I have lost count of the amount of times I have started writing this post. I started, wrote a paragraph or two, but while the writing itself wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good enough. It didn’t fit right, it didn’t convey the message properly. But how does one start a post like this? It’s too simple, too standard, to start with ‘All my life I’ve dreamt of traveling’ or ‘Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to travel, to see the world’. But I couldn’t tell you a specific starting point. There is no way to trace the origin of my wanderlust. Perhaps, in that case, I should start by saying that on a very specific day, at a very specific time, I came to the world. As a lot of others will understand – some people are just born with this travel-gene.
The explorers. The wanderers. The dreamers.
Again, that’s not the point and I’m failing in my efforts to find the right woven sentences to get the message across. I’m searching feverishly for the best and the right place to start, but I can’t find it. Perhaps because it isn’t there. Then again, it has to be somewhere. At some point in my life, there must be a moment or a time where I became aware of the desire to travel. To explore. To wander.
Growing up, I sincerely enjoyed safety and comfort. I didn’t like venturing outside comfort zones. When everyone else was outside, playing, I’d be inside, reading. Writing. Being artsy and creative. After school, I’d go home. I played sports, but never stuck with anything in particular for very long. Things bored me quite easily. School trips frightened me; the feeling only stopped when I knew there was no going back and familiarity disappeared in the distance as the bus drove on. And yet while all of this was going on, while classmates were outside, while a handful of friends provided the satisfaction of friendship I needed, there were always the dreams of something bigger.
Dreams of seeing countries like the US or Africa. Australia. Hiking the mountains, sailing the oceans, walking barefoot through the wide open plains.
I’ve followed a pretty standard, good girl, European life. I went to school, did my duties and after that I went on to get a degree. This is where the struggle started. I tried three different studies in as many years until I was forced to stick with number four. None of them seemed to fit with me. Working my way through university, I resorted to old tactics – go to A, then B, and then go home. By then, I was more adventurous and I explored towns in my area. I wandered. I dreamt.
I can’t tell you how many times my mother told me the story of how I would be sitting on the floor underneath a table or behind the couch, reading my book, as birthday parties and the people that had come went right passed me. I paid little attention to them, caught up in my reading, and the celebrations continued without my acknowledgement. It’s safe to say that I’m a dreamer and I like getting lost in imaginary worlds, telling tales that none could ever tell, mentally connected to whatever story I was following. As I grew older, those worlds, tales and story begun to revolve around myself as my dreams begun to contain myself. I dreamt of travelling. I wanted to go, desperately, but I never went. I always thought I didn’t have the courage. That I didn’t have the guts to go out there and do it. I knew why I wasn’t going and that something is a deep rooted struggle, a family of demons housed at the back of my head I’ve been fighting against since my early teens.
Looking back, I can say that I did travel some before embarking on the biggest trip of my life up till that point, but it all seems dismissable since I couldn’t compare it to the dreams I had. Backpacking Australia. Coast to coast in the US. Discovering rain forests in South America. Hiking glaciers in Norway. Taking the Transsiberian Express. Living among the locals in Italy. My dreams were big but I was living a small life.
I was exploring, albeit cautiously – in 2014 I took on a project to explore five new places in my home country. I was wandering – I put on the shoes and just walked wherever my feet went.
But because I was still dreaming, I wasn’t travelling.
It’s like I was awake and holding my hand in front of my mouth. It’s not only that I never fully allowed my lungs to fill with needed oxygen, but also not being able to breathe life. Not like it should be. I look at my peers and my inspirations and rather than using them to fuel and nourish my fire, I let a cold wind in and my fire slowly dies. I re-ignite it, daily, but with the draft of a winter’s howl going around, it’s becoming more of a task rather than a necessity. I made excuses for my excuses and gave myself reasons for staying. I would sometimes dare to tell people that I wanted to travel, but never too loud. Someone might hear me. Someone might actually hold me accountable.
Late 2014, I boldly decided to make a trip to Israel. I still, up to this day, can’t put a finger on the decisive moment. There was no aha-moment. There was no grand revelation. I had some money, I had the desire to go and then I suddenly clicked ‘book ticket’ and there was no going back. It was my first solo trip. It was only six days, I told myself. Six days was doable. Six days was like an extended city trip. It was manageable. I’d be back before I knew it. Baby steps.
I guess that, if I have to tell you where it really started, that would be it. Once I got there, I knew there was no going and no wanting to go back. I had crossed the line. I told myself that if I didn’t go now, I’d probably never go. There was nothing keeping me at home – my work contract would end in March and the two things I need with me wherever I go are a camera and my dog. I could take both of them with me.
I told myself that I had two options. A.) I’d stay, find a new job and continue living a life that’s not carved out for me. B.) I’d go. I’d finally friggin’ go and see something of the world. Go live for a living, someone once said. I decided to do that.
Elephants move only 10 to 20 kilometres a day, but have been recorded to travel up to 325 kilometres to water sources. This means that in extreme cases, they sometimes need 32 days to reach their destination. They are slow moving, but with a destination in sight, they travel hundreds of kilometres to get there. I feel I am very much like that as well – I go slowly, baby steps, nothing too big or too dangerous. The road ahead of me is long and I know where I want to go. 10 to 20 kilometres a day sounds good enough to me if I end up travelling the whole 325 kilometres to get there.
Late March, 2015.
A few weeks before leaving for an unknown period of time (as it turned out, nearly 7 months).
I don’t know if it’s true, but apparently there’s on old Italian joke that goes as follows. “A poor man goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging him. ‘Dear saint-please, please, please… Give me the grace to win the lottery.’ This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and says in weary disgust, ‘My son- please, please, please…buy a ticket.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love).
I bought that ticket and we won the lottery. And the greatest part is that we didn’t win money. We won the courage to go.
It’s hard and scary to spell out these words. I have never really found the courage to speak them aloud. They’ve always been hidden, stuffed away in a dark corner of my mind, brooding, multiplying, sneered upon with every fake smile I drew on my face. But it’s out now, so I might as well tell you the truth. I’ve been struggling for a long time. Secretly. Darkly. Solemnly. Privately and quietly. And that’s okay. The point of this confession is not to induce a sense of drama – though I’ll be the first to admit I have a taste for the theatrical – or to excuse myself from the confession booth. In fact, to be absolutely honest, I have no idea why I’m pouring out my thoughts like this. Part of me is telling me to stop, to stop being ridiculous, to stop being a child.
Grow up, get a grip, straighten your spine.
No. I bought a ticket. I have acquired courage. This is how I feel. Do not belittle my feelings. Yes, I was scared. Innitialy, I was excited. I was planning and thinking of all the places I could go and all the things I could do. Once that settled down, the most random of dilemma’s would pop into my head and I would fret over how I would have to solve those things. I was petrified that I was leaving for the wrong reasons. Terrified that secretly, I did wish to leave my skin behind like a snake and find a place to start over. I told myself that I didn’t wish to start over. I can say now that I truly didn’t. My past, no matter how scarred, has made me who I am. Shedding my past would be like shedding a part of myself – even though most of my past has the annoying habit of grabbing my in a choke hold.
I have denied myself living for so long, apologising for taking up space on this earth, that I had forgotten what it’s like to be myself. I’ve become a jaded penumbra. Don’t confuse me with someone who’s ignorant of their own character – I know myself. I’ve seen the deepest parts of myself, found myself in places I never knew existed and here I (still) am. I am not going to reinvent myself, nor to explore my inner-self. I will be able to add new routes, roads, alleyways and off-road dirt-roads to the mental map of myself, but the main roads will remain.
We traveled for almost seven months. This may sound like a long time to some, to others it won’t. That’s life and that’s how all things are. I didn’t go across the world. I didn’t drive from the East coast to the West coast in the States. I didn’t explore jungles in South America, or travelled the plains of Africa. I didn’t go backpacking in Australia. But I did go to Italy and used public transport to travel from Rome all the way to Milan via Venice. That’s almost three-quarters of Italy travelled through. Then I travelled all around England and saw a bit of Scotland. Again, using public transport. Just a train ticket and a bus pass. I still have dreams. But I’ve learnt how to dream in the way that it will allow me to travel. I wander. I explore. I dream and I travel. I have a long, long journey ahead of me. It’s been almost two years since I came back and I’m dying to go again. I can’t wait till I’m ready to pack our bags again and say goodbye to familiarity and hello to the open road.
I’ve learnt that the first step is the hardest. But once you go there, once you do it, things will get going. By now, I’ve also learnt that even though you’ve taken that first step a few times, it doesn’t get any easier. The first step is still the hardest. But it’s worth it. It is so worth it.
But before you go – before you save up your money and plan and force yourself to click ‘book ticket’ so that there is no going back – there is something that you should know. Travelling is not a cure. It is not an escape. It is not a means to solve your problems. Find any honest person and they will tell you that. Yes, sometimes it might and it will, but do not use travelling as a cure – rather see ‘being cured’ as something extra, a bonus, maybe even something earned (though that implies that if you haven’t been ‘cured’, you didn’t earn it. Such is, naturally, not the case).
The internet likes us to believe that travelling is the answer to whatever problem you have. While in some cases, for some people, travelling can help, I think it’s important to know that it can be one of the many happy side-effects of travelling, but it’s not the fix to your wrongs. I firmly believe that travelling is some form of escapism, but the above coincides with the notion that travelling should not be used as an escape. Of course, those that travel usually have something they are trying to get away from and there is nothing wrong with that. But you cannot, possibly, escape anything while travelling. It may feel like it, but it’s a blissful deception. The world is too small to travel away from whatever it is that you’re travelling from because you carry exactly that from which you’re trying to run with you. In your head. In your heart. In your backpack, wherever.
If you’re here looking for a ‘how to’ to get travelling, I can only give you one piece of advice.
Get up from behind your screen. Find a mirror. Look at who’s looking back at you. You are the only ‘how to’, as you are also the only reason why you should go. Allow yourself. Forgive yourself.
Tell yourself that you deserve it, and then deserve it.