I thought travel would change me.
I wanted travel to change me.
I wanted to emerge from 13 months of traveling and volunteering around the world a better person – more patient and more open to taking risks. I hoped to find new, like-minded friends and develop new relationships. I secretly hoped I might finally solve my toxic relationship with food and return from my trip healthier and several pounds lighter. I wanted to discover my life’s purpose and emerge from my travels with a new direction for my career. And I promised myself that when I did return to work, I would do so with a new attitude and perspective.
I have been home almost 6 months and I can’t shake the feeling that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to.
I don’t really feel like I have changed that much. Sure, I may be slightly more independent and I am focusing on somewhat different priorities at home. But I still lose my patience quite easily – perhaps even more so when I travel here in the United States than I did on the road. And I am still pretty risk-averse. I crave a certain level of security and as much as I loved the idea of becoming location-independent after my trip and trying to make it freelancing, it just seemed far too risky to try. Likewise, when opportunities arose to move to San Francisco or Boston, I couldn’t bring myself to make such a move. Instead, I went back to the familiarity of Chicago.
I didn’t set off to travel for a year expecting to find love a lá Eat, Pray, Love – although I certainly wouldn’t have minded. Before I left, I had fallen into a bit of a relationship black hole at home. After a major heartbreak, I subconsciously avoided dating for a long time. When I did put myself back out there, I just didn’t seem to click or have anything in common with any man I met. And as I got closer to my trip, I just stopped trying. So when I finally hit the road, I was cautiously optimistic that I would meet a lot of like-minded travelers and make some new, lifelong friends along the way – any romance would be a bonus.
In the end, I was disappointed.
With a couple exceptions, I spent the first six months without meeting anyone with whom I really clicked. Of everyone I met while traveling through Finland, Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, I haven’t kept in close touch with anyone. It’s not that I wasn’t meeting people – I just wasn’t meeting anyone with whom I had much in common. Things picked up the second half of my trip as I finally made some friends in Armenia and enjoyed one very short-lived romance, but I still look back with regrets. I think of the guys I really liked who just showed no interest and I think of the people I could have tried to get to know a little better. I also think of how much my trip strained my friendships back home – after an initial surge of getting together with people when I first returned, almost everyone seems to have forgotten I’m back.
And then there’s my relationship with food. I have always been an emotional over-eater and, as a result, have always struggled with my weight. Being diagnosed as gluten-intolerant in 2010 has not helped – I have to think so much about everything that I eat and I try to compensate for the things I can’t eat by overindulging in those I can. Perhaps somewhat irrationally, I hoped that a year on the road would finally get me on the right track with eating – that without all of the processed food at home, I would settle into better habits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables and I would be so budget conscious, I would eat less. Everyone else I knew who had traveled long-term had lost weight; I figured I must as well.
Not so much.
With all of the ups and downs of my journey, I turned to food for comfort even more than I do at home. I was lucky to arrive back in Chicago only up a few pounds from when I left. The real downward spiral started, though, after my trip ended. I ate out all the time as I tried to network and catch up with friends and I made up for a year without Mexican food by eating it constantly. While I worked out for about an hour daily, it was nothing compared to walking around 6-7 hours a day. The stress of looking for a job and not feeling settled led to me eating even more and suddenly I found myself at my heaviest weight ever. Add in the fact that I have been breaking out in a rash every time I work out and have been sick more since I’ve been home than I ever was on the road, and I feel like my body is just rebelling against me.
Finally, there’s that whole what-do-I-want-do-with-my-life thing. I didn’t have the confidence to try to make it on my own freelancing, I realized my dream job in travel was not all I thought it was and I simply didn’t find many openings in other areas that appealed to me. As a result, I didn’t use my trip to transition into a new career as I hoped I would. And now that I am back in my old field, I am finding that old habits die hard. I still let the stress from the office follow me home, lingering over my head like a dark cloud. Granted, I put a lot of the pressure on myself – I don’t like to fail and I don’t want to let anyone down – but I let it negatively affect all other areas of my life.
So what does all this mean?
It means that travel doesn’t solve your problems. I will freely admit that part of my motivation in taking a year off to travel was to try to escape some of my problems at home. What I have realized is that not only did travel not solve any of those issues, it may have exacerbated them.
At the same time, almost all of it is on my shoulders. I have to firmly resolve to take control and not use various circumstances as excuses. After spending nearly two years saving and preparing for my trip, I know I can accomplish anything if I set my mind to it. Now, I need to use the same approach in dealing with my weight, relationships and career.
I also need to remember the biggest lesson I learned on the road: that things will ultimately work out the way they were meant to.
I am back in Chicago and back in my old career for a reason. I was selected to participate in the Eventbrite Blogger Tour for a reason. I was invited to speak at a CRAVE event about blogging for a reason. I am meeting new people every week and I’d like to think every interaction is for a reason.
I may not know the reasons now, but I have to believe that every day is bringing me one step closer to where I’m supposed to be.