What I Learned By Not Traveling

posted in: Musings | 10
View of downtown Baltimore
View of downtown Baltimore during the golden hour

I will never be one of those bloggers who tries to convince you to quit your job, sell all of your stuff, and travel the world. This statement is an important preface to this post… because I just quit my job, am trying to sell a good chunk of my stuff, and am about to go travel for the next few months. This post is kind of about that choice, but not entirely. Rather, this post is a way for me to express my gratitude for everything that has happened the past few years that has lead me to this moment, because I have found myself needing to make some changes in my life and now here I am, making changes.

I’m going to tell you a quick story…

Prologue

In May of 2014 I graduated college.

I feel very blessed to have been able to go to college. It is one of many ways in which I am incredibly privileged. I had a fantastic college experience – I got to study physics for four years! That’s amazing. When else can you say that you get to dedicate four years to thinking about cool stuff that makes the world turn?

Goucher College in the winter
My college campus after a winter snowstorm

I came to a crossroads about halfway through my last year in school. I was about to turn twenty-two, about to graduate, and I was totally lost. It seemed like everyone was asking me about my future plans. “So what are you going to do?” Do, inexplicably, meaning do, career-wise. In the United States especially, we tend to be defined by our careers. That began around year four of college. Imagine the start of many crises, when you begin to get defined by what you are going to Do, but you don’t know what that is yet.

The other element in my about-to-graduate crisis was that I was in love with a good person who still had another year left in school. So, about to graduate and very sure that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted from my life, I made the active choice that I was going to find work in Maryland and move to Baltimore, to be with my partner. It’s a pretty normal response when you’re twenty-two, in love, and directionless, I would say.

But what work? I loved (and love) physics immensely, but I wasn’t particularly interested in continuing my studies, doing research, or teaching. Seemingly out of thin air, the idea occurred to me that I should become an environmental engineer. Because why not just follow an impulse and see where it would take me? And somehow, miraculously, with zero idea of what the field actually involved, after many frustrated months of job searching, I got a job. I would be working at an engineering/consulting firm as an environmental scientist. I still kind of marvel about how I pulled that one off, but it happened.

I moved into a Baltimore rowhome on a sweltering day in August 2014. I would be living by myself, working outside of D.C., and continuing to nurture my relationship. Things kind of felt… settled.

Until, of course, two months later, when I sat with that good person on my red couch in my apartment that was just starting to feel like home, and we decided tearfully that it was time for us to say goodbye.

I love this part in the story, believe it or not. Because, in spite of experiencing the most gut-wrenching heartbreak that I had ever felt in my life, our breakup was critically important for me. I am only appreciative of the things that I learned while with this person, and I am also incredibly appreciative that the relationship ended when it did. We weren’t right for each other, and I needed to be alone. I feel like the breakup was the catalyst that I needed to begin an independent life in Baltimore, a life that I would have to build for myself.

But let’s be realistic. At first it felt awful. I couldn’t stand the thought of being in this cold city, alone and so goddamn sad. I was suddenly so resentful. I moved for this person. I could have gone backpacking through Cambodia but I moved to be with them, and now here I was, stuck with an apartment and a new life and a job that I had fought tooth and nail to get but wasn’t exactly sure was quite right for me.

For the time being, at least, I was going to be in Baltimore. I was going to have to learn to be happy in Baltimore.

Beautiful Charles Village in Central Baltimore under a blanket of snow.
One of my favorite photos of Baltimore City – Charles Village after a snow storm

On stumbling feet

The following months were really challenging.

Because that’s the thing with breakups. You’re not just mourning the loss of a person in your life, but you’re also mourning the loss of a future. Of all of the things that you two had planned. Of stability, be it actual or perceived.

Hiking Gwynns Falls Trail in Baltimore
Winter hike with some amazing friends from college

It also hadn’t occurred to me how hard it would be to get over the relationship when the majority of people I knew were friends of mine from college. People who knew me and knew my ex and knew us as a couple. My friends from college (then and now) are some of my best friends in the world. But I realized how critical it was for me start meeting new people. I scratched my head, contemplating the idea of making new friends. How do people do that, again?

At one point I googled it. Standard response for millennials. “How to make friends when you’re not in school.” It felt like every article that I stumbled across talked about how challenging it could be to make friends outside of school and work. I wanted to throw my hands up in frustration. Why does the world try to convince us that everything is downhill from here after we graduate college? Plus, the “college is the best years of your life” mindset is inherently privileged. Obviously, people who never go to college can have happy, fulfilling, successful lives. And for those who do go to school, it would be quite depressing to have lived the “best years” of your life by your early twenties. No thanks. I would find a way to make friends like a grown up, school and work be damned.

As the months went on, I was also battling a growing discontent with my job. But I was trying, day after day.

So the last few months of 2014 were not easy. They consisted of lots of tears, lots of time spent mulling over my life while sprawled on my best friend’s bed, Kylie listening patiently to my woes, lots of struggling at work, lots of confused dating… Most of all, lots of struggling to establish myself and feel a sense of comfort and relief for the choices that I had made.

Finding a sense of peace

Amman Jordan Roman Amphitheater
Gaining some perspective in the Roman Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan

In January of 2015 I spent three weeks in the Middle East – I spent a hot second in Dubai, worked in Bahrain for two weeks, and then took a vacation in Jordan during my last week abroad. It was an amazing trip and it came about at a good time. While abroad, I met so many interesting people, learned so much, challenged myself as a traveler, and had the time and space that I needed to reflect on the life that I wanted to create in Baltimore. I came back with newfound determination to change my situation.

Any you know what? I did.

My time in the Middle East reinvigorated my passion for language learning. I started taking Arabic classes. I started going to Spanish meetups. I started hosting couchsurfers from all over the world. I started salsa dancing, at first just as a thing to do every once in a while on a Friday or Saturday night, but after a few months of dancing I started to get really sucked in. I remember the first time I decided that I just had to dance on a Wednesday night. So I danced, had to practically peel myself off the dance floor at midnight, and couldn’t keep the smile off of my face the whole next morning at work.

And I made friends – lots of them. Friends from all over the world and all walks of life. I was starting to build communities here in Baltimore. It felt really, really good.

As winter faded into spring, I realized that I was genuinely happy. As the days went on I got increasingly more stressed by my job, but everything else was working for me. I found joy in the little things – taking walks through Baltimore, sitting in coffee shops sipping lattes with friends or dates, maintaining my apartment, building friendships, speaking Spanish, and dancing. Dancing dancing dancing.

When summer rolled around, I was once again desperately looking for a job. But this job was going to be in Baltimore. I had renewed my lease in my apartment, because I was (and still am, oh, I still am!) enamored by this city. I had moved to Baltimore for love, for someone else. But I was staying for me. In spite of feeling hyper stressed by my job search, in all other aspects of my life I was blissfully happy. It was a great and challenging and rich time.

Then to now

My second year in Baltimore began after I returned from a last minute trip to Guatemala, salsa danced nonstop for four days, and then started a new job at a different environmental consulting firm. I wasn’t entirely sure about this environmental consulting thing, but I wanted to give it one more shot.

Friendships in Baltimore
Potlucking with wonderful people

Year two in Baltimore has been equal parts fantastic and challenging. I’ve spent a lot of time this past year thinking critically about what I want from my life, in all senses. Social life, love life, work life, personal life. I have had many conversations with myself and the people around me about all of this and more. I’ve worked a lot on my friendships this past year. I danced a lot. I became a part of the Baltimore salsa community – all of a sudden I was forming genuine relationships with people who I had previously only interacted with on the dance floor. I dated a lot, and subsequently experienced a fair amount of heartbreak in varying degrees. But that is also valuable – I do believe that, within reason, dating the wrong person helps us see clearly what we want/need from a relationship and from a partner, and helps us to see our own value as individuals.

One week ago I quit my job. I spent two years working in environmental consulting and you know? It’s really not for me. I feel like I gave it an honest shot, and tried two very different types of work within the industry, but I’m not happy with the work that I have been doing the past two years. I have learned a tremendous amount, but I don’t see myself doing this work long term and I decided that now was as good a time as ever to quit.

This time around I did not renew my lease. Like my post-college graduate self, I have no idea of what I want to Do With My Life. But my last two years in the work force has given me some insight. I need a job that is stimulating, challenging, and in line with my values. I need to feel proud of the work that I am doing. While I try and figure out what that is, I am giving myself the gift of a break.

I believe firmly that I needed this time, here in Baltimore, stationary. I started this post by stating that I will never be the blogger who tries to convince you to quit your job, sell your crap, and go travel the world. And I stand by that, because I know how important it has been for me to not travel, to be here, and to build a life and a community for myself in a place that I call home. There is value in being stationary. There is value in building relationships. There is joy in the day-to-day of life, in having a favorite coffee shop or restaurant, in watering your plants and watching them grow, in really learning a place – the good and the bad, the quirky and the contradictory – and feeling proud to call it home.

My time in Baltimore made me who I am today. I wouldn’t change anything.

So now what?

Well, for now I’m going to do a little bit of traveling while I sort the rest out.

The truth? If I had a job here in Baltimore that I loved, I would absolutely be down to stay. But I don’t. It is an enormous privilege to be able to do what I’m doing and to have this flexibility. I’m going to take full advantage of it. A little time and distance apart from the place that I call home is a good thing. It will help me to reevaluate and maybe to decide my next step.

I will be dancing a lot in the coming weeks. Then I will be traveling in the U.S. for a few weeks, going between Baltimore, Washington D.C., Washington State, and New York. And then I am going to Mexico! I’m so excited. I have never been to Mexico before, and will have about two months to travel around. And then depending on the course of life, I may be meeting up with a Special Person in the Dominican Republic. Still need confirmation, will report back. Either way, I will be home in the U.S. mid-December. I want to spend Christmas with my family.

Thank you to everyone who has supported this blog as I have gotten it off the ground, and thank you to everyone who has supported, challenged, and inspired me. I will continue to update In Locamotion in the coming months, and as always, will probably have a lot to say in many, many words.

Thanks for reading and for being great!

Love,

Alissa

Baltimore Sunset Canton Waterfront
Sunset in Baltimore seen from the Canton waterfront

10 Responses

  1. <3

  2. This is such an amazing post, Alissa. I wish you all the best in your adventures at home and abroad!
    Sara Hadar recently posted…Essential Oils: What are they?My Profile

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Sara! It means a lot. Wishing you all the best as well! <3

  3. Janet Moore

    Hi Alyssa. I think we talked non-stop for three hours on the plane. It was so interesting ,and so is your blog. Grand daughter just got home from hospital and is okay but will need more treatment. Good luck with your plans.

    • Hi Janet! It was very pleasant chatting with you on the plane! I’m glad to hear that things went well with your grand daughter. Thank you for stopping my my blog and for the kind comment!! Wishing you all the best 🙂

  4. Stephanie L

    Great story and opportunity to catch up on your life. I’m so happy for you-you’re an inspiration! May all your dreams come true!

    • Thanks, Stephanie! I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and I so appreciate the kind comment 🙂 I hope that everything is going well with you!!

  5. Such a great story, really inspiring to read this! I hope 2017 brings you amazing adventures abroad and at home 🙂

    • Thanks Krista!! I really appreciate it 🙂 I hope that 2017 is a great year for you as well!!

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