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On the Power of Travel

In the summer of 2016, I backpacked through Oaxaca, Mexico because I was feeling down and out. My boyfriend and I had just broken up, I was coming off a tough year teaching, etc.

For most of my adult life, traveling is something I do when I’m feeling sad, overwhelmed, or helpless because there is something about getting in a car or getting on an airplane and going somewhere new that makes me feel strong. I have to navigate this new place, I have to make friends so I can socially interact and avoid becoming a recluse, I have to find shelter and food, and sometimes, I even have to cross a language barrier. Travel is a challenge, and because of that, travel is empowering.

Travel is also defining. Traveling oftentimes shows me who I really am. Oftentimes, traveling defines the innermost workings of life, the mysteries of the universe, right before my very eyes.

 

During that month backpacking through Oaxaca, I felt this definition, this strength begin to unfold. I got a taste, and I wanted more, which is how I ended up quitting my job, leasing my house, buying a plane ticket, and stepping on an airplane bound for Canada. But more on that later.

I arrived at the Oaxaca City airport to find a tall, well built, blonde man standing in the taxi line. Since he looked like the only other gringo, I asked him if he wanted to share a taxi into town. Turns out he, and about seven other people, had the same goal in mind. So we all piled into a combi (a sort of minibus) and drove into town. Oscar the Swede, and I, became instant friends.

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Oscar had come to Oaxaca in order to learn about Mezcal so he could go back to Sweden and help his friend open a Mezcal bar. In fact, Oscar was going to “study” by bartending at a little bar called Mezcalogia, just a few blocks from El Centro. When we arrived in the city, the first thing we did was put our bags down behind the bar at Mezcalogia. The other bartenders gave us a pull of Mezcal, showed us around the city, and took us for a beer at a seedy, dirty bar in El Centro. I remember thinking, what the hell am I doing? Who are these people? Someone’s just given me a pull of Mezcal–what if they have herpes or diseases! WTF am I doing?! But then my brain did something it normally doesn’t do in these kinds of random, bizarre situations–it just sort of shut up as I rolled along with the evening and my new friends.

 A few hours later, we ended up back at Mezcalogia, drinking Mezcal, smoking cigarettes, and laughing as I’ve never laughed before. I didn’t go back to my hostel until three the next morning (!). I had officially been awake for twenty-four hours, something that absolutely never happens to me anymore. I remember sitting at that bar and thinking: damn, isn’t it funny how life works out. I came to Oaxaca City knowing no one. I happened to meet this Swedish guy at the airport who happened to be working at a bar which happened to have the coolest, funniest dudes around who happened to adopt me into their friendship and inner circle.

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By the end of that night, not only did I have four new friends, I also had a feeling of peace. I had let go of my desire to control everything, to know everything, to have a plan for everything, and I let things play out. It was liberating, and I knew that everything was going to be okay on that trip. All I had to do was trust that life would take me exactly where I needed to go.

This is what I mean when I say travel is defining. In those twenty four hours, travel defined me in ways I didn’t even know existed within me. I was free-spirited. I was relaxed, I was going with the flow. I was a woman taking risks and making her own adventure. I was a strong woman, unafraid of what the day held because I knew I would get through it with my intelligence and charm.

Furthermore, those twenty-four hours, revealed one of those universal truths to me: everything works out if we loosen our grip and let go a bit.

There’s a quote from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment that I’ve always loved.  He writes, “plunge straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be uneasy–it will carry you direct to the shore and set you on your feet…” Dostoevsky’s words resonate with me because I believe that’s the truth: life does set you on your feet as long as you plunge straight into it, without any sort of hemming and hawing or extreme planning.  His words also resonate with me because I’ve never really been able to let go and jump in. I always need a plan, I always need a direction. Plunging straight into life is not something we German/English hybrids do. But it is something I have always wanted to learn how to do.

Thus, here I am, about to plunge straight in to life. I am going against all the things that make me me. That is having a German and English heritage and being a Capricorn. In other words, I’m highly organized even in the way I pack my suitcase; I am extremely driven and hard working which is why I think I’ve been successful in my career; I love rules, laws, structures, and traditions because they give me a sense of safety in a chaotic world (this love only manifested itself after the age of 18); I am blunt and to the point–basically, I speak my mind no matter the circumstance or the consequence; I am altruistic and have a strong desire to do good which is why I think I was a teacher for so many years; I am loyal to all those I have a relationship with and you can always count on me to be a friend; and, finally, if I may so myself, I’m funny, especially if you like dry, British humor and sarcasm.

This desire to learn how to “go with the flow” is the reason I’m going on this adventure. I’m breaking my life into a million pieces in order to redefine that life. Perhaps redefine is too strong of a word. A better word is: rediscover. I want to rediscover the side of me that knows how to let go, that knows how to plunge straight in to life without deliberation. I want to rediscover my strength and capability. I want to challenge myself, I want to empower myself. My hope for these next few months is to rediscover a side of me that has been burdened by anxiety, stress, and self-doubt–travel is just my vessel.

 Welcome aboard 🙂

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