Today I am on a train from Seattle to Vancouver, 4 hours, along the coast line, which I forgot since the last time I’ve taken it, and I’m by myself, with my travel backpack (and a broken carry on luggage) and a purse I bought specifically to travel with, and just my thoughts.
Life is a lot different now since the first time I showed up in Paris with two HUGE ASS pieces of luggage and a snuggie and a travel backpack and a purse I bought specifically to travel for and nothing else but my thoughts. It’s a lot different from when I actually dragged that pink snuggie and those HUGE suitcases up the stairs to Gare de Lyon wearing Uggs I’m sure that didn’t fit in my suitcase, with all the other items I thought were so important, but that I would end up leaving behind in France anyway.
Life is a lot different now: I have a business, a career, I’m “settled down”, for lack of a better term- I know where I want to live, and I live there, what I want to do, and I do it, what kind of person I want to be with, and I am with him. And none of that would have been possible had I not packed those two huge bags and that snuggie and lugged myself and 200 pounds of luggage halfway across the world to figure it all out.
I mean sometimes when you’re Elizabeth Gilbert aka Julia Roberts, you set out with the intention of finding yourself and love and spirituality. I did not. I certainly did not. I left to France because it was what I was supposed to do, ironically, with my college degree, I was supposed to go teach English and speak languages because I have a DEGREE in them don’t I? And I got there because it was a solid plan, it was something to say I was doing because I had no clue what I was doing. It let me stall for a year and sounded a lot better than admitting “I’m just going to work for a year and try to figure out my WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE.”
I mean, I didn’t quite figure out my whole entire life. I figured out I hated teaching. Yeah I figured that out reallyyyy quickly, and that cut out an entire life path that would’ve been very simple to initiate. I figured out I love to explore, but not with food (I’m sure I knew that before France but just in case I didn’t, France solidified that for me). I discovered I loveddd routine, doing the same things every day and having some time for spontaneity in between. I read the entire Bible, cover to cover, every morning over my oatmeal. I discovered I needed to appreciate Q-tips and peanut butter, because daily things like that do not exist everywhere (which was just freaking mindblowing). I learned I needed a lotttt of alone time (stare at a wall time), and I wasn’t sad about it; I learned I liked my own company, I learned that I could have a great time with me myself and I, just listening to music, eating croissants on lawns, learning new words so I could figure out how to buy myself oatmeal (the French would ask “Oatmeal?! You mean like for horses?!”). I learned that if I ignored myself, I could run 5 miles without even thinking about it (the key is I couldn’t think about it, because then I would give up).
I learned that God will never leave you alone, that He will give you company and friendship and community and support and he will PROVIDE for you.
I learned that I could build up an entirely new life, a new cast, a new set, a new script, and it would be like a spin off of my previous life but it would still be my life.
I learned I loved doing activities, and I also loved doing nothing.
I learned I hated hiking, which is honestly no surprise, but that I loved any place where I could be high up and look down on a city (as long as I didn’t have to hike to get there).
I learned that you can read a lotttt of books when you have a lengthy commute that consists of public transportation, and that I really hate biking.
I learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust and that I love books about dragons. (Eragon is one of the best series of books besides Harry Potter that I have ever read.)
I learned to read medicine labels, that I truly do not enjoy wine, but that I really, really, really, really, really, really love coffee.
I learned that getting upset about the small things makes the small things the big things when they are in fact the small things.
I learned that when the tram is 20 minutes late, you can either pop over to another tram if there’s one near by, or you don’t, and there’s nothing you can do about it but decide to swoop a spot on a bench from someone who stood up in frustration, or you can be the person who loses their spot on the bench because you stood up in frustration.
I learned that “everything’s going to be fine”, doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen, it means everything’s going to be fine, even if they do.
I learned to travel light (finally), to roll my clothes, to never leave cash or my retainer in the car overnight anywhere on the planet, and that you can buy almost anything anywhere and to not panic if you forget a toothbrush.
I learned how to judge when I felt safe, what to do if I didn’t, and to trust my instincts in those situations. I learned that Americans are crawling the planet, and that the world is big and the world is small.
I learned that the Eiffel Tower is more grandiose than any picture or painting could ever do it justice, and that a place can feel a certain way.
I learned that pretending to be pregnant can get you out of anything, but that you almost never need to get out of anything.
I learned that being trilingual will get you really far in almost every country except Italy and the Czech Republic, that just because signs aren’t in English doesn’t mean you don’t have to obey them, that sometimes the people you can understand the least are actually speaking the same language, but are from Scotland so you just have to speak French to them because you do.not.speak.the.same.language.
I learned that the French don’t eat French toast, and that French fries don’t come from France, and that the French don’t eat duck for lunch, but noodles and ham and A LOT of zucchini.
I learned that I could practice photography all day long, and that I needed to.
I learned that people would pay for my services, and that I had a talent, and that I really really liked it.
I learned that having a point and shoot is much better than carrying around an expensive and heavy camera, and that sometimes being in the moment is better than having a great picture- and that a lot of time, though, the picture is worth it.
I learned that some friends will put gigantic efforts into your friendships and literally travel the world to be with you, and that some friendships don’t work that way.
I learned that you can’t travel with just anyone (oh because I TRIED), and that when you find the people you travel well with, that you hold onto them and you never let them go and you force them to go on trips with you around the world forever and ever no matter how far apart you live in the future all the time until the day you die.
I learned that I have friends on every corner of the Earth, some I haven’t met.
I learned that the unique combination of traits I have complements, connects, impresses, inspires and encourages at least a couple other humans around the world who I currently call or will call my very best friends,
I learned that sometimes you connect, inspire, encourage people without ever talking to them again.
I learned that America has a lot to offer that I had never experienced- that at one point I had seen more countries than states, and that as much as I loved living there, that I wanted to be home.
I learned that FaceTime can be a very powerful communication tool, and that Apple connects the world. I learned that waking up at 2 am every night your time to text your best friend when he gets off work at 5 pm his time means that your sleep cycle will be disrupted for YEARS TO COME.
I learned that being busy didn’t mean being happier or better, and that being stressed wasn’t a badge of honor or something to be proud of.
I learned that yoga is hard to take in a different language, and to be really appreciate of dryers because hang drying your entire wardrobe sucks.so.bad.
I learned that the whole world thinks Americans are cheerleaders, and that I fit the American stereotype really really well (and that I am not ashamed of it).
I learned that people really want to learn English and practice their English, and that I can get really snobby and uptight and that I was frank enough to tell people if they wanted to learn English, they could go to England, but I moved to France to speak French so you can go ahead and speak French to me, merci.
I learned to appreciate silence and that I didn’t need constant conversation or narration of my life to feel present.
I learned that I loved playing cards late at night, and that I didn’t love to dance as much as I thought, and that I really just loved to dance with my friends who loved to dance, with my favorite DJ at my favorite bars, and that SLO really does have the best downtown in the whole world.
I asked an older man on this train that I’m on today if he's ever travelled Europe, and he said he's never been out of North America, which surprised me, I'm not sure why, and then he told me "The whole planet looks the same anyway, I've seen it all." I nodded politely because it sounded like something he had convinced himself of a long long time ago but let me tell you he is wrong, wrong wrong. Every place in the world looks different, sounds different, smells different, tastes different, feels different, and will change every time you go at different points of your life with new perspectives and experiences and with different company. My heart is crushed for this man who will never know how small you feel under the Eiffel Tower, how humbled by history you feel when you're standing in a church older than our entire country, how freaking weird it is to see fields of kangaroos, how empowering it is to make yourself at home in a country where you don't speak the language or look like its citizens, how big and beautiful and diverse the world is- and in turn how big and beautiful and diverse we are as a people andddd as individuals.
This train ride I'm on is really hitting home for me, remembering how much I changed, or how much more me I became, when I moved across the world alone and experienced it for myself. Here's what I'm saying. Don't just travel abroad, live abroad (for as long or as short as you want). Don't be stuck thinking you are one person, the world is one way, or that "the whole planet looks the same anyway." It doesn't, my friends, it doesn't, and we are all the better for it.
I’m so proud of the person I have become, of the things I have learned, and the decisions I have made based on those discoveries. Traveling for me isn’t a phase, it isn’t a one time thing, it’s a life long decision to know that there is still more to learn, to see, to feel. Sure, life's a lot different now that I can’t move away for a year, that I do have a business, a committed relationship, a place I really call home. But I have done the yearlong, no commitments, no responsibility thing. And I’m so ready to do whatever is next, with John, with SLO to come home to, with my photo clients and passion for my career on my mind. If traveling has changed me once (which it did), it will change me a thousand times, and I’m ready for it, I’m quite literally on board, and I’m pulling into the Vancouver, BC station now.
So, with those 2000+ words, bon voyage my friends. And happy traveling. <3