Oftentimes the greatest of journeys are born from a malcontent of sorts. After all, it’s the discomfort of a moment that forces you to readjust your position.
I was born and bred on planes and in departure gates. I knew the smell of airports before I could speak. My father worked for the airlines and growing up I had the privilege of knowing travel – holidays in Hawaii, semi-annual visits to Miami, California, Mexico. It became something one takes for granted in the way things tend to when they are normalized in your life.
Then I discovered backpacking when I was 22. Backpacking allowed a portability and freedom to travel I had never known, and more than that it never allowed you to be on autopilot.
I was itching for adventure and found wonder and magic in books about the lesser known parts of Mexico. As a cultural anthropology geek I was fascinated by indigenous cultures that still existed in places like Chiapas and Guatemala. Coupled with my strong interest in Mayan and Aztec history and mythology – a travel route was born.
I remember going to the outdoors store with my then boyfriend and purchasing water purifying tablets, a first aid kit in case some weird insect infested itself in my skin, the expensive pants that were wind proof, waterproof, zipped off into shorts and looked absolutely ridiculous – as though I was going to some far off site from civilization where no one with any fashion sense would be able to see me.
I got to Mexico and the experience proved to be so different than anything I had even imagined. First of all, I regretted the pants. It was easier – no water purification tablets necessary. Follow your gut and nose to culinary delights and new friends. Of course, Mexico is easy anyway, I know the language, understand the culture – family is at least in the country.
Now seven years later and I’m gearing up for my first foray into Asia, India no less, which is probably one of the more intense backpacking destinations. The familiar butterflies have decided to call my gut home and my nerves are shaky at best but I’m trying to breathe through it.
My mind doesn’t wander to how exhausted the 8 hour flight to London will be then the 9 hour flight to Mumbai from there. My nerves don’t tremble at the thought of being in one of the most populated cities at an airport waiting for my travel partner to get in before attempting to find the car that is picking us up from our hotel and sticking out as though we had huge “tourist” signs on our faces.
It’s very easy to fear what’s unfamiliar to you: the cultural norms, the bathrooms (my biggest fear with India), the transportation and how you’ll get around etc. Then you start to think about all the other times you were scared out of your mind – like doing a headstand in yoga class for the first time or when you moved to the middle of nowhere New Mexico (and overpacked by A LOT) to live with wolves and then you think about how resilient you are and how much you gained from those experiences, how they forever changed you for the better. You got used to cutting your own wood for fire, using outhouses or the great outdoors almost exclusively, the sound of wolves howling you to sleep…
As I grew older I started to find myself in these patterns where I wasn’t fully conscious of things anymore. I could slide by my day on autopilot – board the blue line, read a book, get off on Washington, a right two blocks then a left at the light. I felt as though I had lost something inside of myself – the curious little girl perhaps or the joy at feeling there was a chance for renewal in every breath. That felt so difficult to access for me – it wasn’t just a change of scenery I needed, it was more – I needed a lifestyle change. I started to get nervous about ordinary situations that might cause me the most minor discomfort. I really did not want to become one of those prissy Americans that got spun into an anxiety attack at the thought of having something different for dinner.
More than that, I started to sense a looming stagnation and lack of inspiration. I felt tired and heavy and if only I could rekindle this fire I used to have burning inside of me. If only I could push myself to the outskirts of my mind and cause this overwhelming expansion of all things, instead my of world getting smaller.
Anxiety and nerves aside, it’s not simply a youthful restlessness as my reason for taking off, it’s as far as I can see, my only chance at survival with my spirit intact.