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Starting out, I thought I knew what I was doing.

Sitting alone on a bench at 9:30pm at the Grant Avenue train station in Brooklyn with a 25lb backpack strapped on, a stroller, and a four-year old, I wasn’t sure anymore.

I looked around and there was no one else on the platform. There were no monitors to tell me how far away the train was. I held the stroller with one hand, clutched my daughter’s arm tightly with the other, and shook my right foot repeatedly in anticipation.

The train to JFK arrived in a few minutes and I rushed in. I found a seat, took off my backpack, and let out a deep breath. On the ride, this is all I could think about: What was I was trying to prove, and to whom?

* * *

Growing up, I always considered myself a traveler. ‘Travel’ always made its way onto my list of interests and things I liked to do. By way of actual travel, I used to go on family vacations with my parents, and summer holidays were spent at my brother’s house in another city.

In my head, this was enough for me. My still-developing brain easily accepted this as validation of the fact that I was indeed a traveler. In a self-congratulatory way, I proclaimed myself to be one. It was a thought I lived with, firmly etched in my mind, right through my 20s.

When I was 23, I moved to New Zealand from India as a trailing spouse. We lived in Christchurch for six years, and while there we moved around. Weekend road trips, long weekends spent in Queenstown, two trips to Auckland. Once, I visited Melbourne and spent a night in Singapore as part of a stopover on my way to India.

When we moved back home after six years of living overseas, my confidence about being the traveler-type had soared. I threw this expression around casually, sometimes in a smug sort of way. Like I knew better. Like I knew more. I had lived overseas, seen (one) other culture, and visited two other countries. This feeling was accentuated by the fact that, for the most part, people around me hadn’t moved around nearly as much as I had.

Two years later, I moved to the States, again following my husband.

Calling myself a traveler just didn’t seem right anymore.

As I started my life here, something began to change. It’s hard to point out exactly when it happened. It might have been all those travel blogs I started reading or the stories of all the fellow students I met in the travel writing course I took, but it wasn’t long before I began to realize where I actually stood when it came to travel and traveling. I realized, rather painfully, that I didn’t stand anywhere at all.

Here were all these people traveling the world, living and working their way through countries, spending time on the road. People who had made travel their life and their means of livelihood. People who were on the move constantly. Of the ones who weren’t, they had been at some point, coming home with stories and experiences to share.

More than anything else, these were people for whom travel formed an integral part of their lives. It was something they lived by. Something they lived for. They were travelers, and I fell short, terribly.

I hadn’t ever initiated a trip by myself. While I had lived in two other countries apart from India, I personally had nothing to do with either of those moves. More than that, while living overseas, I had never understood the importance of what I had, never taken a keen interest in appreciating the culture or the environment. I had experienced the places I had been to in a very superficial way.

And then there were other questions — had I missed the boat? I was 32 already. I hadn’t even been on a solo trip yet. How would I do it now? Was it too late? Suddenly, I wanted to go backpacking around the world. But I couldn’t just abandon everything and start traveling. I had a child to take care of.

These were questions that stayed with me. On certain days, I’d argue with myself. I didn’t need to fit into a mold. It didn’t matter what other people were doing. But the truth was, the comparison with others was not so much a literal one as it was a frame of reference for the perspective I was gaining about myself.

I knew I hadn’t been true to myself. I’d been arrogant and unaware. There was no denying the fact that I loved travel but hadn’t done enough to validate that love. Calling myself a traveler just didn’t seem right anymore.

* * *

In an attempt to salvage some part of my lost identity, I decided to take a trip alone. Because I couldn’t leave her behind, my daughter came with me. I had a set agenda for the week that I was going to spend in New York. I was going to Couchsurf, I would travel only by subway, eat from the street, walk everywhere…in other words, I would do what I believed a traveler would do. I would “rough it.”

Everything went per plan. On the day I was to leave, sticking to my traveler philosophy, I decided to take the train to the airport. I’d done the same when I’d landed and it was fine. Except this time, I got on the wrong train, it was nighttime, my luggage was heavier, and at one point I found myself on a deserted train platform with no one else in sight.

I was nervous and scared. More than I had ever been in my entire life.

But I made it home safely. After I got back, I thought about that moment often. I’ve wondered whether I was too harsh on myself. Maybe I was just a different type of traveler — one who didn’t travel too much. What was true was that when I did, I loved it. Nothing made me happier.

Life as it stands right now doesn’t give me the liberty to move around a lot. The time and opportunities I’ve missed cannot be brought back. This I have accepted. There are times, however, when it’s hard not to compare. There are times when self-doubt comes easily, to look around and see the things people are doing, the places they are going.

I try and remember that it’s not over. The greatest thing about travel is it doesn’t restrict by age, time, or anything else. For all the people who’ve traveled the world at 25, I know now there are those who’ve done it at 60.

The question of whether I am a traveler or not remains unanswered. However, the realization that this is not the end is liberating.

Travel Illusion


About The Author

Priyanka Kher

Originally from India, I have lived in New Zealand for six years and am currently residing in The United States. My travel stories are inspired by my experiences in these three very different parts of the world. I feel I have a lot to share and in the process am trying to learn something new every day. To read more visit my Matador profile.

  • Scott Hartman

    IMHO, What “we are” is for others to decide :)… Gladdest for you that “this is not the end”… :) Walk on…

  • Katka Lapelosová

    Love the style of this piece. It’s funny, you could have traveled all over the world a million times and still asked yourself these questions. Great stuff.

  • Hina Srivastava

    Great Stuff again..I am sure a lot of us would be able to relate to this article..beautifully written:)

  • Meghan Tankersley GE

    Loved this. I’m 24 and only been to a few countries and now work in International Education. I feel terribly undertravled by some colleagues and beautiful blog post (like this one). Thanks so much for sharing and reminding me there is nothing but time.

    • Priyanka Kher

      The best part about writing is to be able to connect with a reader. I am glad you could relate to this. Thanks for reading.

  • Shuchi Khanna

    great…welcome back.As always loved the piece, just because it is too honest.I wonder how can one be so straight forward, when everyone around u is ready to measure your moves….great.And once again , i find my echo in your words!

    • Priyanka Kher

      This is one of the awesomest things anyone has said to me. thanks Shuchi.

  • Liv Combe

    I could definitely relate to this as well. I think most of us who don’t travel constantly feel this sense of doubt, like our few trips a year don’t count for anything when held up against those people who live their lives on the road. It was nice to read someone else voicing that and realizing that there are endless possibilities for travel even when you don’t take part in that nomadic lifestyle. Thanks for sharing :)

    • Priyanka Kher

      Hey Liv! Thanks for reaching out via your comment :)

  • Anita Mac

    Being a traveler has no set definition…you are being to hard on yourself! You can travel the world relentlessly or explore places closer to home – either way, I think you easily fall into the category of a traveler. I have met so many people who have never left their home region – you have lived in multiple countries and experienced very different cultures!
    I can relate to what you are saying – you read all the stories of people with a nomadic lifestyle. I have lived that, but now travel from a home base, exploring the world as much as I can and never nearly enough! It is all in the eye of the beholder!
    Loved your personal look at what makes a traveler. Love your style.

    • Priyanka Kher

      Thank you for your lovely comment. It’s heartening and encouraging when someone comes back with such reassurance.

      Much appreciated!

  • Fleeting Life

    I think anyone who considers themselves a “traveler” ought to read this artile! Well written, easy to relate to, food for thought for everyone. Thanks for sharing!

  • Justin Barton

    I feel the same way. Even though I have not lived in another country, I have traveled to many different countries and continents. But looking at some of my friends and reading travel blogs I get the feeling that I don’t truly “travel”. Just because I take city tours and like to stay in nice hotels shouldn’t make me any less of a traveler, but I sure feel that way. Maybe in a different life I will stay in hostels and couchsurf, but when you have a career and some money why not travel in some comfort.

  • Justin Barton

    I feel the same way. Even though I have not lived in another country, I have traveled to many different countries and continents. But looking at some of my friends and reading travel blogs I get the feeling that I don’t truly “travel”. Just because I take city tours and like to stay in nice hotels shouldn’t make me any less of a traveler, but I sure feel that way. Maybe in a different life I will stay in hostels and couchsurf, but when you have a career and some money why not travel in some comfort.

  • The Occasional Traveller

    Loved this article Priyanka! Like you, I’ve sometimes wondered if my short yearly trips (never taken anything longer than 2 weeks) really counted as travel… but I agree you’ll never know till you’ve tried and I’m glad you attempted it because now you’ll know for sure =).

    I’m thinking of a longer trip, maybe a year or so (I might not be such an Occasional Traveller then), we’ll see what happens. Happy travelling, however you do it!

  • Mele-Paea Makisi

    It is inspiring to be reminded that traveling cannot be restricted by age, time or anything else. Thank you for sharing! I can agree regarding individuals who travel the world before they are 25 years old and I know during my early 20s I’ve been studying, so traveling has been minimal but thankfully, I’ll be finished soon and let the traveling begin! Until then, it is refreshing to know that this is not the end.

  • Ashish Kailodia

    great article I must say…i could very well relate to many a things you wrote there…for starters, the way u expressed urself as being a traveler who doesn travel much…wish I can also take the road less traveled someday..thnx fr the article. :)

  • Priyanka Kher

    Looks like this piece has touched a chord with a lot of you out there. Thank you- each one of you for reading and offering your own perspective. Thank you Matador, for the opportunity to publish this.

  • Rebecca Hutner

    I related to this so much, Priyanka! While I like to think of myself as a traveler, I’ve only been to 12 countries which seems pathetic compared to so many in the travel community. And now that I’m doing some travel writing, I find myself battling this nagging feeling that I’m a fraud. Still, I think that I approach my daily life as a traveler. I may have lived in the same city for 13 years but I still wake up excited every day, eager to explore & learn. I like to think that a traveler is someone who approaches life with an open mind & a sense of curiosity wherever she may be. At least that’s what I tell myself to make me feel better :)

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