Being in a new place for the first time ignites me, but it also always makes me off balance. It doesn’t even need to be a place. It can be anything. The absence of a person, the commitment to a decision. There’s a day to a week in-between any change that makes me question if I should’ve just stayed with the same. Once upon a time, I was a person who clung onto the familiar in an effort to avoid this feeling. It was the reason that I decided to continue dating my shitty high school boyfriend through a miserable first year of college. Perhaps why I always lived in New York until I graduated. The reason I stayed much too long at jobs I hated. It’s strange how such a brief moment of being uncomfortable could make me burn entire years of existence.
Practice makes perfect, though. It wasn’t until picking up and changing cities on a weekly basis through backpacking that I realized how dependent I truly was on the familiar. I would be at a bus station or an airport. Eagerly awaiting my way to the next city, or town, or country. Listening to my Spotify Discover Weekly, and browsing through pictures of the place I was leaving. Somewhere in the cloud of excited anticipation, my stomach would mangle under the weight of uncertainty. Usually, at a touch of the first hassle. The thought would seep into my mind slowly, almost completely unnoticed, and then I’d be flooded with it. Uncertainty.
I should’ve stayed where I was. I won’t meet anyone nearly as incredible as I met before. The hostel won’t be as fun, or as clean, or as affordable. I’m going to be alone and lonely. I’m going to be scared. I’m going to be, I’m going to be, I’m going to be. I should’ve just stayed where I was.
It wasn’t a loud scream in my head. Just a dull blade. Only sharp enough to leave a rusty wound, but no scar.
I had a similar experience to this fear of unfamiliarity when it came to traveling with friends from home. Getting on the plane to Colombia was much different than getting on my flight to Thailand. I wasn’t getting on alone. This thought would be an enormous comfort to most people (and would’ve probably been to me as well my first time around). It terrified me, now. I was excited to have the experience of travel with my lifetime friends (more like siblings). I knew that it was going to blow their minds and that we’d have fun. But, I’d established this comfort in traveling by myself. The comfort of a little uncomfortable. I was tethered to nobody’s wants, or opinions, or perceptions of me. If I wanted to go somewhere, there was nobody to ask if it was okay. I just went.
I would meet new people every day, and they’d meet the me that exists today. Not the me that’s seen through eyes that have known me for twenty years. Eyes that know the names I got bullied throughout middle school and my teenage rebellion.
I feared that being abroad with my friends from home would shackle me. That it would take the thing I loved about travel in the first place, the freedom, and drain it dry. I feel a little fucked up even typing those words, but sometimes fucked up words are the right ones. I didn’t want to ruin something I loved. That applies to both my friends and my travels.
Cut, scene. We’ve been in Colombia for a little over a week. We’ve hit two cities and a town. Cartagena, Santa Marta, and Minca. Spending the majority of those days exploring the dreamy city of Santa Marta in a hostel called Villiana (10/10). We’ve been dancing with locals, had different cuisines every meal, taken an 8-hour bus ride, sat on a hammock over the edge of a mountain. Seen lizards the size of Corgis, eaten cow ear cartilage, and Garland even got indoctrinated into a Colombian family as their new 6’6 American child. One of my favorite parts of traveling easily came to fruition. Experiences galore. In a week, we’ve gathered inside jokes and memories to last us for years.
All that amazing isn’t without challenge though. In that one week, we’ve also had a few mental breakdowns, more than one snide comment, and a full-blown argument. That’s something that didn’t happen to me when I was meeting people for the first time on the road. I suppose it’s to be expected when you’re so close to people. You feel okay getting mad at them without the fear that they’ll just pack up and leave. There’s already little underlying irritants that can be easily exacerbated with getting lost in 100-degree weather and a minimal grasp on Spanish. There are personality clashes that you can’t quite gather until you’ve known someone your entire life.
The fear that I’d be different in travels with friends from home was justified. It’s completely different. Sure, I feel a little more secure. I have a safety net and I’m not just wandering around by my lonesome. But, at what cost? I’ve met fewer travelers, I’m bound to other people’s needs and wishes (and higher budgets), we’ve gotten aggravated at each other. Every single thing I feared about the uncertainty of traveling with my friends has come true barely a week into the experience.
So, is it worth it?
Without a goddamn question.
I have an entire life to do things alone. I can go wherever I want and all I need is myself. There will always be time to travel solo. But, there may not always be time to travel with my friends, who have their own lives and goals. It’s special. This is the only time we’ll ever be 23. Two, five, ten years down the road, will any of us be able to just say ‘fuck it’, buy a backpack, a plane ticket, and go? Almost definitely not. There’s only so many blips of time you get to do things like this with the people you love most on the entire planet. That’s worth all the sibling-like bickering and eye rolls we could ever produce.