Photo: Jeff Hitchcock
1. That chip on my shoulder.
In between trying to appease everyone and make sure I was validating my life, I was also riding a pretty big ego kick. I wanted to prove that I was more resilient, capable, and tough enough to do everything on my ‘single parent raised tough as nails’ pulpit. I work hard for the life I live and felt the need to establish that everyone I knew understand that. Super annoying.
It took a little bit but I am starting to appreciate that everyone has their own shit. It took seeing things that made me uncomfortable to make me realize that my invisible chip was a barrier not letting me truly empathize with others. I see the beauty in the humble way I once overlooked or criticized for not trying hard enough. I acknowledge the struggle that everyone is facing, and I find an abundance of kindness in my own heart for everyone’s story, even if I can’t relate on a personal level. It’s been a transformation from the person I was a few short years ago. This adventurous path isn’t always comfortable and certainly isn’t one size fits all, but my progression through it has been the best confidence boosting that I have done for myself.
2. Where I pee.
Peeing into a small portable bathroom in the middle of the night after a sandstorm in the Sahara dessert made me realize I don’t need a whole lot to pee comfortably. Sometimes, I just have to pee. There’s not a place I won’t drop a squat in now if needed. Seriously, your kidneys will thank you the moment you get over trying to find the cleanest bathroom along the way.
3. Smell goods and hair junk.
I remember my first few trips. A meticulously organized suitcase with tiny bottles of every comfort I was used to in my home ready to go. Now, I just have a bag on the ready with remnants of a few tubes of whatever hotel off-brand I was at last time. As long as there is a clean toothbrush in my kit, it’s all I need now. It went from a perfectly packed bag of ‘oh my god I can’t possibly leave home without my hair dryer’ to a comb and some rubber bands. No one even notices that my hair is back in a messy bun (or maybe they have just gotten used to the fact that I don’t even try).
4. Fashion trends.
Let’s face it, a girl who wants to live out of her backpack and see the world on a real level isn’t always going to pack the most designer jeans. I have worn the same pair of pants several days in a row, knowing I was going to be gritty from desert sand and the next village with laundry was still a few more days away. Might as well not dirty another pair for the time being. I am not traveling to impress anyone. I try to pack now based on what is respectful to the local culture and customs more so than by what I think is cute.
5. What others think of me.
It’s probably a mixture of age and experiences, but recently, for the first time in my life I was able to look someone square in the eye knowing their opinion of my made absolutely no difference in my life. The feeling was crazy enlightening. The reality is, somewhere between dusty alley ways and sitting under 10 million stars, I started to realize that at the end of the day, there are very few people who I need validation from, and the most important one is myself.
6. Fake friends.
There’s something about traveling that brings out the creepers on my Facebook feed. They want to know where I am and are always asking how they can come with me. True story, if they wanted to be there, they would. I am happier now with the core group of friends I have and the authentic relationships made along the way than the pending friend requests from people I only talk to once or twice a year at meetings. Individuals who want to be in my life will work to be an active part of it, no matter where in the world I am.
Speaking of that strategically packed bag, my suitcase has gotten a lot lighter. First trip, underwear for every day, plus some extra, just like I was taught. Now, I am lucky if there are three entire sets of clean clothing. Laundry is pretty inexpensive when you are traveling from town to town, or there is always a balcony or line it can hang from to dry. Now I am in it for a light easy to load bag instead of matching cute shoes with whatever city I am exploring. Two changes of pants, a warm layer, and some scarves in case I need to cover my head and I can dodge in and out of anywhere comfortably. I’ll throw a quick change in my camera / carry on bag too just in case and never really worry if my bag doesn’t make it through now.
8. Justifying myself to people.
I sat down across from friends while back home a few weeks ago, and one looked at me, asking about my recent bouncing from a few locations, “What do you do?” he asked. I struggled to sum it up. How do you explain to someone that this is legitimate work while seeing the world, writing, photographing, documenting, freelancing, and hustling the whole thing like a boss (lady)? What’s my job title? Professional couch surfer. That’s crazy given only a few years ago I wore heels and a suit every single day while pushing someone else’s big dreams. I traded it all in for a killer camera backpack and a comfortable pair of hiking sandals. Now I look like the roaming hipster I used to turn my nose up at, and I am through trying to quantify my happiness to anyone else. Let’s be real, my dad is never going to get it.
9. Being a ‘girl’.
I have always worked in male-dominated fields and am comfy hanging out with the guys. Because of that, there’s a bit of stigma that gets put over my head and people are quick to judge. For a while I struggled, trying to be a proper girl and not letting anyone think anything they shouldn’t, cautious of what others were reading between the non-existent lines. After a few years of really trying and finding out the hard way the rumor mill will fly no matter what, I just stopped trying to please everyone. Either people are going to take the time to get to know me, or they are going to form opinions of me regardless of how perfect I try to be. I’m a female who likes reading comic books and getting muddy on my mountain bike, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Luckily, I can choose to wear a skirt to the office and ignore the fact that there are going to be those people who suddenly want to chime in about your sex.
10. Keeping up with the Jones.
My car is a few years old, but still looks great, and is paid in full. My home is the perfect size for my small family, and my laptop makes horrible hissing noises, but it’s fallen off of my back and bounced of cobblestones in Europe. Somewhere between tents and trains, the price tags of the newest shiny thing stopped calling to me. I sit back and think a lot harder on whether purchases are needed or just wanted, always realizing that every penny I don’t spend on that new item is probably going towards my next adventure (which is an easy way to not fill that cart with random junk as I walk through Target).
Yes, I am always going to eye up the stats on the newest mirror-less camera with a little hope of someday playing with my own, but it is so much easier to acknowledge that my equipment is doing its job just fine and isn’t the make or break between the next job.