Travel holds a mirror up to the soul

When I came back from Georgia, my heart was heavy with the loneliness of my everyday life- a far cry from the hospitality and warmth of my Georgian hosts. Going back to eating alone and the solitude of my apartment in the city where I have lived for years was a shock, after being an honored guest, part of the family, to people I had only met days earlier.

Upon returning from Indonesia, I felt more at peace with my own contradictions after seeing the incredibly diverse country, and how well-educated people could have completely modern views yet conform to local customs without a second thought. I realized there is no such thing as exotic as I saw the megalithic altars where water buffaloes were sacrificed to the ancestors were just normal to the people of the island of Flores, although Indonesians from Jakarta went to observe the quaint customs of their fellow countrymen. I also realized that my life didn’t feel like enough of an adventure.

When I went to the Basque country to spend Easter alone, and ended up taking a surfing lesson on Easter morning, I realized, paradoxically, just how happy I was despite being far away from my family and culture. Savoring my Basque pastries alone was a treat.  But I will say, I missed the beautiful green cliffs and beach when I came back to the city.

And yet, when I came back from my longest trip to date, 19 days alone in Central/Eastern Europe  (as alone as any traveller still in civilization and able to find someone to speak their native language with on a regular basis really is), I missed my routines, I missed my coworkers, I missed my little life here.

When you travel, you look willingly into a mirror, not sure of what will be reflected back. That is the biggest thing that we gamble, because once you see something true you cannot unsee it, much as you might deny, and your life is going to change. You can say that every trip makes you a different person, but perhaps it just shows you who you really are.

A year ago, I didn’t realize I loved mountains.

I come from a famiy of “beach” people. Despite many beloved family memories at the Jersey Shore, where my family has gone every year for decades, when I go on vacation I almost always go somewhere different, and I rarely make relaxation in the sense of sitting on the beach a priority. In fact, that’s actually one of the things I don’t particularly like to do. For me, I am happiest on the move, soaking up the wonders of the world.

And that’s how I knew I loved my family, but I am different.

It’s taken me a whole lot to realize that’s completely ok.

Travel has forced me to confront time in a visceral way. I have had to decide what’s most important to me to see, while I am young and relatively unattached. If I will spend time at home, or if I will venture even further into the great world despite already living abroad.

Nearly always, I’ve chosen to go farther, because when you travel far enough, you meet yourself. And my family deserves for me to be as whole as I can be, as do I.

If you can’t already tell, travel is not a way to get away from home- you bring it with you, but you see it with new eyes. That’s the hardest part.

Because when you travel, you find the space to be the person you most truly wanted to be, and that person doesn’t see things the same way.

A stranger looks out at you from the mirror, a person you feel you’ve known forever but have never met before.

The woman that sees herself as human before American, before Catholic, before Jersey Girl, cannot help but differ in her view relative to even those she has shared the most with, her family.

There comes a moment when the sacrifice at the megalithic altar seems not so different from high Christmas mass, when your Muslim boyfriend is more of a feminist than half your family who voted for Trump, when holiness takes on a far different, and more personal meeting.

The girl who got a tattoo all alone in Japan just before entering the corporate world is not the same one whose self worth depended on getting into the right college.

The aspiring surfer was buried for years in a compulsive dieter who weighed herself three times a day.

Travel is scary, because you can answer the answer, “Who were you before the world told you who to be?”

And your life will never be the same. There’s no going home. You can get to the place on the map, but you can never take the miles of pilgrimage back or lose the courage that sustained you through countless adventures alone in foreign lands.

Truth, not travel, is the dangerous thing.

If you have to travel to find yourself, it’s probably because home wasn’t a safe place for the real you.