Susan B. Anthony once said about the bicycle, “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” I wonder what she’d say about my new 46 liter backpack. Because I have never felt so free, about to travel the world for months living out of this tool.
Let’s start by recognizing that travel is a form of privilege, though you don’t need as many resources to do so as some purport.
I am in a situation in which I have a particular privilege: I end a one year fellowship with a final retreat in Rwanda which includes a stipend to get home, whenever I decide that will be. A natural employment break, no quitting of job necessary, and landing on a different continent with a way to get home. I am humbled for this opportunity and all that’s led up to this. I hope to be a good steward of the resources I’ve been given.
I always knew I’d travel when this fellowship ended, but only recently did “a couple months” turn into a potentially five month plan. If all goes to plan-which I can tell you it already that it won’t be smooth like it is on paper now- I will be doing everything from assisting sport for development organizations, writing in monasteries, summiting a volcano, walking on an ancient path from France into Spain, and set foot on five continents. But even if none of that happens, I have already learned so much.
Because I am doing things I never thought I’d do because of fear or anxiety.
I’m trusting I will find a job when I return.
I’m learning to spend money I’ve saved and not feel guilty about it.
I am visiting embassies. And not because my passport was stolen.
I feel more independent than ever before and that we can truly get anywhere we want with a little research.
My geography has expanded ten fold. I can now tell you where all the major cities in France, Turkey, Nigeria, India, and Italy are located on the map.
I am learning how to be present and take things one leg of the journey, country, month, day, moment at a time. Because it’s only when I think about the entire five months that things start to feel overwhelming.
I am learning French. The metric system. The Schengen Ageement. Currency exchange rates. The history of pilgrimage. What day is cheapest to fly (when in doubt, it’s Tuesday).
I am learning what I need to do to calm down on those 1 AM restless nights, in which it is one as I type this (solution: Bon Iver, a light snack, lighting a candle, journaling and sitting Indian style with my eyes closed and palms open).
I am learning just how massive of a behemoth colonialism was…or still is.
I am learning that travel is not as expensive as I thought and having a spiritual awakening through SkyScanner.com.
I am learning how strong my non-anxious muscles are.
I am learning that if shit hits the fan and I need to come home earlier, that’s ok and I haven’t failed anyone- not even myself.
I am learning that wrestling with change’s shadows at 2 AM will be a part of my evolution, and though we will step on each others’ toes, we will dance.
I am learning that 99.9 percent of the world will treat you with an immense kindness and goodness, like when I had my first Skype call with a sport for development organization in Togo, where I’ll be headed in August. He spoke to me with the bit of English he knew. I spoke to him in fractured Frenglish, and he helped me with my accent. We used the instant message feature a lot and he wrote, “Do not be afraid. My family and my children will be yours and we will teach you French.” Tears welled in my eyes.
Because I was afraid. Looking at my flight options, I had two choices. Overnight layovers in countries where I was nervous for my safety. Or take a 2:30 AM flight.
2:30 in the morning? 2:30 in the morning!!! My anxious bells whistled. How will I sleep? It’s not safe to be out at that hour! How am I even getting to the airport!? The cacophony in my head snowballed. What if the pilot falls asleep while flying? What if we crash?
You’re in an airport, a voice of reason chimed in. Where other people are there for the same exact reason you are. Plus, when’s the last time a plane crashed because the pilot was tired?
Nerves eased slightly.
The next day, I had another restless night and finally got out of bed to journal. I never look at the clock when this happens but I grabbed my cell phone to serve as light, and noticed it was 2:15 A.M. A quiet laugh came over me, then an unfettered loud one. You are alone. In the dark. In a city you know. With every comfort you’d ever need. Yet you’re wide awake. And you’re worried about how you will sleep on some flight? It was comical to me. That forsaken scary hour did not appear the least bit scary anymore. I booked my ticket as soon when I woke up seven hours later.
In addition to all I’ve learned and the kindness bestowed to me, I am hearing stories of people’s dreams, fears, and personal travels. Because when people learn of my upcoming plans, they often then divulge one of those three scenarios. How humanizing it is to share fears. How mobilizing it is to learn from others. How exciting it is to share dreams until the we’re lying on our backs staring up at the stars saying, “God, I can’t believe we get to live this life.”
As I go through waves of anxiety and excitement, my soul tries to speak beyond all the emotions. I feel my soul extending palms open, longing to stop spinning in the midst of my fears over the changes ahead. To accept uncertainty and even befriend it. There’s this inner space that speaks more gently than before, whispering a cathartic, “Just be.” And on days in which I feel as though I cannot muster up enough energy to get out one more word, a simple, “Just.”
The calendar of time left before I leave is thinning. And so are my cabinet shelves as I slowly begin to move out.This global house I’ve lived in with roommates from India and Canada is coming to a close. We’re throwing dance parties and cocking our heads on each others’ shoulders when we need to lament the passage of time. But inside, something is both stirring and simmering, heart hearkened to dismantling personal barriers. If these plans should suddenly foil, I will already have learned so much.
“Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be. And you will not be alone. You have never been alone. Don’t worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed.” –Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts