Sunday, August 23, 2015

Traveling: My Unhealthy Addiction

Traveling is by far the greatest thing ever to be dreamt up, but like most wonderful things-it should be done in moderation. I have been traveling since birth because my mom was in the army, but those trips and moves weren’t by choice. Now the choice is all mine, and I physically can’t stop. I am by all intents and purposes “addicted” to travel.

Like most travelers, I am under the inherent spell that traveling is the best thing that money can buy. I truly believe that it is the end all be all, and I wish the whole world could see it too. But the part that I don’t hear or see being talked about amongst travelers, is how it can be a dangerous and unhealthy habit. So as an avid traveler, and someone who has visited 36 countries and lived in 4 in the last 3 years, I am going to come clean about the ugly parts of it.

I have written about being “done” and “exhausted” from my travels before, but let’s be honest, that lasted about 3 months before I was hopping on a plane to Tanzania. The difference is that now I don’t think I’m done, but I realize I have been running from stability. Which is ironic because it is the one thing that I crave more than anything else, and I have been searching for it all around the world. Now here I am living in New York City, which I dreamt about since I was a kid, but it’s not quite what it seems.

In each place I lived, I’ve found a home, a sense of belonging, and a family. It’s hard to say how much of that was real and how much was a mirage. With all the new people that I am constantly meeting, it can be tricky to decipher what is a genuine human connection and what is a projection of what I want to hear and feel. But the point is that each location fulfilled me in some way, for some period of time, until suddenly it didn’t fulfill me anymore and I packed up and moved onto the next place. I have been rationalizing, justifying, over-analyzing and even lying about why I travel for too long. It is natural, easy, and so instinctual that I even fooled myself. Now I’ve had my first free moment in 11 days (since I moved to NYC), and I want to use it to be real. I want to be honest with myself and the world, and the only way I know how to do that, is through writing my secret and sharing it with anyone who will listen or care.

I am about to be 25, I am legally an adult, I will be kicked off my mom’s health insurance in one year, and I am single by a choice I didn’t even know I was making. So what does that mean? It means I have been living off the thrill of traveling the world, but the high only works when I have my fix. As soon as I stop, the cravings kick in and consume my every thought. I clocked in at work last week at my new job, but all I could think was “I wonder how much it would cost to fly to Vietnam, and what steps I would need to take to get out of all the commitments I made in NYC this week (e.g. signing a lease on an apartment, my 10-month work contract, etc.).” Then it hit me, hard. It hit me that this is not okay. I cannot and will not keep living like this. I think a part of being an adult is recognizing when I’m being childish. If I want stability, then I have to build it. I won’t find it in a village in Tanzania, or an expat community in Peru, or a university in Australia.

I have had various romantic relationships over the last few years, some more serious than others (or so I thought), but in reality I sabotaged each one. I said things like “This can’t go anywhere, because I have a plan that can’t be disrupted” and I’ve thought things like “I’m just not in love with him anymore; and even though I’m happy, I could be happier” and I even chased guys that said things like “I’m not looking for anything serious,” because in my mind- neither was I. But the bottom line is: I am looking for something serious, not a husband or kids serious, but I am looking for stability.

So it’s time for me to get serious. Someone once said to me that “Love is a choice,” and I thought “that’s stupid, love is a feeling.” But love is a choice, and so is happiness and stability. When they wear off, you can’t go chasing them, you have to patiently wait and work at it, until it comes back. Yes, traveling is great and the adventures I’ve had, and the friends who have become family, are all things I wouldn’t trade for the world. But running around the world checking 10 more things off my bucket list is not going to get me any closer to fulfilling my deep-seated desire for stability. However, patience and maybe a little fix of traveling here and there will. Unfortunately, patience is really not my strong suit, and staying put when things get difficult, boring or familiar may be the most difficult challenge I have ever set for myself. But I have never felt more determined to succeed. Even though moving to Australia, Peru and Tanzania were all big adjustments with unknown outcomes, nothing in my life has been as scary as moving to NYC with the goal to stay a while.

Granted I’ve been in New York for one week, and who knows how this whole adventure will play out. I could be back in Africa or Asia in a few months, but I really hope not. I hope that for once, I can stay put. I am determined to ride this wave, even when nothing seems right and everything is overwhelming, or worse dull and comfortable.

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