I had a total meltdown today. It was almost like a temper tantrum fueled by fear and overwhelm. I started crying for no definable reason. It turned into the ugly sobbing. I chalk this crying-jag up to pre-trip stress. It’s just… today I felt the full force of my decision to travel.
I am leaving all of my family and friends behind for a year. The only ones I will see for eleven months are those who are joining me for parts of the trip. Lots of people have promised to visit, but I also know that many will not follow through on that. Not out of malice, but others in the travel forums report that few people actually take that big step of booking their own tickets and heading out on the road.
Today, I visited my best friend and her six-month old twin boys. I wonder how much I will miss. Then I looked at my niece and nephews, and I wonder what they will look like in a year. Will five-year-old Little Eric lose his first tooth while I’m gone? Ana, my eight year old niece, will likely learn to land her back-flip while I’m gone — I will miss the ecstatic phone call from her bearing that exciting news.
The laundry list of “misses” hit me all at once to day. In a fully rationale moment, I can point to the fact that phone calls, pictures, and emails will fill a bit of that gap. I can rationally know that I am trading a year of the steady grind for a year of unforgettable travel experiences. I want this trip, it’s something I have always believed about myself: I am a traveler. But I never realized that travel does have trade-offs. It has downsides, especially long-term travel. I believe that an individual has to travel and push the limits of their comfort zone to understand their place in the world. But today I looked at those comfort zones and realized that there are people within that zone who I will miss. There are friends and family that won’t leave this prescriptive life with me, and in many cases I will be leaving some of them behind. I don’t mean leaving behind my best friends and my family, but those in the periphery of my life may not be here in a year’s time.
There is a flip side to travel that means calculating the risk of losing friendships with the value of my year of travel. I’m still on board with this trip. It’s happening. But there are realizations cropping up that hadn’t occurred to me when I first deciding to set out on the road.
In these early months of starting this blog, it’s been a struggle to decide how I want to share the process of planning for this round the world trip. Where is the line between sharing the journey and going too far into the personal? There are few others who have shared a trip like this one, so I’m not entirely sure of the process. I am wading into uncharted territory here. I didn’t train as a travel writer, but rather as an actor and copywriter. So bear with me as I share pieces of this journey the best I know how. The one overarching goal of this entire A Little Adrift project is to give others the tools and courage they need to also travel the world.
Part of having the tools to travel is understanding the scope of long-term travel. This new series on the site, “A Little Confession”, will dive into the state of mind that I’m in at that moment. I haven’t even left yet, but it’s overwhelming, and I think it’s important to admit that this is also a part of planning for a long-term trip.
In short, I am freaking out. In a matter of weeks I am leaving my home and my country for a year. I’ll be alone. I’ll have only myself. Gah. This is daunting.
Today was one of the bad days during this entire planning process. The wedding madness is over now, and I have a narrow focus on getting all my life in order so that I can leave. It was lovely to see my two friends married. But it was stressful to have both weddings back-to-back all while I am picking out backpacks, travel insurance, and my route around the world. Even more, I was in both wedding parties. So the focus has been 80/20 focused on helping them celebrate their big days. And while overwhelming to juggle the weddings, it was also a bit of a needed distraction. At least until today.
Today, those weddings are over and my friends are off on their honeymoons. Today, the only focus and concern is my trip. The void of distraction is freaking me out. It’s scary to think that I can count down in days the amount of time before I hug my parents goodbye. The pain tugs at my heart even thinking of it. My grandmother died last month. While it was expected, it came as a jolt. I am happy that I was able to attend her funeral, to be here for my dad as we processed through the goodbye. But it’s a scary and painful reminder of the finality and brevity of life. My brother died the last time I left the country. I won’t see anyone I love for an entire year, and I have to make myself OK with the idea that someone might not be here when I get back.
Also, I have to pack. And I have to finish my taxes. And I have to procure the last of my vaccines.
The trivial and the weighty weigh on me at every moment.
I am 29 days from leaving and I feel woefully unprepared. Life is teetering like a weeble-wobble. There are countless things I have to do, and I know none of theme are as big as they seem. Like those toys from the 90s, it all may wobble a little as a balance it all, but it’s not going to crash down around me.
It’s the millions of little tasks left that overwhelm me right now. Again, nothing huge. I know this intellectually, but it hasn’t stop the niggling panic that licks at my thoughts every now and then.
I have to submit for my Australian visa.
I need a rain cover for my packs.
Where’s my raincoat?
Did I photocopy and scan all my important documents yet?
Do my banks and credit card companies know my plans?
It’s a litany of tiny tasks that feel like the tiny cuts of a sharp knife licking my skin. No single task is overwhelming, but together they are bleeding me of my sanity.
No matter what I have finished, however, in just 29 days I will step off of an airplane into Sydney airport. I will be alone. I will just my backpack and my Lonely Planet Australia to help me through it. There will be no one greeting me on the other side of the terminal. When I step off the plane in Sydney airport, I will truly be alone out there in the world for the first time.
I am fiercely independent and comfortable with my own company. Some friends say that I border on antisocial as I prefer a Friday night of movies, books, and perhaps a card-night. But I’ve always had access to friends when I need them.
Sydney represents the beginning of my round-the-world journey. That first flight is going to be the hardest. But it’s creeping closer no matter what, so I can only continue on with the packing, planning, and preparing. I keep telling myself: In 30 days all the pre-trip planning and waiting will be over. In 30 days, I will be on my way around the world. This is the trip I have dreamed about taking. It’s the beginning of a journey that I don’t yet even understand. I know it’s going to be good. Even if something terrible happens, I’m out there putting myself forward for the life I want to be leading.
I am pushing through the fear and mini panic-attacks that seize me. This trip is going to rock the foundation of my life. I’ll be a different person when I get back. I will have fiercely pursued a goal that I have sat on for most of my life.
If this is what it feels like when you’re almost about to accomplish your goal, then know that for me, it’s kind of sucking. But I know the result is close and that it will be sweeter, harder, more frustrating, more engaging, and more transformative than I could imagine.
A single, repeated question has come to me from people on all sides of me these past months. My parents, my friends, the clerk at the outdoors store. Whenever the topic of my pending RTW is broached, I am asked: What made me decide to quit my life in LA? There’s an implied question about why I decided to leave my friends. A seeking curiosity about my family who I’ll leave Stateside while I wander the world for a year.
My reasons were both complex and personal, and everything that you would assume on the surface too. I’m 24-years-old. I’m having what can only be described as my quarter-life crisis. I have done everything I was supposed to up until this point: I spent four years in college getting my BA, I secured a well-paying job, I paid my bills on time, I dutifully called my parents every few days, and I kept my partying in check.
The gradual feeling that I was no longer living a life hit me slowly, and then all at once. I felt like an actor cast in play: I said and acted correctly, but words were not my own. I was no longer writing the script, but rather plodding along an ill-fitting life. I flung myself at the decision to leave Los Angeles. For months though, I also realized the loss of friends, of the known. In those final months, as I created each new memory with friends, nostalgia crawled through the neural pathways, embedding itself in the memory before I had even left.
Actually making the decision to leave for travel, that was harder, however, than facing that I no longer wanted to live in LA. For days, I agonized about my circumstances. The options gnawed liked a canker sore at my thoughts. In a sudden frenzy of manic panic at the weight of the decision, I purchased a one-way ticket to Australia. Elements of my life were coming to a close in about four-months time, so I bought a ticket for five months from the date of my epiphany. I kissed the tip of my fingers and raised it to the heavens, an open prayer that I could actually plan a RTW trip in that much time.
When I bought my one-way ticket, I was still living in LA. I paid my bills each month with online SEO consulting. I was also working — slowly and methodically — toward a breakthrough in my acting career. And under, around, and alongside all of that, I had family issues that I hadn’t escaped with my move to LA. I had custody of my two nephews for a while, and that gave me perspective on what I wanted out of the new few years of my life. When I returned my nephews to my brother, shadowy travel plans formed in my head. It would take me another nine months, however, to find the courage to book that one-way ticket.
Over those nine months, I experienced highs and lows as I thought about my options. There were so many avenues my life could take. Close friends had just bought a cute home in a cute neighborhood with their cute dog. My best friend had just given birth to twins. Other friends continued going on auditions and working their way into the entertainment industry. And me, I was floating. I had made the decision to move to LA, and now that I was there, I could do no more than coast through this life. None of the paths my friends took seemed quite right. And niggling there in the back was this belief I have always had in myself: I am a traveler. I am a person who finds cultures interesting. I travel.
And yet, my life in LA afforded me no opportunities to travel. My budget was so tight that I walked dogs and nannied every week for the extra cash. I saw this glistening opportunity at a future as a traveler, and all I had to do was leave behind the only type of life I knew existed.
For nine months I gnawed on these choices. I came from a poor family, I had never really thought that a person like me could take a round the world trip. And yet. And yet a confluence of circumstances meant that I might be able to pull off a round the world trip. I had online work, I only needed that initial bit to buy the ticket, otherwise I there was a chance I could afford to both travel and pay off my debt. I had some school debt from the loan I took out when my brother died. And I had some medical/life debt from when I broke my arm four days before I took custody of my nephews.
And all of that was a narrative that I could own up to. I had debt, but I could still be responsible and pay it off. I was the only one of my siblings to have a job, and mine happened to be based from the internet. I thought there was a chance I could pull it off. In fact, I think there is a chance. I’ve made it most of the way through the planning, but there is no telling what this coming year will bring.
I am an attendant in two weddings next month, and then I leave on November 4, 2008. That date repeats in my head every day now as I count down the hours. This should be interesting. :)
Resources for Making the Decision to Travel
I know how hard it is to book that ticket and make the commitment. These resources should help assuage concerns about the various aspects of planning a round the world trip (and the concerns about actually getting out there and traveling!).
How Do We Make Big Decisions?: This is a close look at how we know if we’re making the right choice on these big life choices, and it includes perspectives from my seven-year travel anniversary.
World Travel Resources: Eight years of travel advice, this page includes the answer to every single reader question I have received over the years. If there’s one aspect of travel that’s gnawing at you, start here for some additional answers and resources.