At the time I wrote this I had no idea of when I intended to post it. The reckoning itself took place way back in Lithuania, approximately 8 months and 14 countries later. We hitch-hiked 6,000 kilometers and ended up in a small flat outside of Kaunas in a downpour. As we left to relocate to Andreus’ house, Maria left me on the first landing outside the apartment.
“You seem like you need to be alone.”
“I’ll be down here if you want.”
I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I followed her down anyway. I hugged her against a yellowed, cracked window. It was back-lit with a gloomy sunset. I buried my face into her shoulder.
“Awwww, Bear. Do you want to go home?”
I just sobbed. I had no idea what came over me.
Earlier that day we were dropped off in the city center. We took a walk down a dirt path and found ourselves at the end of a long conversation and also where two rivers met. It was lightly raining and humid. Very gloomy. Kaunas is even worse than Zagreb (or so I hear). Earlier we talked about the future, mostly about Maria’s plans for school, and then it was apartments, and time lines, and then I got lost in my IKEA fantasies.
We found a coffee shop and Maria wrote her book while I doodled around my journal. It felt awesome. It was a feeling I haven’t felt in a really long time; the creative wave beginning to break. I scribbled and drew and had so many plans and so many ideas.
Now back to when I descended the stairs to Maria, I was suddenly hit with the somber realization that it would be months before I would be able to act on any of these impulses. At that moment, traveling became chains of my own choosing. I was in handcuffs and this was so profoundly fucked up it blew my mind.
I am the freest person there is. And yet I felt like I was in prison. This is when I knew that a change needed to be made. At the time, I was not sure what, but I was definitely aware that this was not on, and I needed to do something about it. Later around 2am, we had another conversation over the sounds of our hosts fucking in the next room.
“Tell me about your tears.”
I told her.
“I want you to just…consider…for a moment…the idea of going home early.”
Now at the time, I think Maria was just hoping I would think about it, feel some relief and then find the Zen energy to keep going with her to India. Instead I defied all expectations and completely jumped at the opportunity. In with both feet. Sold.
I talked to some friends and thought about it, but it didn’t take long. The relief was so immense I had to keep going. However, just buying a ticket straight to San Diego felt wrong somehow. After more thought, I found myself weaving this entirely new plan of traveling on my own in the US. First I would visit my family in Maryland, then friends in New York, and then friends and family in Texas. I would do all of this the way I wanted, with a tiny backpack and a cell phone. Maria, in the meantime, would go to India and Southeast Asia without me.
Now jump to Warsaw. After a truly kickass time making new friends and hanging out with old ones, I finally bought my ticket from Dublin to BWI. It was now final. After a somewhat arduous trip from Warsaw directly to Utrecht (we hitch-hiked 1,210 kilometers in 26 hours). I was in another bad head space due to my inability to find our friend’s flat and my bag being so heavy. Seriously, I am always cursing the weight and size of my bag. Once we arrive at our destination, Maria and I had another intense talk, only it was slightly more contemptuous this time.
It began with:
“Are you insecure?”
I answered after a few seconds.
Followed by more elaboration on how I don’t fit in anywhere. People constantly stare at us because we look so out of place, even for tourists we are quite a unique sight. The honking, staring everywhere we go sort of wears on me. Then she asked
“Do you think you are cut out for traveling?”
I answered immediately.
Not this type of travel anyway. You see, the thing about Maria is that she loves to suffer. She loves to toil under the weight of her bag. She holds on to bad memories, emotions, and she wants to feel this weight on her all the time. It suits her. I on the other hand, have always been heavy my entire life. And my life pursuit has been lightness, in body, mind, and emotions. I am the opposite of a pack-rat. If I do not need something that very second, I want to throw it out. Every three months or so I go through everything I own and get rid of as much as possible. When I buy something new, it is not an “addition” to my life, it is almost always a “replacement” and the old item leaves me.
What I hold on to are relationships. There are two people I’ve met in my ENTIRE LIFE who choose not to communicate with me based on reasons other than naturally falling out of touch. And I have met a lot of people (I am even facebook friends with some truck drivers who gave us a lift in France). But as far as objects go, I am light as a feather. Or I try to be.
I have no regrets about how I have traveled, or what I have done. In the past 12 months i have:
- Hitchhiked 8,000 kilometers
- Traveled in 14 countries
- Walked 800 kilometers in a row
- Slept in a truck with a truck driver
- Went to a festival and got obliterated
- Hiked/camped in the snow
- Rode a camel
- Went swimming in a waterfall
- Took a boat ride
- Rode on a ferry, a train, a bus, a semi-truck, and every kind of car
- Woke up in a strange place without clothes more than once
- Sobbed my eyes out
- Laughed my head off
- Camped behind a truck stop
- Amassed numerous awesome facebook photos
- Got unbelievably sick
- Projectile-vomited off a bridge
- Cleaned up rat shit
- Restored a house, built a shed, tiled a floor, operated a digger, poured concrete, chopped down a tree
- Ate reindeer meat
- Ate all the things!
- Got sexually harassed
- Hiked sand dunes, mountains, and fjords
- Got invited in to strangers’ homes for the night, while hitchhiking
- Learned a new language
- Swallowed my pride
And all of that, even the bad, I wouldn’t trade for anything. Especially considering that I was able to share all of these awesome and awesomely bad times with the person I love. But through it all, I came away with some distinct life lessons. This is what I have learned about myself:
- I MUST travel light.
- I am a list checker. I am always thinking about when something will be over so that I can check it off my list. This makes it very difficult to live in the moment, but I am trying.
- I enjoy challenge and achievement, but I derive my pleasure from the achieving, not the challenge. Here, Maria and I are opposite. This is why if I set a goal and don’t achieve it, I feel like a complete failure. This is untrue, of course, but we’re just talking about feelings here.
- When I suffer (otherwise known as “in my dark place”) I am very quiet. If I talk during this time, I will say bad, bad, irrational things that are all untrue.
- I am independent and self-directed. This does not mean that I am not a good fit for a strong leader (such as Maria) but it does mean that I have to take responsibility for tending to this core need I have to self direct.
We talked a bit more in detail about all of those points. We compared and contrasted our lessons learned and future goals, and things we want to improve about ourselves. It was constructive for sure. And what it did for me was 100% solidify my decision to travel on my own for a while.
My motivation is that I have never done this on my own and I think it is time to see if this is really the winning combination. It isn’t travel that gets to me, or being away from home, so much as I can’t do it the way I want to do it. But who knows, I could try it my way and also struggle just as much. We will have to see, the point is, I need to do it otherwise I’ll never know.
Fast forward again to Ireland. Maria has obtained her visa and purchased her ticket to India. I have my ticket back to the US. We have just over two weeks to spend together before we part ways. Of course, now that the hour is finally upon me, I have uneasy feelings. However, I still know this is the right choice. Part of me wishes I wanted to go to India, and the other part is happy for her. I will miss Maria so much. In fact, I have already begun to miss her.
But I will still have her, just not in immediate proximity. And she will still have me. I will wait for her back in SF when she is ready to come home. Travel is an allegory for life, and plans are always changing, and people are always evolving. Even though we will be separate physically, taking separate journeys, we are still together. I have always known this, but I really know it now; that I am so lucky to have Maria. It takes a special kind of person to take you on a year-long tour of Europe, put up with all of your drama and bs, and then happily let you fly off on your own because it’s what’s best for you. I think it is the perfect challenge and next step for this super-accelerated crash-course in life that is traveling.
I guess the point is to always try new things, and to learn something. The good news it that I seem to always be checking that one off my list.