[EDITORS NOTE: Original post as seen on my frequently updated travel blog while in South America “Art of Altitude“]
Am I running or searching?
Sometimes I ask myself that. Well, who am I kidding, I often ask myself that. Especially while I’ve been down here in South America for the past couple months. The curse of being a writer is that you’re in your own head too much, which is the very same thing that also makes me a good writer. But who quits their respectable job as a paramedic and bludgeons their savings to travel the world? I do, and I’ve done it before. My last trip through Europe and Africa lasted eighty-seven days. Travel is one of my greatest passions, and the adventures, memories, and friends that I’ve made on the way are absolutely priceless. But am I running or searching?
A lot of the decisions I make are focused on the long term as dictated by something I made up called “The Rocking Chair Question.” The rule: “When I’m eighty years old sitting on my rocking chair will I regret NOT doing this?” That’s why I often do things like travel or switch careers instead of playing it “safe” and follow the normal American model of college and then work until you die. I suppose most of the guilt I have is cultural though, other countries have travel ingrained in to their society, as most of the non-Americans I meet are traveling for months to years at a time. The sad truth is I don’t meet many Americans on the road, and if I do they’re only traveling for a matter of weeks.
Sometimes I look at what my other friends have with their stable careers, property, and families and I envy them – which is completely toxic I know — but on the flip side they tell me that they envy the things that I do, because they’re already “locked down.” The grass is always greener.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Often people cite the reason they travel is because they “want to find themselves.” And it’s true, the things you learn from travel change the way you think and see the world. May it be basic human empathy, learning how little you actual need to survive once you live out of a backpack, and perhaps the most valuable, lessons about yourself; only those that have traveled can truly grasp the meaning of that.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the unknown and all the foreign lands I visit, never knowing if anyone actual understands the words I’m saying in whatever the native language is, and other times I just get frustrated when I look at my bank account. Those are the weak points when I think about heading home, but then I realize that there’s nothing back for me in Los Angeles. I sold all of my belongings and got rid of my apartment, and the last thing I want to do is move back in with my parents, even if it’s just temporarily to find a new apartment. One of the things I’ve learned from cities like Medellin, Colombia and Lima, Peru is how much I adore walkability and neighborhood feel of the place I live. That’s why a New York, albeit insanely expensive, is starting to sound all that more appealing to me. Living in Connecticut for two years, I always found my frequent weekend visits to New York exhausting though, I would take the train in for a couple of hours and either go to dinner or the bars, or go midday for shopping and eating at my favorite places. I’m not sure New York fits my personality, or at least it didn’t at the time. But then again, isn’t love all about timing?
But then I sit and wonder if it’s just me running away, trying to find new stimuli to make me happy, and then when that doesn’t work, I’ll just move on to something new; may it be a new city or me picking up and traveling to a new country. Am I purposely running on the hedonic treadmill?
“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson
One of my favorite people who I met on this trip, Duncan from the UK, who is thirty-five years old, had one of my favorite quotes on this trip so far. When I asked when he was flying back home he said: “I’m not, I’m just going to keep traveling until I find something or someone that’s going to make me stay.” The great thing about travel is that you meet people who not only share the same passion as you, they’re doing the exact same thing as you; may it be from taking some time off from school, or quitting the job you hate to travel the world like my friend Karin from Holland.
So the answer to “are you running or searching” is that it doesn’t matter — they’re the same thing. And if you think you’re alone when you’re asking yourself that question, you’re not. There are a lot of people in the exact same situation that you are, but maybe they just don’t have a blog where they openly broadcast all of their insecurities.
So what am I going to do when I decide to return to the States? Because of a misunderstanding in her English accent, my friend Karin and I have come up with a quote of our own for this situation: “I’ll cross that bitch when I come to it.”