I have traveled for six months. I had no expectations about who I would be or what I would have learned at this point in the trip. I certainly have changed and learned so much since leaving home, but ultimately I am still the same person.
I have been surrounded by the adventuring type throughout my travels. These are the restless people who flee from domesticity and are constantly between points A and B. Being surrounded by these adventurers has shown me that I am not one of them. My favorite moments of travel have been when I have become nicely settled in a place and have found a comfortable routine; not, as with the adventurers, when I am in transition.
I make no value claims on the superiority of either domesticity or wild adventure. I do think, however, that both should be experienced at some point in one’s life, at the very least for the sake of balance. Be that as it may the weight of my life is pulled more by the gravity of structure and domesticity rather than by that of adventure and abandon. I have learned this not through reason but through experience, although this conclusion about myself would have been easily guessed based upon my habits at home. Still, the only way I could have been sure was by actually trying adventuring for myself.
Had I not traveled, the world would seem unfathomable and unapproachable. Neither of these adjectives are in fact true of the world. Unfathomable perhaps in the sense that one can never see it all in a lifetime, but not unfathomable in the sense that it can never be understood. It is not unapproachable because it is populated by people, who, despite differences in dispositions and ideas, are all fundamentally united in their will to life.
Maybe, stripped of its unfathomable-ness and unapproachable-ness, the world seems smaller to me now. Some of the magic has been taken out of it, that’s for sure. This “magic,” however, is merely the product of romantic imaginings about the wonders of travel. The bio of the founders of Lonely Planet reads: “a beat-up old car, a few dollars in the pocket and a sense of adventure…” Such an image this bio conjures no longer holds any romanticism for me. In fact I think this bio is predatory. It preys on people’s desire for the greener grass in the same way that advertising agencies and market strategists do. “The good life is out there!” it says, “and you don’t have it yet because you’re not dropping it all to travel!” This sort of claim is of course false because it assumes there is in fact such a thing as “the greener grass.” Platitudinous as it is to say, the grass is the same color the world over: it’s the individual who decides his or her own patch is duller.
Yet for all that I have learned and grown by, I am, like anyone who has pinned his or her hopes on a silver bullet, a little disappointed. I wish I could report to you that traveling has fixed all my problems. I wish I could tell you that whatever you are suffering from can be relieved by dropping it all and traveling. It is obviously true that traveling will not magically relieve these problems, yet there is a bizarre kind of double-think that people seem to have about traveling: that traveling will in fact clear away all problems. Perhaps this notion is a by-product of the sentiment that one will never regret traveling. Maybe that sentiment is true, for I haven’t met anyone yet who flatly regrets having hit the road.
Regardless, you can take this small and obvious truth from me: traveling, no matter how far or for how long, will not solve your problems. You may grow in ways that only travel allows, but growth is no substitute for addressing the matters in your life that need attention. You have at all times the means by which you can confront the issues in your life. They are, after all, your problems, and will naturally be with you wherever you go.
Perhaps this essay appears cynical in its treatment of travel. That is not my intention. My intention in writing this essay is to give a fair account of the realities of traveling as I have experienced them and to explain why I have come home. The reality of traveling is that it is no better or worse than anything else one can choose to do in life. Again, I know this appears blindingly obvious, but the actions in your life have only the value you assign them. This makes life wholly wonderful because it asserts that there is no direct sure-fire path that guarantees happiness and success. Happiness and success can be had at any time, you just have to step out of your own way to find them.
As to specifically why I have come home: I now have a clearer picture of how I want to direct my life, and now that I have confidence in this direction I feel that traveling further would simply be a cost of time and money that might otherwise be spent pursuing what I now perceive as a worthwhile path.
That, and I miss my bookshelves. I also miss typing on a keyboard, (I have been writing posts on my phone this whole time) and of course I miss my friends and family. None of these elements, however, are the sole reason for my return. Home is the base from which I can work to prepare myself for the next step in life, and now that I know what that next step is, home is naturally the place where I should be.
When I left back in August I didn’t know what I wanted that next step to be, so despite my bookshelves, my keyboard, and my friends and family, nothing was really tying me to home. Traveling then was the right thing to do. I thought it would take a year for me to figure things out. It turned out all I really needed was half of that time.
Still, it has been an amazing experience. I am most grateful for the people I’ve met. The people who opened their doors and their hearts to a complete stranger. If anything has given me a sense of the redeeming value of life it is the people I have been lucky enough to call my friends over these past few months. You know who you are, and you are many. I would also like to take this last opportunity to thank all those who read the posts on this blog. It may be hard for readers to understand the sense of purpose and fulfilment they bring to writers, but let it suffice to say now that I am humbled by all those who took the time to read what I wrote here, as aimless as it sometimes was.
So I say goodbye to the road for now, although I am sure to see it again sometime in the future.