by Marc Escanuelas
When I left Los Angeles I told everyone I would be gone for 500 days. I picked it at random and it seemed as good an arbitrary number as any. I recently passed day 250 and thought I’d reflect a little. I’ve been to 22 countries so far on this trip (counting Hong Kong and Macau which are technically part of China but have separate passport controls). I’ve met a lot of amazing people, fallen in love a few times (and in lust even more times) and managed to avoid any kind of illness. I’ve also picked up a few lessons along the way that I’d like to share.
You can be happy anywhere.
I think this one was the most important realization. I had tied up a lot of unnecessary baggage to the idea of being happy, declaring to myself that I wouldn’t be happy until I accomplished or acquired this or that. Things ultimately don’t make you happy but experiences do. Long after something has lost its luster or ceased to function, a fond memory can warm you from within on the coldest day.
Friends come and go.
It’s been interesting to notice how different friends have reacted to my trip. The people I thought would be in close touch have instead fallen by the wayside while the trip has bolstered other friendships I might’ve previously described as mere acquaintances. Several of my close friends have either gone silent or only pop in occasionally. Some of the best encouragement has been from people I’ve only talked to a few times in person. It’s encouraging to know that people are cheering you on back home and even more so when people have said that seeing my pictures of “exotic” places has stirred their curiosity enough to consider getting on a plane.
Meeting people is easy.
An outgoing nature and a tolerance for cheap beer is all you need to make friends in a new place. Most solo travelers are incredibly open to meeting new people and after a few pleasantries you find yourself telling your deepest darkest secrets to someone you just met and may never see again. Friends often ask if I get lonely out here and I usually respond that I’ll let them know should I ever find myself alone.
You don’t need as much as you think you do.
For now, home is wherever my backpack lands that evening. Life is definitely a lot simpler when all you have to worry about is literally resting on your shoulders. Of course, travel isn’t all bliss. It comes with its own set of frustrations but ultimately the big picture is that you’re out wandering the world, footloose and fancy-free. The more you leave behind, the more open you are to what comes your way.
The only boundaries that exist are your own.
I’ve always thought it was surreal the way we trust the lines in the road when we’re driving. A line of paint gets laid down and everyone knows to follow it. All that’s between you and a car coming toward you is that thin yellow line. It can be an earth shattering realization when you decide that you can paint your own lines and that they could lead anywhere.
I’ve thought a lot about coming home even though I still think it’s a long time off. The idea fills me with dread. Travelers, myself included, often consider their life back home “paused” until they return. Of course, this is a lie. People move on just as you did. I’m finding it harder and harder to relate to some of my friends and perhaps they feel the same. I’m not sure what comes next but I’m optimistic. Already I find it difficult to recall what it felt like to remain stationary. Movement has become such a given. I guess we’ll all see where I end up as it’s an open question.