I wish I felt as cool as it sounds to have quit my job, put my belongings in storage, and lived out of a suitcase for 13 months.
I spent 2018 chasing spring around the world, humbled by the generosity of friends and family, straddling a line between being completely in control or surrendering to the flow. I covered nearly 6,000 miles by car, slept on 27 flights, hiked in 16 states, hunkered down in 5 countries, 4 continents, met hundreds of people, and sputtered through 4 languages.
Prior to this trip and even now in my disheveled state of unemployment and uncertainty, I live a comfortable life–– privileged to have a solid network, support, a healthy savings account, and marketable skills. But I have always struggled with the concept of what my long term life looks like. My woes aren’t unique, and I’d be the first to gush that I had an incredible job, friends and fun lifestyle–– yet as I entered my 6th year of waking up for work, living in a NYC apartment with zero personal space, and felt everyone around me follow the trajectory of dating, getting engaged, married, and having kids–– I challenged myself to question: is this it?
So, I took a break.
I spent 12 days traveling with Swiss Germans. I listened to Daft Punk with Chileans. I shared cookies with Argentinians. I swam in the Mediterranean Sea and kicked a soccer ball around with Romanians. I reunited a lost puppy with its owner, and covered my face in glitter 10 consecutive days in a row in New Orleans. I hiked 30 miles with my brother and used bug spray as perfume. I cooked 600 eggs, drank Coke and ate baguettes. I ate peanuts and drank beer watching the sun dip beyond the horizon for 6 weeks in Tel Aviv. I became closer to aunts and cousins, and made lifelong friends from London and Ohio. I sat through a high school graduation trading reggaeton songs with a Guatemalan student who had come to the States knowing no one. I danced until 5am or went to bed at 8pm. I met Mormon missionaries, kissed strangers, wrote poems and painted.
The allure of traveling started as early as I can remember. My family went on international trips, my dad essentially lives in JFK’s Delta lounge. I studied Anthropology at school. Over the course of 10 years, I’ve spent 3 months in Australia, 1 year in Cambodia, 6 weeks in Japan and India, and most recently traveled through Colombia, Israel, Europe and the United States.
Through my travels, I looked for some clarifying experience that would show me what my purpose in life was. For years I have wondered if purpose is synonymous with career, do you need to love your job to feel fulfilled, or can you have any job as long as your spirit and lifestyle are intact? At home, I have always been someone’s sister, daughter, friend from home, or roommate in college, I have made a beautiful network in NYC, but I am never just me. When I am traveling, no one knows my past, or my hometown. There is no replicable feeling of making a connection simply through the merits of your own personality.
I had a lot experiences on the road–– I allowed myself to fall in love for a summer week in New York. I ate heaps of salami, pork fat and pickles with my dad in Romania. I had a respectful conversation with a Texan Republican. I got lost hiking in Sedona. I had made soup and had a sleepover with my aunt.
But as 5 months turned to 8 months turned to 13 months, and I was living on a hot couch in Crown Heights having trouble taking deep breaths under the weight of the unknown, hiding from my closest friends–– I realized I was farther away than I’d ever been to knowing what job to do, but more importantly, who I was and how to thrive in a city that I wanted to call home. Overwhelmed by questions about where I was moving, if I was interviewing, how was my trip? I took great lengths to cater to the introvert in me, but feeling guilty of that as well. I feared falling into a monotonous routine and feeling like a cog in a wheel that I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in. For the first time in a long time, I felt anxiety and depression.
This realization scared me. I was frustrated that my great adventure had yielded itself fruitless. I didn’t feel like some cool, nomadic traveler as my mom and friends presented me as, as there was nothing to be envious of–– I was living out of a backpack, worried about money, and being able to make plans again. I had returned to my city with my past life waiting for me like broken glass, but needed time to understand how to navigate everything that had just happened.
There is not a day that I regret about this year of travel. While I went to some of the most beautiful places in the world, leaning into my desires, at its core, this time revealed a lot about myself, and ultimately my long term happiness.
What makes me angry? What do I need in my daily life to keep me sane besides writing and exercise? What types of people do I want to surround myself with? How do I want to spend my weekends? How can I get to nature? How do I get out my comfortable bubble? What do I need in a partner? How can I differentiate my values and needs from those I am closest to?
I am proud of the women that I connected with all over the world. I found myself drawn to the clean slate that I entered these new situations in, which allowed me to open up without shame or judgement. Without trying, we shared our feelings and stories. It was often hours before we exchanged job titles and relationship statuses. It has been within these fellowships that I truly felt that everything will be okay.
My second day in Colombia, I met Francine from Brazil and Simona from Switzerland. We sat for hours over coffee and eggs discussing our mothers, our career changes, our hopes and dreams. It was such a validating experience that I needed to understand–– that these beautiful, strong women, from all corners of the world, not only felt lost but also were capable of such positive support. I spent an evening along the Bayou, lamenting about boys and respect in our jobs, but moreso, encouraging each other of our worth and dancing around a full moon. From Claire, a French conservationist, to Voni, a new mom in San Diego, to Leslie, a grad student in Portland, to Rachel, a teacher turned video editor in New York––every woman has a story, a struggle, and a wish. From them, I have drawn empowerment and a sense of self and place.
There are a lot of expectations on us as a gender to have a high powered job, to have a fair and loving partner, and to do it all gracefully. It is really damn hard to be a woman and not feel inadequate.
I have always felt that I am independent and smart, but I learned it’s okay to not be able to do it all. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to be social and it’s okay to stay home. I wonder, did I have to travel the world to simply realize that it is honesty and telling the truth that is important? The answer is 100% yes. Every mundane choice I made, every Tuesday I spent at a coffee shop, every person and dog I met was worth it. My advice–– book a flight, be patient, the rest will follow.