Travel vs. Vacation

The topic of travel has begun to take on a different meaning for me than it once did. In the last year or two in particular, a growing issue has emerged. In these situations, I’ll be rambling on and on about a trip that I just came home from, not knowing when I can leave for the road again, and discussing that agonizing and heartbreaking feeling. I tell people about how unsettled I feel when I am stuck in one place, and how my thoughts are sometimes so clouded that I can’t focus on anything except being away again. I cry like a little kid, and I yearn to leave with feverish intensity. For other travelers–those who have “the bug”–I am speaking their language. I don’t have to explain how I feel because they already know, and I don’t have to justify it because they understand. We have a connection to one another through the discovery of this crucial need.

From most though, I am met with responses like,

“Oh, I understand. Everybody hates coming home from a vacation!”

I wish it were that simple. I have always gone on vacations. I have gone on vacations with family and friends whenever I could–financially and schedule-dependent. We vacation to lay on a beach chair in the sun, or to see people who don’t live near us. Vacation is, by definition, an impermanent state of being. You live your “normal” life, and then you take small breaks so that you can return refreshed and recharged. I still take vacations sometimes–but I mainly travel.

Travel, for me, is not a break from everyday life. Travel is the time when I feel the most normal, centered, and at home. There is no high more intense than being someplace new, and feeling like just a little piece of a vast, vast world. There’s nothing more centering for me than seeing an empty road in front of my headlights, and moving forward without being entirely sure of my path. Being home, in fact, often feels like a vacation from my traveling. Being home is pleasant, and I do things that I enjoy, but it’s all an impermanent state of being until I can be on the road again. I have centered many major life decisions, such as where I’ll work and live, on how it will affect my ability to travel. Without meaning to, it has slowly and naturally evolved into the #1 priority.

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Lots of people have opinions on this subject, and many don’t agree that travel should be a person’s priority over work, school, or a secure place to live. I don’t judge anybody’s views in this respect, because I know that it’s taken me years to finally find some answers to why I have always felt so unsettled. I can’t pin-point the exact moment it clicked, but I can narrow it down pretty closely.

I was on my first big road trip with my girlfriend 2 years ago, when we packed up our lives and circled the country by car. The concept completely terrified me, and I remember lying in bed the night before we left and thinking that I had completely lost my mind. We quit jobs that we were comfortable in, in the midst of a recession, and moved ourselves out of a beautiful townhouse. Our entire lives were jammed into a 10×15 storage unit and we were sleeping in Katie’s parent’s guest room with our clothes piled on the floor. Were we being stupid and completely reckless? Was it going to be worth it?

I started to notice a change when we were about a week into the trip. As a person who has always struggled with anxiety, hyper-perfectionism and a deep-seeded need to control outcomes, I found a peace that was so profound that it caught me completely off guard. I found peace while doing something that went against everything that had always kept me calm—leaving a stable, predictable life for an experience where I couldn’t control almost anything. In those first moments, the initial fear faded away and I felt release. I realized that the person I was trying to be in order to be happy was actually holding me back. My fear of risks, and of breaking the mold, was paralyzing me.

We talk about how much we idolize children’s ability to be awe-struck so easily. We say things like, “I wish I could still be that genuinely excited by something new!” The reality is–I am. I am still that excited by something new. I have experienced that child-like awe a thousand times while on the road. As children, new experiences are the things that feed the growth of our brains. Human beings are naturally curious and exploratory–we are meant to roam. As adults, we tell ourselves that these instincts make us flighty, indecisive, irresponsible—irrational even. We idolize being “settled down”, grounded, and consistent. We refuse to accept that this urge to wander just makes us human. For me, now that I’ve knowingly acknowledged it, I know that it will never go away. I’ve finally filled the void.

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Connecting these dots has given very deep meaning to my “priorities”. This isn’t a frivolous or fleeting feeling for me; it’s an acknowledgment of the thing that makes me truly happy. It’s allowed me to accept myself as the person that I am, without excuses.

I will always be yearning for the road that I haven’t driven on yet. I will always prefer secret ghost towns on mountains to tourist attractions. I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ve made it work so far and I will continue to make it work. A successful life, for me, isn’t contingent upon being positive about what my future will look like. I just need an acceptance of myself as a girl with a gypsy soul, who never needs to change.

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