Photo diary from a short trip from Lima, Peru. We spent the weekend with friends, exploring the Islas Ballestas and Huacachina Oasis.
When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was travel. The first chance I got, I went as a solo female traveler to Egypt. Then to Israel and Palestine, and by the time I landed in Italy for my study abroad program I was totally hooked. When I came back to the US after another 3 week solo trip through eastern Europe, I knew I needed to find a job when I graduated that would let me travel more than a normal 9 to 5 allows.
That job came as the one and only position I applied to in my senior year of college, a teaching position in the UAE. Daniel and I taught in Abu Dhabi for two years, and during that time we had seven months of paid vacation and visited ten new countries in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
Now, we both work as freelance writers and digital marketers. Since January 2017, we have spent the last ten months living on the road. That means we don’t have any permanent apartment in the United States to return home to and we only stay in each city we visit for one or two months at a time. Living on the road definitely has its ups and downs, some of which I detailed in my article The Truth About Traveling Full Time. Now, I want to take it one step further.
I’m Just A Small Person in a Big Universe
Honestly, I feel like I’m trying to compartmentalize this past year into easy to digest little nuggets of wisdom, but thats actually the exact opposite of what this last year of living on the road has taught me. It showed me that everyone’s lives around the world are just as complex as ours. There’s a word called “sonder” which is the understanding that you are not central to the universe, that everyone who is just background noise in your own life is actually living their own life as well. One that is just as rich with feelings, problems, and emotions as yours.
I think this concept is surprisingly hard to grasp for most of us. But just standing on my balcony and watching a parade of school children go by in the street with a teacher trying (and failing) to get them into a straight line, sitting in a cafe all day and watching two coworkers talk, laugh, and flirt as they clean up around me, walking through a park on a Wednesday afternoon and seeing all the retired men come to barter, chat, and catch up with their friends in a local Colombian neighborhood… these little glimpses of totally normal everyday life are so different from the world I grew up in but still so relatable. All these lives are going on every day around the world, and it’s nice to see that I’m just a little piece of this giant fabric. I think living and working alongside the locals is one of the things that makes living on the road so different from taking a vacation and even different from backpacking and long term travel.
Life is the Same Around the World
People are working, stressed out, and falling in love around the world every day. People believe so strongly in their religions, but they’re all different. I’ve seen women in burqas, their lives dictated by Islam. Monks walking the streets in Thailand, collecting food, sweeping the streets, and giving up their autonomy and possessions because of a calling to a higher power. I’ve seen more Catholic festivals and celebrations than I can count in the churches and streets of South America. All of that is dictated by geographic location, which is dictated by the pure chance of being born in that city at that time.
It’s really weird how the basic themes of our lives are played out so differently in each culture, but if you look closely, its always for the same reasons. We all just want love, acceptance, and something to believe in.
Nothing Really Matters
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that in my first year of living on the road, I’ve learned how to relax and not take life so seriously.
It doesn’t matter that we can’t plan an elaborate surprise party or buy expensive gifts for each other for our birthdays, actually, it simplifies them, removes pressure to come up with something amazing, and makes the days spent together more fun. It doesn’t matter that I wear the same 6 outfits over and over, and haven’t put on make-up in months. It doesn’t matter that the big project I had in the works fell through, because our living costs are so low there’s no financial pressure on my shoulders. When you live on the road, it doesn’t matter what stresses or drama is going on with family and friends, because we’re far removed on a different continent.
It’s kind of nice being the background noise in the world for a change instead of the main event. I feel like I played a cheat code, because I don’t have to worry about bills and co-workers and social climbing in my 20’s like so many others do, and I get to see and do so much more. Living on the road turns down the responsibility and turns up the fun.
So we didn’t save the recommended amount that a couple should have to reach financial security by the time we’re 30. So I don’t have a job at a prestigious company. I didn’t have a baby, I didn’t get a masters degree or a PhD. But if I had, would I feel different? Would I feel fulfilled, or would I be asking myself the same questions about why I am here and what I should do? Would I be searching for the same answers in another way?
I think I probably would be.
It’s kind of funny, growing up we really think all the adults around us really have their sh*t together. Now that I’m an adult (I guess I can admit it) I’m starting to realize that no one really knows that they’re doing. Despite what societal pressures want to say, it’s ok to live on the road, wander around the world, see beautiful places and meet beautiful people. It’s not wrong and I’m not any more lost or aimless than anyone else.
We’re All Looking for Our Own Sense of Purpose
Whether we’re living on the road, working a 9 to 5, starting a family, or going back to school, I feel like each goal is the same and we’re all looking for the same thing. To be loved, to be beautiful, to be accepted, sure, but mostly, to find a sense of purpose. Some people find it in money, some people find it in their kids.
For me, traveling the world and living on the road is the closest I can come to finding my reason to be alive, simply for nothing more than to see everything this amazing earth has to offer. Standing among the 4,000 year old pyramids, looking at Mount Everest, wandering the cobbled streets of ancient Rome connects me to the past, and gives me a feeling of wonder and excitement that I can’t recreate anywhere else.
It’s kind of crazy that just being in these places can make me feel more content than doing or accomplishing something great. It lifts a huge pressure off my shoulders, and relieves me of something inside me that always felt like I need to do more, achieve more. Just being in these places is enough. Just existing in these places is enough.
I’m not saying that one year living on the road has changed my life. I still get anxiety, I still have problems, I still work for clients I don’t want to. But for me, it’s a step in the right direction, toward simplifying my life, toward becoming happy with who I am, toward removing the burdens that society has placed on my shoulders. I haven’t found my sense of purpose, and maybe I never will. But I think living on the road is a good start.
All my love,
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