There are so many times in life when we are guilty of creating a romantic, elaborate depiction of what we think is going to occur when undertaking a new venture, rather than being hopefully realistic about a situation. (Including but not limited to, dating someone then relentlessly attempting to fit them into your twisted, incoherent version of True Blood’s Eric Northman, ordering off of the McDonald’s dollar menu, or trying to replicate “boot socks” (why…do I wear them on my head?) and pretty much ANYTHING else seen on Pinterest. All of which I have never tried.
When initially envisioning my prolonged trip, some anxiety crept up, as it often does when embarking on a new adventure. I did a lot of research and read several articles about what to expect. Words like “freedom,” “spontaneity,” and “discovery” were thrown around carelessly. Although I’m still trying to understand why phrases such as, “aggressive athlete’s foot,” “dodgy hostel receptionists,” and “diarrhea” were not mentioned more vigorously. Despite these slight omissions, my adjustment period to a new country extended about two and a half weeks.
I’m still trying to decide if this is because I spent my first ten days on an alpaca farm with two seventy five-year olds, one who was hard of hearing (I was encouraged to speak at my regular, comfortable volume on a daily basis, a first in my life…nailed it) listening to New Zealand talk radio learning about Kiwi politics, or because I had arrogantly assumed that I was exempt from culture shock. Since New Zealand has a lot of westernized components and amenities that are readily available to me in the States, I didn’t think the loneliness and longing for familiarity that sets in when you’re traveling alone would affect me the way it did. I had also suspected that because I had been daydreaming so fervently for such a long time about this, it would feel like a “homecoming” of sorts.
The Reality, in fact, was that I felt more vulnerable and helpless than I have in a very long time. I traveled here with an amazing group of wanderers and decided to split from them not long after arriving. (Note to self: must meet back up). I sat in a shit storm of self-doubt, criticism, negative thoughts, and guilt. This was my dream trip, why was I not enjoying it? How ungrateful. This wasn’t what I had envisioned, sitting around feeling sorry for myself. I thought of a lot of the people who I knew, getting married or in their careers and began feeling incredibly inadequate about choosing travel instead. I had an intense amount of anxiety about making decisions. To be honest, I felt paralyzed, often distracting myself on my computer, taking 37 Buzzfeed quizzes and eating copious amounts of ToffeePops (the near equivalent of Twix) wondering why I wasn’t skydiving, or falling in love, or swimming with dolphins.
It’s interesting what occurs within ourselves when we travel. Wherever we go, there we are. There’s no escaping the buried concerns that linger on the edge of our subconscious, simply muted by the noise of the external demands and distractions of work, finances, introspection, and the grossly overwhelming amount of circulating Kim Kardashian selfies. When things quiet down and the freedom to go inward is readily available, we’re left face to face with all of our hang up’s, beliefs, and thought patterns that were previously so easily ignored and pushed aside.
My oftentimes rigid inability to ask for help with emotional support surfaced brazenly as I began slowly making decisions about the direction I wanted this trip to go in, and not having access to my support system at home, I was forced to be naked and vulnerable, seeking out advice and understanding. What was overwhelmingly encouraging was the amount of people who opened themselves to me and offered a helping hand when I was able to ask for it.
As soon as I was able to break down my own wall and fear of being raw in front of others, regardless of what they thought about me, the ball got rolling. I made a decision about cycling, about where to head next, and created a New Zealand bucket list. After leaving Auckland, I started meeting some amazing people and new opportunities opened themselves up to me. I also drank too much in Mt. Maunganui, dipped my feet in the ocean, fought a second-cycle-day hangover, met three Kiwis in a pub who bought me celebratory beers and a rendezvous with some Chileans who insisted on my speaking exclusively in Spanish, despite how butchered, and promising to teach me profanities and Chilean slang in return.
The trip I had fantasized about, is materializing in a completely different way than I had ever anticipated (which is the way they tell you it happens, right?). I’m learning to let go of my need for control, the importance of asking for help. Eating take away sushi before riding a bike through rural areas with no available restrooms is a terrible idea. The pointlessness of security and the necessity for plans. I’m learning how to be free.