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So You Think You Can’t Travel? (Part 1: The Why)

I’ll admit it.  This is something I should’ve written a long, long time ago.  Two years ago, mayhaps, around the time I quit my well paid office gig for a 2 month bout of Costa Rican hot sauce cookery during my first ever existential crisis.

I’d like to think it was my last, but let’s be realistic.  I’m a writer.

If you’re new here and have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to check out this.  Or this.  Or just go to my travel section under “Costa Rica” and read everything there.

The short of it is that I realized that I was doing nothing. My life was slipping away, day by day, and I’d somehow hopped on this windowless, nonstop express train, streaming movies and midnight visits to the dining car the only distractions from the mundane ride, and lethargic retirement its final destination.

Melodramatic, maybe, but it’s how I felt.

I’ve written before on the top 5 regrets of the dying, and while they’re each insightful in their own right, the one that speaks loudest to me — the one that makes me think, YES! Where, along the shaky path between youth and adulthood, do we lose this? — is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself — not the life others expected of me.”

Yet, there I was.  Sitting in a gray office cubicle, wondering how I’d gotten there.  Had I been asleep?  What next?  Kids?  As a military spouse, I could hardly count on climbing the corporate ladder, so kids were the next logical step.

And that’s when I knew.

I had to get off this train.

I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who’s felt that way.  Who’s felt that I somehow missed the announcement when the conductor said, “If you want to be an adult, make your own choices, and live your own life, get off my train.  If you want to do what’s expected, what your parents want you to do, what society expects you to do, and live your life in a sea of ‘shoulds,’ then by all means, stay on board.”  It never even occurred to me that there might be an exit.  As a kid, people were always telling me to just be myself.  They said I can do whatever I want to do — be whatever I want to be.  Days were spent honing creativity and imagination.  It was okay to laugh and be loud and just live in the moment.

But then?

Then.

Then we’re supposed to grow up.  And apparently growing up means forgetting everything they told us about being ourselves and instead we need to be what they want us to be:  Demure.  Put together.  Successful.

Don't Grow Up

Apparently fun and finger painting had gone the way of Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny and consequenceless cupcake binges.

Growing up, it seems, means accumulating student loan and automobile debt if you’re smart, and loads of credit card debt if you’re not.  It means bills and payments on some things you need and many you don’t.  For the majority of us, it means going to work for someone we hardly respect, sleepwalking through our days just so they’ll end, and being too exhausted at night from under stimulation to manage much more than a Lean Cuisine and a few hours in front of the tube.

Then we do it again.

Tomorrow, we think.  Tomorrow will be different.  We’ll go for that run.  We’ll cook that amazing meal.  We’ll start that diet.  We’ll plan that vacation.

But we don’t.

Because it’s easier, sometimes, to sleepwalk through life than to sit back and examine our own state of being.  We reach certain preconceived milestones and assume we’re supposed to be content.

The problem?

We’re not.

Because milestones are fake.

They exist so we can see if we “measure up” with our fellow humans — do we make enough money?  Do we drive a nice car?  Are we married?  Are our kids great at sports?

It takes the acknowledgement of dying regrets to realize that none of that matters.  At least, it doesn’t matter if you’re doing it so others won’t criticize the life you’ve chosen.

That logic is useless because

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
here is the root of the root
and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;
(E.E. Cummings)

They’ll criticize it anyway.

They will.  Your neighbors will talk about the grass you forgot to water or your sofa with the tear or the way your dogs bark at every passerby.

The truth is, you will never be good enough for the standards of another.  So until you start caring only about the standards you set for yourself, your need for approval will never be sated.

So.

What does this have to do with travel?

Too many of us want to embark on an adventure, but we don’t.  We create excuses.  We fear the unknown.

For me, at least, my decision to quit my “normal” job came with a price.  While I was fortunate enough to have a supportive husband, some select supportive friends, and the savings to make quitting fiscally possible, it became very clear that my decision was somehow threatening to others.  Many of the uninvited warnings were incredulous, unsupportive, and often cruel.

I cried.

A lot.

How could they say these things about me?  I’m lazy.  I’m a quitter.  I’m going to get my husband in trouble with the military and drag us into the poor house.  Oh, and I’m probably going to get raped and robbed while I travel, so I better just be prepared.

Best of luck.

But you know?

This process helped.  It helped Justin and I weed out the people who matter and the people who don’t.  The people who encourage and lift us up, and the people whose happiness, it seems, is dependent on our failures.

Why don’t more people — people who have the desire — travel long-term or more often?

Because.

It’s hard.

It forces us to admit that we’re caught in a trap of our own design.

We sometimes have to spend time away from people we love.

We might have to sacrifice some modern comforts in order to afford it.

People will criticize.

It’s hard.

But think.  Why do some people gather the courage to jump off the train?

Because, my friends… they can never really understand the why until they’ve experienced it themselves.

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Katie

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Comments

KatRichter
Reply

Good question! With the start of the school year just 6 weeks away, I’m already dreading the return to the daily grind (not to mention the inability to travel that comes with it). But you’re right: its usually easier to find the reasons you can’t do something than to figure out a way to make it work.

Katie
Reply

Okay whatever, Miss CRUISE!!! Good luck being holed up in that tiny cabin with your man. ;)

Jamie
Reply

To Wanda!!!

Katie
Reply

What? lol

Stephanie
Reply

Nice one. I made similar decisions when I was younger and spent almost 7 years traveling. No regrets. I do find it gets harder as you get older since there is a mortgage to be paid and retirement planning to think of and all that boring stuff. Those things become harder and harder to ignore.

I am interested in the criticism you received. I never had that happen, although I did have one friend who said she felt that my decisions and my deep need to follow them made her feel like I was looking down on her and her more “normal” life goals. It made me sad that she saw it that way, but I wonder if it’s not where the people who criticized you were coming from.

I do know that the things people say and do very rarely have anything to do with you, even if it seems that way. It is about them, so you can never take it personally. Easier said than done, but it is almost always true.

We only have one life, and we all need to find the path that is the most true to ourselves. (That came out WAY more new agey than I meant it.)

Katie
Reply

Maybe it’s because I didn’t travel for 7 years that I have such a terrible urge now. :)

The criticism was strange. Crazy, even. But thinking back on it, it was mostly from military people — the guys, especially. I think, honestly, that they were threatened at the idea of a spouse going off and doing something without her husband. It was such a role reversal for them, and they just couldn’t handle it. A couple of the wives actually told me later that they had to have talks with their husbands about their attitudes about the whole thing because while the wives didn’t have any urge to do what I was doing, they hated how their husbands were reacting.

I think it was a little surprising to everyone.

And, new-agey or not, you’re absolutely right. ;)

Tracy
Reply

This post is genius. I’m saving this in my google reader with a star on it (gold star, nonetheless). Thank you.

Katie
Reply

No, thank YOU! And you reminded me there’s supposed to be more in this series. :)

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