"You Had Me at, 'Window or Aisle?'"
As I grow older, the memories of my early childhood become a bit more hazy. Nonetheless, there are just some memories from my childhood that seem forever ingrained in my mind: Peeing on my first electric fence (Which was also the last electric fence I peed on), kissing my first girl, setting up a basketball goal in my parents' carport involving an outdoor trash can and the utility room door, and seeing my first snake.
However, an even more indelible memory was the first time stepping foot onto an airplane. I was five and was flying from North Carolina to Dallas, Texas. Before takeoff I got to peek into the cockpit and meet and chat it up with the pilots. A tangible memory of that first trip is the Delta model airplane I received in the cockpit, which is still in my old room at my mom's house in North Carolina. It was there that the first seeds of my love for travel were planted and I've been traveling ever since.
Love for travel certainly isn't the same as love for a friend, family member, or significant other. However, just because it's not flesh and blood doesn't mean travel isn't without its own challenges like any other relationship. Travel's flame needs to be fanned before it starts to lose its luster. Travel the same way every time and it'll start to lose that luster. This is what happened to me just a few years ago. And when travel began to lose its luster, everything else began to lose its luster: Family, friends, romantic relationships, myself, and just life in general.
When I hear most people give their elevator speech, I've noticed that it typically includes two things: Where they're from and what they do. Mine includes these two things, but sandwiched in between them is the most important part my story that bridges the two: A 9-month stint of long-term travel last year. Its the most indelible and significant part of my story because that door I opened 18 months ago to start traveling is the door through which everything else has to walk through.
When you're sitting on a pile of debt, facing a divorce, feeling crushed because of the disappointment you've brought to those around you, and trying to make new friends because you've alienated everyone else, you have a little bit of time to think very broadly about this idea of "love". It makes you take a deep look into yourself. That was me nearly two years ago. The death of my father a couple years prior had set off a chain of events that led me down a dead end road where love didn't travel. I had settled and at the ripe age of 25. This was it. I no longer knew what it meant to love or to be loved, from friendship love to family love to romantic love.
After I give my elevator speech on travel, the first question I receive is typically about why I chose to travel. The short answer is for a "change of scenery". You and I both know that that's the five-second response that needs no elaboration. The real answer is that I had lost my sense of love and beauty in the world. Something had to change and something big.
I didn't go into a stint of travel expecting to be healed or come out with this great sense of love like I wanted to walk around giving everyone daisies and a big hug. But I knew that I needed to uproot myself and do something drastic because it had gotten to that point and I knew it had to start with travel. Travel was one of my earliest loves. I had flown for the first time by the time I was 5, by myself for the first time at age 7, and traveled to all but a few U.S. states by 18. While most friends were playing with G.I. Joe's and sports figures as a child, I was flying my model airplane around the house on a rainy day and building paper airplanes on nice days for outdoors. If love was going to be reclaimed, I was going to have to go back to my roots.
As I expected, at the conclusion of my 9-month trip last year, I didn't reach enlightenment or find love abroad that made me want to go around giving everyone daisies and hugs. It was better actually. One of my most defining moments, not just on that trip, but in life, was during my last week in Costa Rica toward the end of my trip. I was sitting on the beach with one of the town's orphan dogs, watching one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. As the sun dropped behind the horizon of the Pacific Ocean, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and smiled from ear-to-ear. I had done it. At that time, I didn't know what it was, but whatever it was, I had done it. I had never felt such a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in my life and I had absolutely nothing tangible to show for it. But looking back at it now, what I had done was finally started to become comfortable in my own skin - and that was a first.
It was a few weeks later when I was back in the U.S., after watching a movie, that something happened, which hadn't happened in years. I had just finished watching the movie Source Code, which dealt with some heavy themes about what we do with the time we have. At the conclusion of the movie I rushed outside and absolutely lost it. It was the first time I had cried in what felt like years. I hadn't even cried at my father's funeral. Yet here I was, in the suburbs of Atlanta, and I was a gushing baby. They were tears of joy like I had never experienced. I had started my trip in somewhat of a state of gloom with no set destination, but ready for whatever awaited. I came back a new person, one whom had never seen a world that was so beautiful. I felt freed to love and be loved again. And that person in that moment and the person today isn't the person who left on that trip in September of 2010.
It really wasn't until yesterday in the final hours of my 29th birthday when I realized how full circle this has all come. Rediscovering my love for travel took me through a door that all other loves must enter through. I had to first begin loving myself before I could really start loving others, beginning with family, then friends, and so on down the line. Romantic love, however, has been the most challenging. It took me nearly two years, but I'm finally not just recognizing my fears tied to romance, but facing and conquering them. It was that last puzzle piece, where I knew the big picture and what I had to do to get there, yet didn't feel such a strong sense of satisfaction until it was actually in place. And I'm not even dating anyone at this moment and that's alright.
Get out and travel. For a week, two weeks, a month, six months, a year. I don't care what it is, but I challenge you to take a different type of trip then you've ever taken this year. Go solo, with your best friend, a lovely belle you're crushing on, your significant other, or a group. I truly believe that there is no other way to find out more about yourself and other people then through travel. That stint of travel was the best decision I've ever made because so many elements of that trip continue to permeate my everyday life. And for that reason, I can't and won't cease to have travel experiences (And for an intermission because this has just been to much rambling on about my life, watch one of the sources of my inspiration this week from The Head and the Heart's Down in the Valley).
Last night I wrote on Facebook a long post about how this week was the finest moment of life. It's for no tangible reason other than I've never felt so accomplished and satisfied at who I am and what I've become. The culmination of this week is tonight in San Francisco, where I've been asked to speak at Tripping's Happy Hour about my love for travel. I'll be sharing a lot of this story and being more candid about love and travel than I ever have. It'll be a small and intimate event, but it really marks how far I've come in the last couple years. My father typically only told me that he was proud of me because of academic and sports achievements, but I think if he saw how happy and accomplished I feel, he couldn't resist grinning himself and telling me that he's proud of me.
What has travel taught you about love?