This is all Emie’s fault. Well, it’s Lindsay’s, too. And Cherry’s… and Robert’s… and Ali’s. This trip is all their fault. But now that it’s really here, it finally feels like mine.
Emie was the one who asked me as politely as a best pal can to please shut the hell up about all the travel stuff… or at least go someplace really cool and call her from there about it. It turned out that I’d spent a good portion of every conversation we’d had since graduation (and there had been a lot of them) talking about all the world travel I wanted to do and what a bummer it was that I couldn’t really do that now that I was a New Yorker and six months… a year… two years out of college. My friend Lindsay was a frequent topic of these one-sided conversations. Emie would lovingly but exasperatedly roll her eyes on the other end of the line as I rehashed my jealousy of Lindsay’s global life. Have I told you about my friend Lindsay? Yes? Well right now she’s traveling on a cruise ship to Antarctica with her Australian boyfriend, who she met while living in New Zealand. How amazing is that? Oh, we’ve talked about that already? Well they’re on their way to Australia after that to live for a few years and then they’re going to backpack through Asia together. She has the most incredible life. Oh I said that last week? …This is all I ever talk about?
I had decided I’d missed the boat. I didn’t travel right after graduating because I had no money and didn’t think I was built to sling on a backpack and waltz around the world. I pack too much, I like hot showers, I don’t own zip-off pants. I’m no Lindsay. And it just didn’t fit into the puzzle of the adult life I was trying to build in New York – you don’t just pick up and do something like that. Move to San Fran, maybe. Travel the world like a nomad, not so much. It’s amazing what I had convinced myself of just by spending too many years on the straight and narrow. What would employers think? How far behind the rest of the pack would my life be when I returned? How do you explain this kind of detour off the treadmill to a stranger? But it turned out that the friends I was (not so-) secretly jealous of were all showing me that it could easily be done. They were doing it. Lindsay in Australia, Cherry in South Africa, Robert in Israel, Ali in the Maldives. And they were no different from me, just less willing to let opportunities pass them by, less scared. So Emie asked me what it would mean if I just decided to be one of them, decided to pick up and travel, in whatever way I saw fit. Just stop for a second and picture it. Imagine you’ve just decided to go. How does that feel?
It felt freeing. Regardless of the plane tickets and visas and packing and saving and trekking it would involve, I felt relieved. I was the only one lashing sandbags around my ankles and, in that moment, I started untying the ropes.
So here I am, starting the journey of my lifetime. One of the cool kids, with the spiffy green backpack and a one way ticket to the Motherland. Don’t worry – Lumpy’s pajamas balled up in my pillowcase are there to prove that “cool” is relative term. And now that the trip isn’t just the concept it’s been for so long, now that I’m the only one getting on the plane and flying half way around the globe, now that I can see the tiny-ass seat on South African Airways flight 204 that’s going to take me there, the trip is really mine. It’s not someone else’s life I wish I was living. I’m the only one who really got myself here and the only one who’s going to get me back home (maybe). It’s all my fault… and it’s pretty fucking awesome.
PS: I suppose you might be wondering about the zebra thing. It’s sort of a philosophy I’m trying to follow while on this journey, and it was developed by the almighty mind that is my younger brother. When I first told him I was traveling, and starting my journey in Africa, he thought about it for a second, turned to me, and said in all seriousness, “Well, don’t paint your tent like a zebra”. At the time I just cracked up laughing, but the more I thought about it, the more his simple statement made sense to me in terms of the mindset I wanted to have on my trip. It’s sort of a great way of saying “Don’t be an idiot”, and a particular, special kind of idiot at that. Don’t be the idiot who thought she couldn’t leave a dumb job in the US, with no attachments or responsibilities except to herself, because that’s not what she was supposed to do. Don’t neglect to recognize when you’re going out of your way to do something unhelpful, superficial, and maybe even dangerous. Don’t let the big background blur while you focus on something small and empty in the foreground. Don’t be a walking American target in a wide open world – blend in with your body and mind. Don’t miss each moment of this incredible journey that you’ll never be able to repeat because you are too busy worrying about what sights you should be seeing, how much money the next thing is going to cost, what you should be writing, or what the next leg of your trip should look like. Don’t paint your tent like a zebra. That’s the plan in a nutshell.