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Can You Really Find Yourself Through Travel?

by SarahKate Abercrombie Mar 15, 2012
SarahKate Abercrombie wants to know.

I AM NOW 30. I think that should be significant somehow. The big Three Oh. I’m sure I should feel older, wiser, but all I feel is slightly hungover from all the pisco sours my husband and I drank last night to celebrate my birthday. The only thing that’s significant to me right now is finding a cold Diet Coke.

We’re taking the year off, traveling through three continents. We need the time to ourselves, to “shore up” our marriage. To make sure we eventually enter parenthood with no regrets — no sighs of “We should have seen Machu Picchu before we got saddled with kids!” It’s meant to be a kind of Last Hurrah of carefree youth and financial irresponsibility.

Can you really do that, though? Can time spent in Buenos Aires, in Atlanta, in Hanoi really make your marriage stronger? Can hours spent in cafes, in hostels, in incense-scented temples really add up to being ready for motherhood? These are the Big Questions I am pondering during my year in the world.

Many days, however, I don’t think about these things. I think instead about how hot it is, or how many days worth of clean underwear I have left. I spend hours thinking about what weird and wonderful foods I’m going to try next. My mind — no more organized now than when I spent eight hours a day at a desk job in England — drifts in and out, eroding my attempts to think Deep Thoughts with the repetitive wonderings of when the bus is going to stop for a bathroom break. I spent the entire bus ride from Peru to Bolivia organizing the music on my iPhone into playlists, then felt guilty that I wasted all that Looking Out The Window And Thinking Time.

We’re not supposed to just travel anymore.

Everyone talks about Finding Yourself during your travels. Bloggers wax lyrical about journeys of self-discovery. As if it’s not enough to plan a fun trip, see a bunch of new places, relax with the Hunger Games series on a beach, and make it home safely. We’re not supposed to just travel anymore. Now it’s as though we’re supposed to bring our inner psychologist along with us so we can examine ourselves in new lights and new circumstances.

So, I try to do that. I try to push myself out of my Comfort Zone. To take part in interactions that make me nervous so that I can Grow As A Person. Have you ever done that? It’s not great fun. And I don’t always like myself as a result. In fact, I can be skittish and a bit shrill when I’m Pushing Myself. And how does that knowledge help me? In my daily life, in my Real Life, how does the knowledge that I am poor at bargaining and always end up paying too much and feeling stupid help me? What is the benefit in knowing these things about myself?

This trip, these travels, this birthday. It’s all supposed to be “important,” life defining. As though I’m leading up to something huge. Like adulthood. And maybe I am. But, do we ever really know when something is “life defining” as it’s happening? Isn’t that the joy of photography, of writing? To capture how we feel and what we see in moments that may not seem significant now, but will be looked back upon as The Best Days Of Our Lives? And how, in the grand scheme of life, will having swum in the South China Sea or kayaked in Halong Bay help prepare me for the challenges of wifehood, motherhood, adulthood? Will anything that I may do or say or think during these months really define my life?

Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Maybe it’s enough to emerge from this year with a few more stamps in my passport, a few new stories to tell, and a few old fears conquered. I’m not perfect. No amount of introspection and self-examination will ever make me so. But I’m not too bad either. Do I really need so much more Effort? Do I really require so much navel gazing?

I’m not sure yet. But I know I need a Diet Coke. And, for now, in these first, acidic moments of my third decade, that has to be enough.

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