Travel has ruined my life.
I have been undone, my life has been altered, many previous dreams shattered, and above all, my heart broken. All because of travel.
The ways in which travel has ruined my life:
1) Seeing the world:
Prior to travel, I thought very little of my being in the context of life, purpose, and the world. The simple question of “where am I going?” could have been satisfied with a response such as “to the bookstore—my shift starts in 20 minutes” or more simple yet, “to the store—we’re out of [insert basic amenity here]”. In traveling, I have seen things I would not have considered possible, things larger, brighter, more beautiful, and more tragic than my initial imaginings would have even allowed.
I have now danced at the weddings of strangers, held unfamiliar hands at funerals, and made many new friends and “family” members along the way. I have been given words of wisdom, at times been reduced to a simple, but yet painful stereotype, or without even meaning to, done the same of others around me. I have been given an opportunity where I suddenly see myself as others see me. I have been scared, humiliated, shamed, and saddened. Yet, in turn, I have been touched, impassioned, inspired, and loved.
I have been forced to recognize the limitations in my thinking and the simplicity behind my questions, goals, and perception of self. Now, with the asking of “where am I going?” I am sent into an endless cycle of wondering, pondering, and processing—a trajectory inspiring, but ultimately bone-shaking and exhausting.
2) Eating the world:
Through my explorations, I ate everything I could and tasted each and every country for what they had to offer by plates (or bowls, wax paper, banana leaves—you name it). Be it a grotto, food stand, or even a kitchen, the venue did not matter to my mouth as I sought to understand and appreciate my surroundings through one of the aspects most paramount to a cultural identity. Spices burned my tongue, powdered sweets left me licking my fingers, and ingredients I couldn’t identify as vegetable or animal sometimes left me scratching my head, shrugging my shoulders and saying: “well, YOLO.”
What I found in my worldly sampling, my eating my way through multiple continents, was this: the world is large and astounding and it tastes good. So good in fact, that I can’t eat anymore, not in the way I once had.
Today I am forever destined to be miserable, my taste buds scorning the modest food I once enjoyed so much, and what I hunger for not being so readily obtained in my local grocery store. I’ve found that blood sausage is a taste not yet acquired this side of the Atlantic, black rice is near impossible to find, nobody appreciates a good espresso, cheese is better when left in a cave for many years, and above all: WHY DO WE NOT HAVE A FULL GROCERY AISLE DEVOTED TO CHOCOLATE??? Is it better to have eaten and lost, than never have eaten at all? Would I have been safer staying at home eating things from shrink-wrap with stickers that read “grade-a” or “farm raised”?
3) Falling in love:
To be clear, I’ve fallen in love, irrevocably so, many, many times.
With every country visited, a little portion of my heart whispered “oh…” and I faced another impending heartache. In my endless wandering I have fallen in love with a few handsome strangers encountered along the way, each with their own cultural nuances and twisting, accented tongues — my name sounding different, but equally beautiful as it tumbled from their mouths.
I have fallen in love with the dancing glow of the Aurora Borealis, the way the inn-keeper’s wife prepared us steaming tagine and couscous after we’d lost our way in the Sahara Desert, how my skin felt after a day in the Mediterranean, and the smell of orange blossoms hanging in the air as I wandered the cobblestone streets of Valencia.
I loved the sounds of the early morning call to prayer and the quiet but distinct crunch of my spoon breaking the sugared top of a créme brûlée. I have even loved ceaselessly the stranger whose sock fell from his bunk onto my face at the hostel, only because it later made me laugh at the absurdity of it all.
With every love though, has come the heartbreak, the heartbreak as we’ve said goodbye. I boarded trains, planes, and boats, knowing I would probably never love someone in the same way I loved them in that moment. With every love my heart has been fractured a little more, leaving it now a mess of mending by time, emotional Band-Aids, optimistic promises, and always a little sadness.
4) Having itchy feet:
Travel has left me with itchy feet—and not in the sense that the shoes I purchased at that Israeli shook were not as soft as I’d hoped (though they might not have been), but rather that I can’t seem to keep them still. Travel has left me with a waking-case of restless leg syndrome. With every new issue of AFAR seen at the check-out line, every update to National Geographic’s Instagam feed, every postcard I receive in the mail, I do a little tap dance, a four-step, a waltz, saying: take me too, take me too, take me too.
Around me, with the accumulating years, those I know are collecting elements of normality and adulthood. They are paying mortgages, driving cars, birthing babies, maybe even budgeting for that living room four-piece set they’ve always wanted to go with their fancy projector. All the while, I’m over here, dancing, hopping, skipping with my itching feet, planning my next escape and wondering how to obtain legal entry into Cuba. My parents shake their heads and ask when I’ll come home, my grandparents ask when I’ll find a husband, friends ask when I’ll pick a permanent timezone to live in, and I just tap my feet: maybe never, maybe never, maybe never.
5) Perpetually dreaming:
Awake, asleep or somewhere in between, travel has twisted its deep and resilient roots into my every thought. I am in a constant state of dreaming, creating stories, telling tales, witnessing the infinite possibilities of my life—wondering what would have happened had I turned one street sooner or waited until the rain had stopped. I see my life where I stayed in Switzerland after school, where I took that job in Antarctica, or where I got on the bus heading the opposite direction.
In my other lives I never forgot the name of the café where we had planned to meet, I telephoned the boy with the green eyes who slipped his number beneath my pint in the Irish pub, or woke in time to make the plane. I cut my hair short, wore it long but wrapped in a shawl, cried when the monsoon took my village, and laughed with the children as we wandered the rocky hills, collecting bilberries. In my other lives I became fluent in Japanese, taught English under thatched roofs, married into a new religion, or sometimes even wondered what my life would have been had I come back home to the States.
6) Waking up:
The hardest part of all this dreaming is that it can suddenly become very difficult to discern when I am awake, or merely lucid in my day-to-day. The hardest part of waking, nonetheless, is the hardened realization that in all my potential lives to live, there is really but only one lifetime to live them.
Over the years I have walked atop mountains, swam in the sea, and felt the wind push me along a lonely path. I have laughed, loved, and offered up my heart, but also witnessed and felt pain sometimes so deep, I wish I didn’t have a heart at all.
Travel has awakened me to my surroundings and I have been rendered as a mere blip in time, a collection of particles and stardust, a bundle of processes stimulated by a borrowed energy that in the end, may amount to nothing. I have had the realization that in the wake of the enormity of life, my problems may not seem so big after-all, and the planet is forever turning, turning, turning. Someday my flesh and possessions will be reduced to nothing but raw materials, but other life will go on. Travel has shown me, that in fact, the only thing we can tangibly own in this world is our experiences, and without those, we may be nothing, so it’s best to grab life with both hands while we have the chance.
Travel has ruined my life, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Now content editor to Life After Study Abroad, Kate studied Environmental Studies with double minors in Political Science and French at Franklin University Switzerland (formerly Franklin College) in Lugano, Switzerland. She has additionally lived in Iceland, studied abroad in Chile, and spent ample time traversing other parts of the globe with her trusty pack. Having seen more countries than years on the earth, she has an unquenchable thirst for travel and exploring the natural environment. Feel free to message her about writing for us and the like: firstname.lastname@example.org.