Dear Nontraveler: an Open Letter To Everyone Who Doesn’t Understand Why We Need To See the World
I invite you inside my mind. Would you like to come? Not because I feel the need to explain myself, but because I want to connect with you. And connection is bred from understanding.
Not everyone finds circling the world with a 40-liter backpack interesting. I get it. It took me a few years, but I get it. I’ll try to see your side if you try to see mine. I hope you hear me out.
To search or not to search.
I’ve dealt for years with what seems to be your favorite question: “What are you searching for?” Some basic answers that come to mind: peace, love, acceptance, for people with whom I can feel vulnerable and safe at the same time, health, human connection. Aren’t you? I hope so. I don’t think I’m searching for anything out of the ordinary.
I didn’t leave because I’m incomplete. I left because I’m whole. And I want to bring my wholeness to the world. Throw my hands up and see what happens. Truth be told, it hurts my feelings when you insinuate I’m broken. We’re all broken. I may trek mountains and cross borders, but I’m still delicate. Please be gentle.
However, I have a confession to make. I’m scared of commitment — not just to people, how we normally think of it, but commitment to places, to jobs, to contracts of any kind — because I’m scared of boredom. I’m scared to not feel alive while I’m living. ‘Cause I’ve been there before. And I don’t wanna go back.
So sometimes, just sometimes, I am running. Sometimes I do run to escape. Yeah, I said it. But we all run, don’t we? I just have expensive taste in the sport. Somehow a $739 flight to Asia is an appealing track for me to run. Others run while sitting in place. Staying in front of the TV for hours each evening. Hanging around at work a bit extra each night — not because there’s much left to do, but because you just can’t bring yourself home to face the problems in your marriage. Or having that extra drink not because you wanted more buzz, but because it makes you feel a little less here… and that feels good.
We all run. Let me get my exercise, too.
Eventually, we all run out of steam.
Being out in the big wide world.
I’ve never been touched on a crowded Indian train. In fact, numerous times people have given up their seat in honor of atithi devo bhava, “guest is God”, in Hindi. I miraculously managed to not catch a brain-eating parasite in Thailand’s hot springs, and I didn’t get trapped in Nicaraguan drug traffic. So far so good. I’m not saying these things have never happened to people. But the world isn’t as scary as you think.
Is your life as dramatic as the movies? Is your relationship as theatrical and is your car as shiny? So then what makes you believe all the drama of the news? Don’t auto-trust just because it comes through a screen. I prefer to see the world for myself.
Don’t be fooled. I’m scared shitless. I’m not fearless, my friend. But I feel the fear and do it anyway.
“How do you do it?”
I know what you really want to ask is where the funds are coming from. You can cut to the chase. I won’t be offended.
So what’s my deal? I happened to have a well-paid corporate job before I “threw it all away,” as you often like to call it (I mean, aren’t we supposed to throw away things we’re done with? Shoes, relationships, expired cereal). And my family happens to live in the coolest city in the world, so I stuck around for a while. I know, I know, lucky bitch.
But also, Jimmy Choos, shopping malls, and sitting at expensive boozy brunch have always given me some type of anxiety. Target and Chipotle are more my thing. I never understood precisely why paying $237 for two pieces of glass to shield your eyes from the sun seems to be accepted as common sense, or why everyone wants Christian Loubo-who?!? Is he really good in bed or something? But hey, you have your thing and I have mine. Maybe your money-mind works hard to pronounce French brand names. Mine calculates strictly in plane tickets. For the love of God, let’s just let each other rock.
There are all kinds of different ways to do it at home, so why not abroad? Humans, every last one of us, will always have something to say — she’s able to travel because she lives with her parents, they don’t have children so they can just leave, he’s a trust fund kid so he can pull it off. But even when you think you do, you really never know someone’s story. And at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter. If you’re genuinely interested, ask. I’ll proudly give you all my secrets. But if you’re just trying to find a glitch in my plan, kindly save it. I know there are glitches. Life is full of glitches. Mine, yours, all of ours.
Yes, it has to be now.
Now is the only time that’s real. We all know that someday never comes. Can I tell you a secret? Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder when I will ever be this healthy and fit, this sharp and alert, and this young and unsure, but excited. I think all of this not in an anxious way, but in a grateful way. In a you-have-it-so-do-something-with-it-NOW type of way.
I don’t want to wait around till I’m retired. That’s far too long. Not because I’m impatient, but because I’m excited. The world is a school and I want to run wild in it. Draw all over the walls with crayons. Flip all over the jungle gym. Enrollment started day 1 of life and the clock is officially ticking.
When will you ever “slow down”?
I won’t. Don’t hold your breath. For some reason, people never seem to ask this question to my friends who work 80-hour weeks, or to the mother who lets her own life and mental health slip away in the name of her four kids. Instead, society pats them on the back. Why?
Since I’ve had to deduce the societal definition of the phrase, my answer is I probably won’t “slow down.” Why not? Because I just don’t want to. At least not now. It doesn’t mean 10-month trips forever. But it means no matter what, I’ll desperately sneak in that two-week vacation amongst whatever job I have going on; my house, if I ever settle into one, will be littered with travel magazines and photos of past trips and faces of souls I love but will probably never see again; and home will always mean wherever I want it to be. I hope you understand.
I want to connect with you.
I want to be understood. It’s not fun to feel like the outcast at home — at social gatherings, family events, temporary jobs. I want to be accepted, just like the rest of the world. Don’t you?
And besides, what is a traveler anyway? Someone who leaves his country? Her city? Do nearby weekend trips count? Or that doesn’t make the cut? Does the two-week vacation to Tuscany make her a dreamer? Or does it take two months in the South Pacific for a woman to be considered certifiably insane? Can I drive, or do I have to fly? And if I’m making money does that mean I’m doing it right? Or wrong? It’s acceptable to move your life a state over, isn’t it? So is it cross-coastal that breaks the limit? Or is it cross-continental? Where exactly do we draw the line and who draws it?
I’m tired of seeing it as the us’s and the thems. I see thousands of travelers commuting to work every day, travelers picking up their kids from school, and travelers going to the grocery store each week. We’re all traveling through life. I just choose to do it someplace else.
So whatever I am, whatever you want to call me, I hope I’ve given you at least a tiny glimpse into my wandering mind and heart. We have more in common than you might think.
A woman who walks the globe.