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: 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.
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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.
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 bond instantly over a furtive smile 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.