Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Travel Anniversaries and Impossible Dreams

Six years ago today, I packed up a travel backpack and ran away to the other side of the world for about four months, all by myself. Six years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago and like yesterday at the same time. And it (not to get totally overdramatic) (okay, yeah, it's overdramatic, but true!) changed my life.

Loch Ness--after I accidentally got my hair dyed platinum blonde. Meant to get it dyed back to my natural color (medium/dark blonde) but apparently that doesn't translate in Hungarian.

It wasn't even the traveling. I mean, the traveling was great. Amazing. One can never be exactly the same once one has searched for the Loch Ness monster and wandered the streets of Cambodia and learned to do all one's laundry in the sink all in the same couple-month period.

On the street in Cambodia
 It wasn't exactly even the fact that I was traveling alone, though if I hadn't had the trial-by-fire of months of solo travel, I have no doubt I'd be a different person now. (Being alone is fun sometimes! Have you ever gone to a movie alone? You should try it.)
Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Tiger Temple, Thailand  
Snorkeling, Thailand

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
No, it was an epiphany I had six years and a few months ago now, before I left on that trip. I'd graduated from college, and had no idea what to do with my life. I wasn't like a lot of my USC classmates, who knew they were going to law school immediately, or already had a job offer at Deloitte, or were moving to Manhattan Beach with ten friends. I graduated with degrees in psychology and Italian (yeah, what the heck was I going to do with that??), I had a long-term boyfriend back home in Albuquerque but wished I could move to a big city instead of going home, or that I could do something else exciting, though I had no idea what. I was pretty much lost.

Church doors,
Transylvania, Romania
One day, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, feeling very sorry for myself and drinking a glass of wine and staring out the window and probably pretending I was the heroine in some dramatic movie. If I could do absolutely anything, I thought, my dream would be to travel for a few months. I'd already traveled a decent amount, but there was so much more of the world I wanted to see, and who knew when I'd have the chance again?

Dunnotar Castle, Scotland
But I didn't have a lot of money. And I had this boyfriend. And everyone around me was being responsible and adult and getting jobs and houses--some were even married already. And who took off and traveled, besides hippies and Brits on Gap Year? I sighed at the impossibility of this crazy thing I'd probably never get to do, and drank some more wine.

And then, out of somewhere magical and mysterious, it hit me.

It wasn't like I'd never thought about actually doing it before. I'd looked into plane tickets, I'd read travel message boards, I'd even thought of what I'd bring to wear. But it always ended with me a little more depressed than I had been earlier, and a little bit resentful of the life that would never allow me to do what I really wanted. Until that day. That day, I thought...WHY NOT?

Cooking class, Thailand
And it wasn't just a thought. It was this feeling, like someone had punched me in the gut and all of a sudden, I saw the world just a little differently than I ever had before. Why not just go? I could think of a million reasons why not, but deep down...there was no real reason why not. At that moment, I realized that I could it. I could do anything I wanted. Sure, it would mean that I'd have to work two jobs and save up for a few months. It would mean that I'd leave the boyfriend (now the husband) behind, since he'd just started a company and didn't want to leave. It would mean I'd be traveling alone. Most of all, it would mean that a lot of people would think I was crazy.

But I could do it. I could literally do WHATEVER I WANTED. Everything going on in my head was just excuses.

And so I just...went. It was the best decision I ever made, and the realization that I could do it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Whatever that is, there are a million excuses not to, but if I really want to, I can write a book, or decide to move to another city for a month on a whim, or apply for a job I never thought I'd get, or quit a job I hate. There are always going to be reasons not to do whatever it is you really want, but my hope for everyone I care about is that, one day, that little *snick* will happen for them, and they'll realize--not just intellectually, but really understand--that there are way more reasons to do it. You only have one life. Or, as my favorite fortune cookie ever says, "Tomorrow may be too late. Live today."

Koh Phagnon, Thailand


  1. Love that, it's so true! Some of the best decisions I made involved traveling--often traveling on my own--especially when I realized the reasons why not and the fear of doing it, never weighed up to the experiences gained :)

    1. Thanks, Marieke! Ooh, I'd be interested to hear about some of your travels! I love people's travel stories. :)

  2. Love this post! Great photos, and I think you look cute with blonde hair. ;)

    1. Thanks, Liz! I've been thinking recently about dying it back blonde, but to my natural color, not that crazy platinum. :)

  3. This is a great post, and so true, as you said, for non-travel, too. The only issue is when financial realities intrude, because unfortunately the bills do not disappear, no matter how much we wish. And so often, dreams and financial well-being (at least at first) don't go hand-in-hand; you either have to put off your dream while you save up, or be prepared to make some lifestyle sacrifices to make the dream happen.

    Love all the photos; you look like you were having so much fun!

    1. This is true! And I definitely had to save up for a few months and be really careful with spending before I went traveling, you're right. However, I also think people wrongly believe that some things (such as travel! Especially long-term travel) are more prohibitive financially than they really are. You'd be surprised at how relatively inexpensively you can do stuff.

    2. I agree with that! I think a lot of people immediately dismiss the idea of hostels or camping, for instance, just on principle because we've been taught that inexpensive = poor quality = bad experience. But quite often the best experiences happen when we step outside our comfort zone or familiarity, and quality isn't always reflected by cost. I nearly always camp when I travel these days.

  4. Love this post, Maggie. Very inspirational! And no wonder you were able to write about so many different places in the world in your story and make them seem real - you've been there!

    I think I'm starting to get the hang of the 'go after what makes you happy' idea. I did it with moving from banking to publishing. But sometimes I think half the trouble is really figuring out what it is you want. I know it took me a long time.

    PS. Come to Australia! It's on the other side of the world. I'll show you around Melbourne. ;)