Reflections On Life, Love, And One Year Of Travel

posted in: Musings | 4
Bocagrande, Cartagena Sunset
Tranquil fishing boats on the shore of Cartagena’s Bocagrande as the sun dips over the horizon…

Perhaps you have noticed that I’ve been a little absent from the blog sphere recently. Or maybe you haven’t! I’ve never been good about posting regularly (though once upon a time I published two posts in two weeks, and it was glorious!). But the nice thing about being the captain of my own ship is that I can post whenever inspiration strikes, and sometimes that’s more and sometimes that’s less.

During the past six weeks, I have kind of checked out. I took a long break from blogging, social media, and a lot of other stuff. Because I had one of those Moments. Capital ‘M’ Moments, in which a big wave breaks over your head and the current wraps itself around your ankles, and it drags you into deep water. They always say that you’re not supposed to swim against the current, that it’s futile, that you’ll just get pulled further and further out to sea.

I’ve just furiously paddled parallel to the shore, breaking free from the current and arriving at the beach, coughing and sputtering, but on firm ground.

Before

Wheat Field In Pullman, Washington
Blue skies and wispy clouds over rolling hills in Eastern Washington

I find it fitting to cryptically discuss the last few weeks in a reflection post about my year of travel, because in many ways I feel that it’s a suitable end to what has arguably been one of the craziest years of my life. I discussed my motivations to travel and what lead up to that decision almost one year ago, as I was packing up my apartment in Baltimore and about to embark on a plan-less future. And after that, well… I traveled. A lot. I went to the West Coast, spending time in Eastern Washington and in Seattle for the first time ever. I went to Mexico for two and a half months, and it was absolutely The Best. I spent two months bouncing back and forth between New York and Maryland (homes one and two). Those two months were not great. Then I went to Colombia, and then I went to Miami. And then I came home to Maryland and my life imploded.

But this year, overall, has been perfect. It was a necessary change to what I had lived during the two years prior, which consisted of an intensely fulfilling personal life contrasted with an intensely unfulfilling professional life. I have always loved to travel (I mean, travel blogger here…) and knew that travel would be a nice gift to myself after two years of working jobs that weren’t right for me, while giving myself the time and the space to think about what would be right for me. Or, in simpler terms, I got tired of waiting for Friday at 5:00 p.m., so I took a break.

During

The funny thing is, it’s not actually travel that gave me the deep, reflective space that I had needed all year (and certainly needed the past few years). I would love to say that I went away, spent a few months in sunny Mexico and Colombia, and that was the perspective that I really needed. Well, it was and it wasn’t. About halfway through my trip to Colombia, I became aware of the fact that I was ready to stop traveling. That didn’t stop me from enjoying myself immensely, but I was ready to come home. I was ready to feel a little more stable, to live in one place, to be surrounded by my communities once again.

Travel is amazing and rewarding in so many ways, but it’s also fairly isolating. Yes, you constantly meet people. Yes, you make friends. But unless you stay in one place for a large bulk of time, the feeling of being involved in a community is rarely there. While in Colombia, I knew that this feeling was what I was ready for. The feeling of being a part of something, of being physically present with the people important to me, of having a space to call home that I could fill with love. Travel would not fulfill that urge. It was time to go home.

Lakes in Guatape, Colombia
Lakes and mountains as far as the eye can see in Guatapé, Colombia

But the real mind-altering perspective came about one week after travel, when that big wave crashed over my head and the relationship that I had been nurturing for the past year came to a grinding halt. Yeah, I know, it’s cliché but it’s real. I had a bad breakup, folks. And breakups, no matter how necessary they are, freaking suck.

But what amazes me most about this particular breakup is that it catalyzed certain revolutions within me, certain overhauls of thought, that I had never been able to do even while giving myself the perspective and space of travel. Which, honestly, is understandable. Yes, travel can be perspective-altering. But travel can also just be you, in another city or country, carrying the same baggage that you’ve always carried without ever really sitting down and confronting it.

Oaxaca, Mexico Streets
Simple streets seen in Oaxaca, Mexico

Which was, in a way, Mexico for me. Mexico was pure indulgence, and it was perfect. Mexico was an escape, a two and a half month long act in being very present. Going where I wanted to go, doing what I wanted to do, meeting people and speaking Spanish and just learning for the sake of learning.

But even so, before and during and after Mexico there were certain things that I couldn’t fully let go of. I never completely grasped how to let go of the guilt of not having a stable job. It didn’t matter that I was 24 and doing “what I was supposed to be doing”, getting out and living life and figuring things out before marriage and kids and mortgages. The guilt was there and it persisted, because I had a hard time letting go of the fact that one’s identity does not have to be tied to one’s job. No matter how many times I answered the “what do you do?” question truly and honestly without necessarily discussing “my job”, I still never fully unshackled myself from that particular piece of cultural conditioning.

But guilt does nothing for us. It just keeps us stuck, stagnant. And for me, in spite of Mexico being perfect, I still carried this nasty, lingering guilt in the back of my mind, as if my lack of a stable job had somehow robbed me of an identity. (Hint: it didn’t.) And I carried that guilt with me from Baltimore to Washington State to D.C. to Mexico to New York to Maryland to Colombia to Miami… and I’m finally allowing myself to leave it behind, that and other shackles, as I move forward.

Speaking of shackles, fear is a big one. Fear of what? Well, everything, really, but mostly fear of the unknown. I think that fear of the unknown is par for the course of being a 20-something. Because honestly, sometimes it feels like everything is unknown as a 20-something: jobs, love life, family, friends, home… These things can change a lot, especially during one’s twenties. I know that I have felt the weight of these changes as if they were boulders. The feeling of decisions having consequences that they didn’t have just a few years ago. The fear of the impact of our choices, whether big or small. The overwhelming prospect of all of the possibilities, no matter how positive, because when one has so many possibilities, so many doors to perhaps open or close, how can we be sure that we’re opening and closing the “right” doors?

Like I said, shackles. And what it took to sit down and confront these shackles was not travel, but heartbreak. Funny how things work out sometimes, right?

After

I mention this internal journey because, although this information is very personal and it feels fairly vulnerable to share it in a public forum such as a blog, I feel like it’s something that I would have needed to hear, just a little bit ago. To hear that we have the power to sit down with ourselves and evaluate our shackles. To hear that sometimes it is as simple as saying, “I refuse to carry this fear within myself anymore.” And then really, actually, leaving that fear behind.

I spent the first few years of my twenties terrified of life. I believed in certain truths – bad truths – for the longest time. I believed in life always feeling like a crisis. And when you believe in something like that, then your life actually becomes a crisis. Every decision, a crisis. I had so much anxiety. On and off depression.

And it sounds pretty typical, because I know that I’m not the only person, twenties or not, who has felt this way.

And it has to do with travel, because travel is not an antidote to our problems. I mean, hey, maybe if you’re smarter than me it can be! But in my case, no amount of traveling actually helped me to cast off these crippling anxieties, until I actually sat down with myself in the face of what could have been a really big, ugly crisis, and said “no more.”

Miami Beach Lifeguard Stand
Colorful lifeguard stand on a serene beach day in South Beach, Miami

I find myself in a curious situation. I am not living where I imagined that I would live, nor am I doing what I imagined I would do. Many of the plans that I had been planning for the past many months all combusted in an instant, along with the relationship that I spent a year imagining would last forever. Yet. I have not combusted. A few years ago I would have. But I understand now that happiness is a choice, and an active choice. Suffering is also a choice. One can chose guilt, and anxiety, and sadness. And I spent so much time, especially in the past few years, choosing those three things. No more.

It’s amazing how liberating it is to realize that we each have the power to write our own narratives and our own truths. It took me a little while to figure this one out. But as they say: better late than never.

As for my year of travel… well, it was absolutely worth it. Hell, I got to stick my feet in the Pacific Ocean, visit Mayan ruins that are hundreds of years old, spend Día de los Muertos in Coyoacán, try ponche and limonada de coco and taquitos al pastor, dance salsa basically everywhere, see the sun almost every day for months, make friends, speak Spanish, feel sadness and joy and loneliness and love. I got to satiate my wanderlust… for now. And I got to come home, ready to start the next chapter of my life. Really ready.

Reflections On Life, Love, And One Year Of Travel

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4 Responses

  1. Dearest Alissa, <3
    Happy Birthday to my beautiful neice. (Actually, cousin) It sounds like your "After blog" and the daring it took to be vulnerable to the public, allowed you to be born anew. And so I say to this rebirth … Happy Birthday! Wishing you many more happy years. And I know that they will be happy, because you have discovered that "happiness" is withing your power whenever you wish. And that disappointments, sorrows, breakups, and fear will always be part of your life, but that it doesn't have to take away your happiness. Dance, sing, travel, contemplate, love …. do it all!!! But, make sure to keep your in heart the secret that you have the ability to be as happy as you decide to be.
    Love,
    Aunt Elaine

    • Elaine, thank you so so much for the kind comment and the birthday wishes! It’s a wonderful feeling to be moving forward in this moment in time, and even more so because I know that I have the love and support of family and friends. Thank you for all of your positivity and words of love! I’m wishing you the very best as well 🙂

  2. This was such an honest blog post. Thank you for reaffirming the fact that we all need a break sometimes, specially from social media. I love blogging but honestly it is a bit too much trying to keep up and generating traffic. All the best for your future pursuits and no matter what, do keep the wanderlust alive.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Paroma! Yes, we definitely all need a break at times. And as a blogger it can be really hard to “turn off”, because there is always something to do! But we’re generally at our best selves when we’re rested and recharged, so I try to tell myself that when I need to take a step back 🙂

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