re your only travel companion, you can’t help but get a little introspective. Staring out of a bus window, half-listening to a podcast, contemplating my life and the many turns it’s taken to bring me here… That’s kind of been my default look the past year.
June 28th will make one year I’ve been on the road solo, with a few breaks and some travel with friends scattered in between. To celebrate making it through 12 months, here are 10 things I’ve learned about the wacky bitch who’s been keeping me company all of these days.
For an anxious person, I’m surprisingly unflappable
I know, it’s kind of an oxymoron, right? I’ve learned that my anxiety works on the macro scale. When I am unhappy with large aspects of my life – a job I’ve outgrown, a city I’ve grown tired of – I wake up in the mornings breathless and terrified. Those mornings I’d have to swallow a pill and breathe deeply to keep myself from escalating to full-on panic, just to go about my day.
But the little things that add up when you travel, I can take surprisingly in stride. Lost my luggage with precisely every item of clothing I own in it? Regroup, go to a diner for breakfast, and get tips on the best thrift stores in town. Stuck in a small village in Albania in the rain with no bus on the way? Guess I better start hitchhiking.
That said, hostel life often brings out the worst in me
I’m about to directly contradict myself — because above all, I’ve learned that I contradict myself regularly. To quote my boy Walt Whitman, Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
As much as I just congratulated myself for outrunning my anxiety… hostels really bring out the worst in me. Awkward social situations are one of my biggest anxiety triggers, and I’m a massive introvert who thrives off alone time. While I used to love staying in hostels, I’ve realized that I can only live such a public, shared life for so long before I start to go a little crazy when solo traveling.
Part of it is that I need to work from home a fair bit and hostels make crappy environments for that. But mostly, I get tired of having the same dull conversation time and again, and tired of making excuses not go out drinking profusely for the nth night in a row.
Also, I’ve gotten a little spoiled.
I’m no longer the youngest person in the room
Perhaps related to my blah, hostels stance is the fact that I’ve finally realized that I’m aging. Bear with me here:
I moved to New York and went to college when I was 17, the youngest person in my class by a good year or so. When I started my job in the Department of Education at 21, I was easily the youngest teacher there, and continued to be for the five years I worked there.
I got used to always being surrounded by people older than me. Frankly, it made me feel like I had time to figure out my life.
Now I feel like I’m always surrounded by young’uns who are just starting out their 20s, and I can’t help but be wrenched with envy. I find myself wondering about how if I hadn’t become a teacher and had gone into travel blogging earlier, if I’d be more successful. If I wouldn’t be alone if I had made better choices in romantic partners over the years. Basically, if I had the wisdom I have now without all the pesky business of, y’know, actually attaining it.
I actually like the beach
I never was much of a beach person – the result of many a third degree sunburn and hating the way I looked in a swimsuit.
After finally learning that I need to reapply sunscreen a jillion times and seek shade between noon and 2, I’ve finally developed a tan for the first time in my life and don’t burn quite so easily. I’ve also made peace with the size of my thighs and am finally wearing age-appropriate bathing suits instead of the grandma-inspired bottoms that even the Mormon church would approve of.
As much as I say I want to travel slower, I never do
I’m of the opinion that clinical FOMO should be added to the DSM, whenever they see fit to revise it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sworn that I’m going to choose a base and start establishing a healthy work-life-travel balance…. only to find myself staring at a ticket confirmation page to a brand new country just days later.
While I’ll never be one of those superhuman travel bloggers who are in a new country every couple of days, I haven’t been able to stay in one spot longer than two weeks (Little Corn Island, you tried to tame me).
There are so many countries I want to tick off my bucket list, cities I want to wander, mountains I want to climb. So to settle down and pick just one city — even if just for a few months — seems nigh impossible.
I’ve challenged myself to pick a city in Eastern Europe for one month to live in this August, when I’ll need to get out of Schengen so as not to overstay my visa. Sofia, Belgrade, and Bucharest are all vying for the honor.
I have a hard time with routines and self-care
This is probably related to my FOMO-induced restlessness, but even when I’m back at home, self-care is a struggle. A regular sleep schedule…. HAHAHA what’s that? Exercising regularly? Unless you consider digesting donuts exercise, which I do, go away. Sometimes even the simplest things like filling up my old lady pill box with my pills and vitamins for the week seems like a task plucked from the annals of Hercules.
And don’t get me started on my taxes (actually, no please do).
As much as I say I’m a cynic, I’m a big old softie at heart
For some reason, I’ve always thought of myself as a pessimistic person. I blame the Q train.
But getting to know myself better, I’m learning that while I may get irritated about indignities like manspreading, body odor, and showtime, I’m pretty optimistic about the world writ large. The people I’ve met on my travels have, with few exceptions, gone above and beyond to help me and welcome me everywhere I go. And I can only respond to that with love and gratitude.
But I still love animals more than people
I can’t count the number of times I stopped whatever I was doing to coo over the animal in front of me, whether it was a dog, cat, horse, donkey…. Even the mangiest-looking of dogs (I’m thinking of you, Taco, the ugliest dog in all of Guatemala) were not spared my effusive love.
Being around animals centers me and makes me calm, forcing me to press pause on whatever thoughts I have buzzing around my head to enjoy the peace of a quick, stolen snuggle.
I’ve learned to relinquish control
Part of why I think traveling has been good for my anxiety is that I’ve learned that I can’t control everything. I used to be such a micromanager, planning every future event to the letter. Now that it’s impossible to predict what any given day will be like, I have the latitude to let go a little.
While at first that made me a bit panicky and hard to travel with (many thanks to my dear friend Kristine for managing to put up with my high strung antics) I’ve started to master the subtle art of not giving a fuck.
Writing is what I’m meant to do
Not that I think I’m especially good at it… nor do I think I’m exceptionally bad. I just know that nothing fills me with more purpose than sitting down and finally putting everything that’s been churning around this little brain of mine on paper. Nothing fills me with more happiness than when a reader reaches out to say they’ve connected with my words.
Starting from when I annexed my aunt’s computer at the tender age of six to write a story about a car running out of gas in the middle of a desert, I knew I wanted to be a writer. In college I lived and breathed it, taking poetry and fiction workshops with some of the greats, even conquering my fear of public speaking to perform at poetry readings.
But once I started teaching, the daily emotional labor of the job beat the creativity out of me. I stopped writing for nearly five years. This blog, humble as it may be, has brought me back in touch with that. And that is perhaps what I’m most grateful for in this new crazy life I’ve created for myself.
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