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When Did You First Know You Were a Traveler?

Student Work
by Joshywashington Jun 3, 2013
This article is pulled from a MatadorU forum thread that was just too awesome to keep from the light of day.

I WOULD VENTURE that most everyone who’s made travel a part of their lifestyle can tell you where they were when they realized they wanted to see, taste, hear, smell, and experience as much as possible. When they realized that travel didn’t just happen to them — they traveled because that’s what they were now called to do.

I was in Verona, Italy, 20 years old and one month into a three-month baptism of international travel. I’d humped a rucksack full of novels from town to town, piazza to piazza, thirsty for the flavor of life I found in quiet moments on cobbled streets. I was a young man, just starting to figure out who and what I was. In that sense, I was looking for an identity and was a ready vessel.

I’d just finished a book that had consumed my free hours of leisure and train travel, and as I closed the cover and looked out over the city from the hill I’d climbed, I just suddenly knew: Travel was a part of me. I knew I wanted to finish books on hilltops and close the cover to see new cities, over and over. What I didn’t know was that I would go on to become a professional travel storyteller or join the Matador team, but something had clicked — I recognized myself as a traveler and not just some guy that was really far from home.

For me it was a sort of holy moment — a travel satori — where my mind saw a more distant horizon than my eye and beckoned me forth. I wanted to see if some of the students at the U had had the same experience.

They had.

When did you first know you were a ‘traveler’?

I knew I wanted to be traveler when I was about 12. Every Sunday I’d page through the Los Angeles Times’s bulky travel section and fill out all the cutout forms and send them away for travel brochures and flyers. I still remember scoring an actual travel book about Tahiti.

I don’t think I knew for sure I was a traveler until I went on a trip to France with my parents and sister during my senior year of high school. While on the trip, as is to be expected, I experienced a few unknown situations (e.g., not knowing exactly how to flush a toilet and not understanding that “fromage de tete” was head cheese when ordering a meal in Paris). However, those small mishaps made everything exciting and turned travel into an adventure.

I was hooked and saved up money to travel to Europe again the next summer. Two years later, I studied for a semester in the Netherlands. Over the years, my feelings of being a traveler have just intensified, because I wanted to travel and write about it. Finally, I don’t want to just write bulleted points in a journal, I want to be a storyteller, too.

I would have to say the moment that I knew I was going to be a life-long traveler would be when I was in Sinai. We had driven three hours on a dirt road out to the edge of the Red Sea. The western edge of Saudi Arabia shone bright in the distance while our camp at Ras Abu Galum was shadowed by the blue mountains and there was a gentle, warm breeze that carried the scent of the sea.

I was dipping my toes in the water while watching a camel caravan navigate their way along the rocky shore to Dahab and I knew. I knew that I wanted a million of these experiences throughout my life and I would not be content without them. That’s when the wanderlust really began and when I knew that I could not keep these experiences to myself. So I began writing and here we are today.

The moment I got in a car and drove from New York to Texas in a day and a half…by myself. I knew at that moment settling was not in the cards. Once you’re out there…you really don’t come back from that. I remember how frustrated I was when I got pulled over for unknowingly driving in an HOV lane in Washington DC during rush hour. Plenty of people were doing it, but the cops only seemed to be picking off those with out-of-state plates. All of that anger was worth it when I finally got to Austin for the SXSW Festival.

Later on that year I’d drive from Michigan to California. In six months I saw more of the United States than most people see their entire lives…I’ve been stuck since then, but I’ve finally found a way to make this life happen. I have grand dreams of living a nomadic life…the best part is that they’ll only be dreams for a short time before I start making them happen. Matador is going to help me accomplish this!

Although I was hopping on planes since I was one, I really felt I was a traveler only when I turned 30 and decided to offer myself my first backpacking trip (without any plans) to 2 countries I’ve always wanted to visit: Ireland and Iceland.

That, combined with my new passion for photography that year, changed completely my whole life and made me quit my job and become a full-time freelance travel photographer.

Interesting question. I’ve spent so much of my life moving around different towns and countries I think I just grew up with it. My mother was obsessed with the Classics so we were travelling around Greece, Turkey, and the Mediterranean since I was 7 years old, taking local buses to see obscure archaeological sites. I’ve never been happy staying in one place for too long, and travel makes me feel so alive. I hated going to beach resorts even in my teens and preferred staying in small villages with locals. I think it’s become more and more infectious as I’ve got older though — especially since taking my first trip alone to Venice after finishing my PhD, I’ve felt braver about travelling alone.

I don’t think I could ever move back to the UK. I’ve spent my childhood abroad and then moved away again when I was 20 and never regretted it.

Like Steph said, I always knew I *wanted* to be a traveller, and over the last few years have been doing just that, but I had my own identity shifting moment just last year. I was living here in Bilbao but in a flat that was inside a house where two elderly people lived. It was kind of a weird setup — I had to walk through their house to get to my flat, and sometimes I got invited to family dinners or to go for a drink with them.

I had a week off for Easter and I’d decided on the spur of the moment to head to the south of Spain and volunteer in an organic fruit farm (with Help Exchange). I’d just had to explain to my workmates what I was doing and answer their questions (“you’re going alone?” “you found this last night?” “you’re planning to spend your week holiday working?” “you don’t know the people you’re going to stay with?” — yes, yes, yes, and no). They all thought I was crazy.

When I got home, I knew I was going to have a bit of trouble explaining to my elderly landlords. I thought they wouldn’t ‘get’ it either. I considered lying just to make things easier (“I’m going to stay with friends”), but decided to go with the truth and after a while trying to explain in slow English and broken Spanish, the man turned to me and stared at me for a while before nodding and saying “Ahh, you, are an adventurer” in a really slow and deliberate way. I think my mouth opened and closed a few times like a fish before I confirmed that I was! It was a great moment. He didn’t just ‘get’ it, he ‘got’ me too.

I’d been having a bit of an identity crisis about what the hell I was doing with my life at the time, so it was definitely a moment that sticks out for me as I continue down this path!

When did you first recognize yourself as not just someone who has traveled but a ‘traveler’? Leave your tale in the comments.

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