Before I left for France my aunt told me “Come back happy, or don’t come back at all.” To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what that meant. But whether or not she wanted it to stick with me, it has for the past 7 months of me living in France.
Thinking back over the past months, there are so many reasons I could have left. So many experiences that would have validated buying the next plane ticket to the U.S. and not looking back.
But to grasp at those opportunities would have been to do so out of fear.
And whether or not she meant this, I think I understand:
Come back stronger than when you left.
Come back wiser. Come back with stories to fill volumes in the family history books. Come back renewed. Come back knowing yourself better. Whether it’s in one week, or one year, come back because it’s time for you to come back, not because someone or something tells you to come back (or to stay there). Come back satisfied. Come back more fully you. Come back happy, or don’t come back at all.
It’s kind of incredible to think about the transformation that can happen to a person over a period of a year. I’m just approaching 8 months and I’m still in awe of how different I feel, compared with when I moved here.
The biggest change, I think, is that I feel like I know my own mind so much better, than I did before. Whereas I used to be constantly worried about the backlash of actually making a decision, I think I’ve reached the point where I know – but more importantly trust myself.
Although I’m a pretty stubborn person, truth be told I hate conflict more than anything. I want things to be relaxed, smoothed over and easy for everyone involved. But the reality is that if you’re always trying to make other people happy, you end up getting trampled underfoot.
There’s a quote I heard once (although I can’t remember who said it – shame on me) that said something along the lines of “If you’re not writing your own story, someone else will write it for you.”
And while this might seem kind of morbid, I think of it as a reminder that we know ourselves better than anyone else in the world. It’s having the strength to assert that knowledge, which is where life gets a little tricky.
This year I’ve noticed that, in the abundance of spare time I’ve been given, I’ve really reverted to a lot of things I had forgotten I loved. My top 3: Art, reading and travel. (And geeking, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
Art and reading are pretty self explanatory, but today I was thinking about the actual “why” of my traveling.
Like if I was sitting in a job interview, and they asked me why I love to travel, what would I answer?
I mean, there are easier ways to get an adrenaline rush. There are closer places to run to if I wanted to escape my life.
Why do I think it’s important to hop on 5, 10 or even 20-hour plane ride to see the world beyond my own city or country?
Well, I think it comes down to a pretty simple answer.
Because I can.
Now I don’t mean that to sound cocky, although some of you might read it that way. And I don’t mean it to sound condescending (duh – I’m not a bitc-…mom, cover your ears).
But when I step back and categorize the priorities in my life, I see travel hitting the top because, simply put: I have the opportunity to do it. And I know and acknowledge that isn’t an opportunity afforded to everyone.
Secondarily, although not unconnected, I travel because for a good portion of my life people looked at me as someone who not only wouldn’t but couldn’t.
When I was growing up a lot of people said some pretty dismal things about my future. After all, what could become of a mixed girl born into a non-traditional household? My gender, family status and race were all a “problem.” Or, at least that’s what my mom was told.
Luckily, I have a badass (sorry for the swearing, mom) mother. And I’ve had one of the most stubborn upbringings known to humankind.
So, when I say I travel because I can, I don’t mean because I am somehow superior to others in my ability to do so. If anything it’s the reverse.
I mean that when I travel, it isn’t really about me.
It’s about the lives of people back home who sacrificed so much so that I would have the opportunities to lead me to this place. They didn’t get to go backpacking, or Couchsurfing or jump on planes at the drop of a hat (and some of them never will), so when I do – it’s for them.
It’s a way of me honoring the sacrifices made, and the people who made them. Because I’m not naïve enough to think my own freedom to travel wasn’t paid for before I was old enough to understand the currency. I know that when I’m buying plane tickets, or booking trains, it’s because of decisions made out of loyalty and love.
Traveling is a way of me saying, “Thank you.”
So, whether I’m standing in India, or Ireland or Italy know that I’m bringing all you amazing souls with me along the way. I’m sending my love and a heartfelt thank you via postcards, silly souvenirs, phone calls, Snapchats, video messages, emails, letters photos or while collecting stories to send back. Because I freakin’ love you all!
Why do I think it’s important to travel? Because I don’t have a lot to offer in the form of tangibly making dreams realities. But I can be the feet that imprint a little piece of home, and all those dreams I carry with me, wherever I go.