Sally: “And, I’m gonna be forty.”
This scene from When Harry Met Sally has been playing on repeat in my head the last few days.
As I turn 36 today, I am suddenly closer to 40 than ever (and if you’re over 40 and reading this, go ahead and laugh – I know I get a chuckle when I read twenty-somethings freaking out about turning 30). For some reason, 36 just feels so much older than 35. At 36, I have now spent exactly half of my life as an adult, half of my life on my own.
Once upon a time, 30 seemed really old and really far away.
I had this idea of who I would be and what I would be doing at 30. I had a list from Glamour magazine of 30 things I should do before I turned 30 (I think I managed to check off about half). And then 30 came and went and nothing was how I thought it would be. I left my career as a lawyer. I met a guy who I thought was the one and he broke my heart. Friends who I thought would be friends for life suddenly disappeared.
I felt lost.
I started to dream of traveling.
And I worked to make that dream of taking a career break to travel a reality – a process that took years, not months. I gave up another career, I put my love life on hold, I alienated friends, I lost my cats, I sold everything.
And I planned and planned and planned. I researched and read endlessly about all of the places I wanted to visit. I drafted one itinerary after another and created detailed spreadsheets to track all of my spending. But I never really stopped to think about how it would actually BE.
How would it actually feel to be on the road, traveling on my own, for months on end?
Now that it has been a year, I can tell you this:
It doesn’t always feel real.
Sometimes, when I am staring out the window on a long bus ride or wandering the streets of an unfamiliar city, I just wonder:
Is this really me? Is this really my life?
At times it just all feels surreal – like I am on the outside sneaking a peak at someone else’s life.
As I prepared to board the plane to fly to Helsinki, Finland a year ago today, I kept waiting for “it” to hit me. I was waiting for some deep realization to set in about what I was about to do. But it never really did.
I think it still hasn’t.
To be honest, I think sometimes I take it for granted.
I think that is one of the downfalls of creating this travel blog and becoming a part of the travel blogging community (yes, there is such a thing). I know so many others now who have taken a career break to travel or who travel full-time that I sometimes forget that this isn’t normal. I fail to appreciate the uniqueness of this experience. I don’t give myself credit for what I have accomplished. I look at my friends back home and I see engagements, marriages, babies and job promotions.
And I look at myself and I feel like I’ve been left behind.
I hoped this trip would help me reach a level of happiness and find a sense of purpose that has been missing in the past. I have been waiting for this magic moment when the light bulb goes on and I think, “yes, it all makes sense now. This is what I want to do. This is what I am meant to do.”
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how traveling through Central Asia was like running a marathon. Training for and running a marathon is hard. It is challenging. It is not always fun (heck, it is hardly ever fun). You give up late nights out with your friends and you get up at the crack of dawn to run. You run through heat and humidity, wind and rain, snow and slush. But in the end, it’s worth it. The sense of accomplishment, the high of competing, the thrill of crossing the finish line. It makes it all worth it.
The same is true with long-term travel. It is not always fun. There are long travel days and delays and things that go wrong. You may find yourself scared, frustrated, lonely and physically and mentally exhausted beyond belief – not just traveling through Central Asia as in my previous post, but in any place at any time.
Like running a marathon, I want to believe that this year of travel has been worth it.
I traveled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I camped under the stars in Turkmenistan. I bonded with an amazing family in Tajikistan, drank cognac with a bunch of Georgians and improved my Russian tenfold. I visited places like Chernobyl and the Aral Sea and Lake Baikal.
And I met some incredible people – some who I will likely never encounter again and some who I hope will become lifelong friends.
I hope it is just a matter of time until it all starts to feel real, until I am able to process it all and the light bulb finally goes on.
In the meantime, I am going to try my best not to think about 40 looming around the corner.
I am going to try to just focus on how amazing year 36 was.