Soon it will be a year since the day I got on a plane, shaking like a baby, wondering if I was making a disastrous mistake as I left my confused family waving behind in the boarding lounge. I was sacrificing nearly all I had for this blind adventure – 3 months travelling across the United States on my own with very little money. For a moment, I thought about turning around and calling the whole thing off. Now, a day doesn’t go by without me being thankful that I didn’t.
“This morning I’ve left Spain, terrified and broken-hearted […] I’m afraid of having made a mistake. Maybe this will be a disaster, a failure […] I feel so alienated […] I feel alone.”
“I’m coming back to Spain after three months of growth, exploration and adventure. I’m full of thankfulness, vital lessons, new ideas, color. This journey has changed my life […] I can see myself more clearly than ever […] Everything seems so little from up here, except from love – love is gigantic, marvellous and so, so simple that I’m about to burst out laughing”.
Those are just tiny extracts from my adventure journals, which silently witnessed the greatest experience of my life. So, to celebrate its first anniversary and encourage you to embark in a similar odyssey if the thought has ever crossed your mind, here’s what this nomadic journey gave to me.
I realized how little money I actually need to live and finally moved out of my parents’ house
Travelling with barely any money taught me how little we need to live. Have you ever taken a look at your room and thought of what you really need? I seriously believe that hitting the road with a minimum budget is one of the strongest anti-capitalist pills one can take. When consumption becomes your Plan Z at the end of the long line of options such as sharing, exchanging and doing it yourself, you become a freer person. One of the first things I did as soon as I arrived home was putting two thirds of my clothing in bags and donating them. The feeling was so relieving that I started getting rid of many other belongings.
The less you need, the more you have. It’s that simple. Today, I earn way less than the minimum wage here in Spain and I am living in a nice apartment in the centre of Madrid with two wonderful roommates. We take abandoned furniture from the streets and exchange what we don’t need. Hearing these stories, sometimes my worried family still gives me homemade food from time to time because they are afraid I’m living in sort of an “extreme” way. But I’m not. I consider myself quite privileged.*
*Activist side note in this not-so-activist post: however privileged I may be, it is still outraging that I earn less than the minimum wage in Spain, especially considering that I work four mini-jobs and that I am a college graduate. This is the situation of thousands of people here and many have had to emigrate. Keep protesting, pals. Stuff is messed up.
I learned so much about myself that now putting me down has become a pretty difficult task
Three months of basic survival decision-taking, such as “How am I going to get to my next destination?”, “Is this person reliable as to leave all my stuff at their house?” or “How much should I spend on food this week in order to buy some more next week?” have given me a whole different perspective of myself. First of all, as I tried to make the wisest decision each time, I kept making mistakes. Overplanning, underplanning, wasting, underspending – all of these taught me useful lessons for the future. However, more importantly, they also taught me to be less harsh on myself when making the wrong choice. I am a human being. I make mistakes. And so this lesson stuck with me forever: it is not our mistakes that define us, but our attitude towards solving them.
The more you know yourself, the more you respect yourself. And the more you respect yourself, the harder it will be for other people to hurt you. And, at risk of sounding as a self-help book or a crappy commercial, I must say that embracing my imperfections made them smaller and more easily forgivable (and improvable). Self-acceptance killed all my unnecessary fears just like video killed the radio star.*
*Yeah, sorry for the terrible joke. I did not learn to make better jokes on the road. And now that song might be stuck in your head. Sorry about that too.
As adventure became a reality, my life-choices multiplied
Back in college I remember acknowledging that I only had a handful of paths to follow after graduating: applying for grad school, or finding a job, or even moving to a different country and trying to make a living. Anything slightly adventurous that deviated from those conventional paths belonged to literature or movies, because people didn’t actually do that. But then I hit the road and suddenly all these inimaginable possibilities became real: hitchhiking, playing music with total strangers, sleeping under the stars of an unknown place. I met so many different people with so many different lifestyles – from rambling artists to organized activists to wealthy filmmakers to digital nomads – that now life seems to hold millions of possibilities. Taking risks doesn’t seem so risky anymore, and excitement has meaningfully taken over fear. Now I don’t know if I’ll apply for a master’s degree or backpack Iceland for a month. We’ll see.
I can see through you better and faster
Having to decide in a matter of seconds whether I would stay at a house or not, or whether to jump in a car or not, has improved my ability to sense danger – and non-danger, by that means. Now my distrust tickling sense beeps sooner, but I can also trust much more easily. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t take me time to get to know a person (obviously), but now I can probably say “yes” or “no” immediately from my gut, which is an ability I didn’t use to have. Creating bonds has also become something naturally immediate, considering that I only got to spend an average time of 3-5 days with every person that hosted me.
I finally learned to say goodbye
There were times during my adventure when I felt the urge to stay in a place, to keep watering the bonds I had started building with the people I’d met. But then I would travel to the next destination and become glad I didn’t, because a new experience awaited me there. Goodbyes have always been my Achilles’ heel and travelling solo gave me the ability to accept that everything ends, or, better said, that leaving doesn’t mean finishing a story, but transforming it into a new one. I still keep in touch with almost every friend I made on the road and I know I will see many of them again, somewhere, sometime. My feet feel lighter now and I learned the delightful perks of missing the ones I love, because they became my reason to come back home and to be happy as the journey came to an end. Choosing to miss those near me taught me to appreciate their company when I finally saw them again.
Creating bonds is one of the most beautiful and fun parts of travelling. Washington, DC (November 2014)
So here I am, one year later. Life is still confusing and difficult sometimes, but every day I’m thankful for everything that surrounds me. Now that I know that at any point I might pack my bag and leave again, I cherish what I have more than ever before, because I’m not certain that it will be there in the near future. This may not be an activist post as others here, but I had an inner need to write it. After all, it was that journey what made me create this blog and what brought you to read these lines right now.
And despite not being a big fan of quoting in texts, there is no better advice to end this post than Kerouac’s words:
“Live, travel, adventure, bless and don’t be sorry”.