My stomach lifted with the last lurch of flight as our plane finally touched ground in Bogota, Colombia. That brief feeling of weightlessness terrified me as a child. I was convinced I would die if I ever stepped foot on a roller coaster, and repetitive dreams of falling off cliffs often woke me with the impossibly imagined impact with my mattress.
As our wheels came to terms with the ground beneath them, that feeling of weightlessness remained, my insides floating with nerves about my arrival in this foreign land. My mind felt wobbly — my body bizarrely light. But I didn’t mind. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant. It was, however, an absence of something I couldn’t quite place.
It was 11:58 as the chirpy Midwestern flight attendant welcomed us to Bogota with the last bit of English I’d be awarded for several days. “Oh, and happy New Year’s!” she added, as the passengers turned on their cell phones. I watched them hug and cheer and smile at their phones, likely receiving loving texts from those who would pick them up, or those they may have bid farewell.
My phone would no longer work, now that we were out of the United States. I had no one to call to pick me up. No one was expecting me at a certain time. Other than the need to figure out the taxi situation and make my way to the hostel I had booked, I had no responsibilities, plans, or inkling of what the next few hours, days…months even, would look like.
I was completely weightless.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being sat open on my lap. It floated with me with understanding — the first chapter perfectly foreshadowing this feeling of weightlessness.
Kundera discusses several philosophies on heaviness versus lightness in the opening paragraphs. He addresses the confusion over which is positive and which is negative — how lightness may imply the absence of conflict or burden, but heaviness is something we tend to crave, “as a woman longs to be weighed down by a man’s body.”
I tucked the book into my carry-on and continued pondering these theories as I floated through the airport full of people I didn’t know and words I couldn’t understand.
This weightlessness was something I had craved when quitting my job and ending my lease. It was a feeling that intoxicated me as I booked a one-way ticket to Colombia and shaved down my belongings from a 700-square-foot apartment to an 80-liter backpack.
As I took the first steps of my trip, I felt completely disconnected from my former life — a confusing mix of loss and freedom that I’d slowly learn to cope with, to cherish, and to overcome.
Travel allows us to become unhinged, but it also forces us to abandon the gravitational pull of our lives back home — both the good and the bad. That freedom can be exhilarating, and it can be terrifying. It can leave us giddy with possibilities and craving substance all at once.
By 1:30am, I spotted my bag coming around the corner of the conveyor belt. It contained all of my belongings for the next 6 months. With bent knees and a tightened torso, I hauled the weight over my shoulders, strapping it on tight. It was heavy but manageable.