Traveling Alone

Two years ago I arranged and paid for a trip for myself to go around the world. I had heard about this type of trip through an organization call gapyear.com. It is a company that assists late teenagers/early 20’s to take time after they are done with their early schooling to travel on either themed excursions or just plain ol traveling. By the time I was told about it I was 23(ancient), had already graduated from college, and was two years into forming a tangible career for myself. I was living in Colorado and working for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (which when no one was calling the box office, there was A LOT of Facebooking going around) So, I there was on Facebook and was talking to a friend of mine in Chicago. I was complaining how restless I was feeling and how desperately I wanted to move to England or ( as a matter of fact) just go somewhere. He insisted that I check out the website, because it seemed like I could really be the type of person to benefit from it. I wasn’t sure that I was “lost” or needed direction per say for a gap year, because I had done theatre for so long and knew for so long that it was what I wanted to do. I was 23 and I felt certain about my career and where it was going. I knew what I was good at and never really had a problem ever getting hired somewhere. (Don’t hate me. The theatre world has outrageous connections all over. It’s just how it is. I am paying for those past fortunes now.) Anyway, so here I was on gapyear.com trying to figure out which trip or destination would suit me best, because I knew I needed the “fix.”

Suddenly, I came across this RTW (Round The World) trip that they suggested. It seemed a little pricey going through the company to do it, so I started to research the airlines. I found that a lot of airlines accommodated “multi-cities” flights. So I plugged in a few transit cities (starting of course with Sydney) where I knew a lot of flights went through. I was coming up with all sorts of prices. When I studied in England, I knew of an organization that was internationally based for students who wanted a good rate to travel. This is when I met my dear friend Peter. I emailed the organization and Peter was the one who emailed me back. We went back and forth figuring out my budget and my interests in certain cities and ended up with a trip from LA to Sydney, flying out of Melbourne to Malaysia to Cairo and ending in London. I had this secret goal in ending with London to just stay forever. I brought all my resumes, recommendation letters, interviewing outfits, and home mementos hoping that I would find a job with a theatre in London. That way I could just live there and accomplish my goal to prosper there.

Note: When traveling all around the world on various flights, trains and buses do NOT take unnecessary items.  I know this may seem like a no-brainer, however when you are running down the streets of Singapore to be sure to catch your midnight train back to Malaysia you will thank me for this advice. When I say unnecessary, I MEAN unnecessary. You do not need your fancy heels to go out, or multiple jewelry accessories, or you do NOT need a box of tampons. The rest of the world goes through mensies as well. They sell tampons.

The best part of this trip that I had planned for myself was that I was alone. (Mom, I love you but it made more sense for me to be alone. Don’t take offense) Traveling alone is scary. Traveling alone can be unsafe. Traveling alone is lonely. And traveling alone is exhilarating, it is refreshing, it is educational, and it is brave. Yes, you are allowed to be afraid and nervous to travel alone, but I promise you it is incredibly satisfying to succeed at. While I was preparing for my trip, just about every friend I have told me how brave and lucky I was do this trip alone.  FIRST, I am NOT lucky. I have been lucky once in my life for winning a Facebook contest and give all the credit to a photographer named Ron. I was not lucky. I worked really hard for this trip. I saved for a year, I was very frugal with money, I lived in a house with 5 other girls for a year, and I researched every day. Second, I never saw myself as brave. It may take courage to travel alone, but I had already traveled Europe and Africa with two other people extremely close to me. I knew what I was getting into.

Because I traveled ALONE:

-I met really amazing people, who I am not quite sure I would have if I wasn’t by myself

-Got to eat whatever I wanted

-Got to see whatever I wanted

-Scheduled my time and energy without needing to approve it by someone else

-Got to be tired when I wanted to be tired and got to be crazy when I wanted that

I learned so much about myself. I learned about what I didn’t want out of the career I had chosen (even if I do feel more lost now). I found people who are helping guide maybe where I would like to end up. I saw everything I wanted to. I feel so much more confident than when I started. It was healthy (mentally) and it has fed my Wanderlust even more. C’est la vie. It is not meant for everyone. There are some people in this world who need the security of someone else and that is perfectly fine. But for those of us who have always been loners, it is quite the “soul-searching” experience.  I’ve told myself another excursion is in store. Every 5 years. Look out 2016!

 

Me on ferry in Sydney. Day 1 of RTW trip

Friend Memory

I was never the best in school. Even when I was little. The only thing I remember being really great at was spelling. A+ every test. My mother was amazed. She would never believe me when I would tell her that I had already studied the words within…maybe…two minutes. I just have one of those memories that things stick in. This was probably why I enjoyed being an actor so much. Lines and blocking (where I was supposed to go on the stage at certain points) were no sweat. I just lost that main spark of “becoming the character” onstage. I lost my ability to “pretend” more or less. I think I have been tainted by so much reality and so much real life in different cultures that it has become quite difficult for me to allow myself to be overcome by a character. I love acting. I love theatre. But I cannot seem to get past that one step into diving into a character…this other person. I haven’t acted in about three years now. Strange.

Now that I am thinking about it, my memory is probably my greatest obstacle when it comes to this Wanderlust disease. I find that I am restless when I have all these memories flooding my head. They just come out of nowhere, without any type of warning. I mean literally, I am walking down the street and bam! I am in Munich. Or I am taking a shower and bam! I am suddenly in Lourdes. My mind just takes off. And it’s not like I am condoning this behavior. No. I am just minding my own business and suddenly there it is. Like a cruel joke. Taunting me and teasing. Saying, “Remember this? Remember how exciting this was? Or remember how beautiful that is? Wouldn’t you rather be here right now rather than at work?” OF COURSE I WOULD! Who in their right mind would say “You know what? I would rather be at my work right now rather than the lily pad garden of Monet’s in Giverny.” Um.  No one. My memories are so vivid. I know exactly how something smelled, tasted, felt….It’s my greatest enemy and at the same time my greatest friend.

Here.  I’ll explain my confusion a little better. The other day I was at work. Currently, I am a server at an Irish Pub in Chicago. (Yes the owner is from Ireland and yes he hires a lot of Irish employees and no we do not serve corned beef) It’s not that I hate being a server. It’s really not that big of a deal, because sometimes you meet some extraordinarily great people that you normally would not have. Once you know what you are doing, it’s somewhat gratifying because you are able to have tiny accomplishments throughout your day. But on this particular day I was not having any of those moments and I was not meeting any of those people. In fact, I could feel the tears behind my eyes all day. I was in one of those states where  I felt like I was hit by one of the cars passing by and had to pretend that everything was fine, because who wants to be served by a person that distraught. So here I am, standing in the corner and putting in someone’s order into the system and BAM! My dear friend, my memory, comes out of the darkness. “Please don’t cry. Things will get better. Remember this and how happy you were?” she says. And while I am standing there in my disgusting tie and apron, I am suddenly surrounded by warm air and the smell of flowers everywhere. Fresh cut warm grass is poking at my toes over my flip-flops, the sun is enveloping every piece of me, and an echoing song that could make you cry for no apparent reason is playing. It is in Italian and from the opera “Carmen.”

While I was in Sydney on my “Around the World trip of 2011,” I met an incredibly smart and sweet guy from Britain. Martin. We were nearly immediate friends (mostly because he had Cadbury chocolate when I met him, which is chocolate from heaven itself) and decided to spend the rest of our time in Sydney checking out the sights and beaches together since we were both traveling alone. On this particular day we were strolling through the Sydney botanical garden, which takes up nearly a third of Sydney. This garden is stupidly beautiful. They have these magnificent trees that seem to rise so high that they tickle the clouds, and then some delicate droopy ones that fly in the wind like a great bird, there are thousands of different types of birds all around you, bats are carelessly swooping through the air, and millions and millions of colors on all the breath-taking flowers. It is the type of place out of a fairy tale, and you have to keep reminding yourself that this is real and exists in our world. While we are taking in all of this and having an in depth conversation (probably something about rule of the monarchy versus the confused American government or what people of India go through in their daily life), we suddenly get this whisper of opera coming through the wind. Martin looks at me with his big grin and insists that we have to find it. I am not joking when I say that the garden is nearly a third of Sydney. This thing is massive. Oh! And it is also somewhat of a maze. The paths are all winding so that people can enjoy all the different flowers and sights by just walking down the path. So here we are searching down this mysterious music, jumping off the path, running up to garden walls, and then hitting a highway that needs to be crossed. We are like hound dogs sniffing down our hunt until finally we’ve caught it. We cross in front of the Sydney Art Museum and there is a huge field that is opening up in front of us and at the end is a stage. There is a full orchestra, full cast of “Carmen,” and about 3 people sitting on the grass listening. It was the rehearsal for that night’s performance in the park from the Sydney opera house. This. Is. Fantastic. Music is fluttering through the air so that you could almost taste it. We find our nice little patch of grass and take a seat. I felt like they were playing just for us. It was unbelievable. Martin had a friend in town that day and texted him to pick up some beautiful Australian wine. His friend ended up bringing three bottles of wine for each of us. And there we sat. Under the Australian sun, under the sweet operatic notes, surrounded by pure natural beauty of the botanical gardens. We sat there without anything else going through our minds except for how happy this was. How innocently wonderful and perfect this moment was. I looked up at the skyscraper hugging the entirety of the park. It reminded me of Chicago, but at the same time was completely different. I was content and it was flawless.

Of course now that the memory is over, I am calmer and happier, but also aching for more and then that aching turns into restlessness and wishing to go back or to another Australian city I haven’t been to. To have another perfect moment. You see? My greatest enemy and my greatest friend….

In the Botanical Gardens. Isnt it beautiful??

Home

Michael Buble sings this song called “Home.” It has this lullaby feel that is so sad and yet incredibly sweet where he talks about missing his love and the feeling of being at “home.” He talks about being alone and having to go on another airplane and enduring the cold winter months of Paris and Rome. I have never felt this way. Ok correction: when I went to study abroad in Canterbury, England in my sophomore year of college I was completely distraught the first two weeks of leaving my college lifestyle, the new boyfriend, the fairly new friends, and my family (who were only a two hour drive away from me). Then that weekend of the second week in England, my dear friend Elise and I bought two coach tickets to London, booked a hostel, packed our bags and that was the end of my short lived experience with homesickness. Of course while traveling everyone craves the occasional Big Mac, or misses their ever present skyscrapers or mountains (depending on where one lives) but then you turn around and see that 500 year old castle that is still standing and forget about that nonsense of “home.”

In fact, while at home in my lovely city of Chicago I yearn…no crave….no obsess over being somewhere else in the world. My mind starts to take off in this whirlwind of sights, tastes, and sounds. Do I want to see the Palaces of Japan? Or do I want to try real Pad Thai from Thailand? Pizza from Capri? Guinea Pig in Peru? Or perhaps I will just go down to Rio for the festival of Carnivale…no I want to be in the celebrations of the New Year in the middle of the Zimbabwe next to Victoria Falls. And it goes on and on. I have finally diagnosed myself last year with a severe case of Wanderlust. I know you are laughing, but this is serious. I’m too old to want to be scurrying around the world like I have no worries in the world and too young to feel so restless and scared that my life is flying by too fast. My mother (who is my greatest friend and fan) and I were having a day of just the two of us the day after Thanksgiving this year and decided to stroll through Lincoln Park Zoo where “Zoo Lights” (a Chicago yearly tradition sponsored by the local electric company of a gazillion lights all over the zoo) was going on. We were taking in all the lights, pointing them out to one another, laughing at the over excitement of the children running around squealing, and a Christmas song came on over the sound system with a guitar that sounded a lot like a old Spanish guitar song. As the notes are plucking away, they begin to flick at me and my mind whooshes away in that familiar whirl. I am suddenly aching for some Sangria in a plaza off the Mediterranean in Barcelona. I am aching to see those Spanish mullets that are so popular and smell some delicious seafood of paella and listen to some smelly old Spanish man with calloused fingers planning the most beautiful tune out of an old beaten up guitar. I am suddenly desperate to know when I will be back in Barcelona again and for how long so that I may quench this crave I have within me. It is like an itch on the bottom of your foot that scratching doesn’t satisfy and in fact tickles the itch even more. I am starving at the thought of never knowing when I will be in Spain again. My mind takes another turn and realizes that I have not been in the south of Spain to experience all the small authentic towns that have been there since the early 1700’s. I turn to my mom at the zoo and blurt out “We need to go to Barcelona again.” My poor mother has been enjoying our walk through the zoo and focused on all the beautiful lights. She has no idea of the journey I just went through in my head and so she cocks her head in confusion and smiles. I explain to her about the song playing and how it is sounding quite similar to a Spanish guitar. She agrees and we start to talk about Spain and going back.

After a moment or two I confided in her that I think I have a problem. I think I have an addiction to traveling and after she laughs about it, I insist sincerely that I don’t know if it is healthy or not. I am never satisfied on being home. I have a great life. I have an family that I don’t think could be more loving, a beautiful apartment in Lincoln Park for really cheap, a wonderful boyfriend who chooses…no WANTS to be around all the craziness of me, a job that’s…well…a job, and friends all over the city. Plus my life is in Chicago, which I think is un-arguably the greatest city in the world. What’s wrong with me? Why is it that I am constantly restless? Every time (and I mean every single gosh darn time) I see a plane in the sky the thought goes through my head “I wish I were on that plane.” My mother and I talk about it until we have exited out of the zoo at this point and were walking back to my apartment. She says to me that an addiction and something that is a bad obsession are really only bad if it is creating a negative impact on myself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Chicago. I do not hate my city or my life as it is. I just wish and want more sometimes. My mother tells me that it’s great that I want more, and that traveling is nothing but educational and a way to grow internally. I am expanding my mind.

Ok, this all sounds well and good, but it also sounds like something a mother tells her daughter because she loves her. So, I have decided to write about it. I am writing about the sickness of Wanderlust, I am writing about all these wonderful places that have made me so addicted to travel, I am writing to perhaps enlighten others on the world and cautions of travel, and finally I am writing to maybe, just maybe rid myself of this restlessness. Hopefully, getting it out there to you…whoever you are…will release some of this endless anxiety.