I’ve been in many scary travel scenarios over the years.
In Chile, I missed my night bus to a new city. The only people I could ask for help were two bus drivers in an empty parking lot.
In Colombia, on my second day in the country, my friend and I missed our bus stop. So, we had to walk twenty minutes in the dark, on the side of the road, all the way back to the finca (a Colombian country house).
And also in Colombia, during Semana Santa, the bus station ran out of buses. So, I had to sleep in a bus station waiting room in Cali, a city that’s not particularly known for its safety.
(I haven’t always had the greatest of luck with buses.)
Somehow I’ve survived everything.
I’ve gotten lost, gotten robbed, and ended up on the outskirts of town multiple times. Most of these times have showed me that 1) I’ve been very lucky, and 2) most people aren’t as bad as the world makes you think they can be.
That being said.
My greatest travel fear isn’t about what can go wrong on the road. It isn’t being lonely on the road, or alone on New Year’s Day, as I type this.
My greatest travel fear is that one day, I will wake up and regret everything.
My greatest travel fear is that I’ll wake up, look outside my apartment window, and then it will hit me: I’m 35, and while I’ve been globe-trotting, collecting experiences and stories, others will have been establishing a home, a “real” home with furniture that’s not from Ikea, with family photos in picture frames, and a dog running in the backyard.
I’m afraid that I’ll wake up and realize, wait, I do want children; but only have a few years left of biologically having children.
I’m afraid that I won’t be able to find a relationship that’s as stable and meaningful, as adventurous and exciting. In my 20s, people thought I was so interesting and brave for traveling and living abroad. As I approached 30, people started to change their questions:
“Now, which country are you living in?”
“Don’t you want to settle down?”
Or my favorite comment: “You know, you’re pushing 30.”
What if I wake up one day and believe they were right? What if I realize I have to race to get the life I was supposed to want, or worse, realize that it’s too late?
I’ve been rereading Brida by Paulo Coelho. At one point, he writes in the book about making choices in life:
“She wasn’t afraid of difficulties; what frightened her was being forced to choose one particular path. Choosing a path meant having to miss out on others. She had a whole life to live and she was always thinking that, in future, she might regret the choices she made now.”Brida by Paulo Coelho
So, there you have it. A book by Paulo Coelho about a girl who wants to become a witch put me in another existential crisis. The book should have come with a trigger warning.
But even before I read this book, this is a fear I’ve had over the past few years. I started traveling abroad when I was 22. The world and my time seemed infinite. Then at 24 I started teaching abroad. And as time passed by, the closer I inched toward the big three-oh, I wondered, will I regret this?
So, why do I continue to travel, despite this fear?
The answer is:
I will not wonder “What if.”
If I’d chosen the life I was supposed to want, I’d probably live in the suburbs and have a good life. I may even be married by now to some guy I met through work, a bar, or an app. And life would be good. We’d commit to each other, and then we’d commit to a 30-year mortgage, and the whole American dream.
If I’d chosen that life, eventually, I would have started to wonder a dangerous question:
One day, it would hit me. I’d wake up at 35, stare outside my window one morning, and suddenly wonder: “What if I’d traveled alone or lived abroad in my early 20s? What if I’d spent a year of my life volunteering? What if I’d fallen in love with someone who speaks a different language than I do?”
I’d look at travelers and feel jealous and resentful, wishing I’d done the same. I’d start to feel trapped in a lifestyle that I never questioned was the best option for me or not. I’d realize that, while I was collecting furniture and designer purses, others were collecting memories and experiences, celebrating holidays with locals and photographing landscapes that look like they’re not from this earth.
I chose travel. This means I won’t wonder “what if” and “what can I do” as I find myself invested in the roles of a wife and mother, roles which I just can’t leave on a whim. I won’t find myself dreaming day and night of what could have been.
Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist: “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”
(In case you haven’t realized by now, I’m a big Paulo Coelho fan.)
Deep down, I know that traveling the world and having unique experiences is what I’m meant for. When the ticking of my biological clock should have woken me up, I found myself envisioning what new places to visit, and what new experiences I wanted to create. I wasn’t dreaming of my dream home or what to call my children.
Not that there’s anything wrong with these things. These things can create a beautiful life. They’re simply not what I long for now. Maybe someday. But not now.
So, whenever I start to think “Will I regret everything someday?”, I think of myself in a parallel universe, who’s wondering what it’s like to see all these places I put on my Instagram, to touch the lives of thousands of students around the world, and to find strength and happiness in the most unlikely of places. The me in a parallel universe is proud of the me in this universe. My younger self who hadn’t even known that this travel lifestyle was possible, would be proud of me.
This is a life that’s not perfect, and not always easy, but it’s a life that’s uniquely mine.
Someday, I’ll find a way to make this life of travel more meaningful, and help others with these dreams achieve the same. That is, their own uniquely crafted lives.
And that’s why, despite this fear, I continue to travel. Because I’ll never have to wonder “what if.” And because I’m living a life that is mine.