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January 8, 2016

Using Travel to Find our Way Home.

Woodrow Walden/Unsplash

I have always been attracted to the ambiguity of air travel. When you fly, you cease to exist. You remain indistinct and formless, having left but not arrived yet.

No one can harangue you when you are in the clouds. Phones don’t work. Bills don’t need to be paid.

Hearts are never broken.

I got my passport after a breakup. It wasn’t a particularly painful thing. We parted mutually. He was beautiful but far too young. I was searching. For a short while, I thought it might be the way his fingers ran across my skin and how we went for long walks on the beach. But, that sort of comfort was fleeting.

I have wilderness in me. I’m passionate about things. I read Chilean poets, and I ache for magical things to happen. I listen to songs so loud in my car that my ribcage reverberates. I hike. I kayak. I free-dive. I surf. I crave physical outlets to match my intellectual curiosity. Travel seemed imminent. Necessary.

I took off running toward foreign spaces, greedily.

I crashed a moped into a donkey farm in the Dominican. I had to use a needle and thread to stitch myself back together again. I stayed in a 10-dollar-a-night hostel in Costa Rica, where I met a family of surf strangers who embraced me. I hitched-hiked my way to Rincon after the car company I rented a vehicle from failed to produce me a set of wheels. I cried in airport bathrooms after long delays that left me so exhausted I thought my bones might collapse underneath my own weight. I ate rice and beans for two days before I got the courage to exchange my money and buy myself a three course meal in this or that strange country.

Sun and surf, experience and waves, all of this began to bleed together. I tested my limits. Sometimes, those limits tested me.

I was free, but I’m not sure I was happy.

I recently took a surf trip. I was in paradise, and yet, I was homesick. This had never happened to me. For as long as I can remember, I have been trying to escape. I have been terrified of any life that smacks of the mundane. I didn’t want to immerse myself in my suburban lifestyle, because it felt like chains. I couldn’t see the value in a quaint roof over my head when there were vast areas of terrain I longed to explore in other countries.

But, there I was in the tropics, longing to be back in the cold of New York. I was missing the comfort of my bed, and the beauty of my established routine.

Why was this?

What I realized is that home was populated by people, and those people loved me. Best of all, I was finally at a place where it felt okay to embrace that love.

Until I started to travel, I was locked up inside myself. Fearing rejection, and not believing true intimacy was permissible. Chasing down waves during surf trips to avoid having to deal with dating. Through travel, I found people just like me. Escapist. Dreamers. Wanderers. Hippies. Surfers. Artists. Writers. They were lost. They were hungry. They had arms crossed against whatever they were fleeing from, and hands palm up facing the possibilities.

They listened. They celebrated. They shared their stories. Meeting strangers was a way to ebb some of the loneliness.

But, the more I started to share stories with intrepid travelers, the more I realized that you can change your longitude and latitude, you can alter the climate or the landscape, but the things you carry inside of you, they remain. Ghosts of your past still haunt you on a white sand beach.

A passport can just be an excuse to avoid yourself—if you allow it to be. And, that is what I had been doing. Avoiding things. I was avoiding love and sex and intimacy. I was avoiding commitment to anyone and anything. I was avoiding my own sense of self for the quick fix of a passport stamp and foreign currency.

Sometimes, the bravest thing is to stand still. Let others catch up. Let others reach out. Let others touch you.

And so, I changed my flight. I headed home early from paradise. I dropped into New York on an unseasonably warm day. I grabbed my surf board and headed down to the local break. I paddled out into a sea of smiling faces. People knew me. They cheered my rides. They laughed with me.

There was no ambiguity. I had shape and mass. I had density. I liked being grounded by the simplicity of laundry, bills paid, phone calls with family and drinks with people who mattered. I liked my small little house, and my bed that was cozy and waiting. I slept better that night than I had in the months leading up to it.

Are you going to keep traveling? A friend asked.

Of course, I said.

I have a tripped booked next month to the West Coast. This time I won’t be traveling alone, though. This is not to say that I won’t again. I will. Once a woman learns to be independent, it is impossible to cage that impulse. But, I’m giddy with anticipation to share a hotel bed with someone. Lying side by side with him, I know that I have a vast new landscape to explore, the peaks and valleys of a secure relationship with a man who matters a great deal to me.

After that, I’m not sure. The world is large, and I am eager. But as I write this, surrounded by the four corners of my room, I know that this is a place to return to—and not to flee. There is no locale that could trump the quiet consistency of home, and the inner knowledge that I am worth the love that resides here.

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Relephant Read:

The Trouble With Asking a Traveler Where Home is.

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Author: Kelly Russell

Editor: Toby Israel

Images: Woodrow Walden/Unsplash // Andrea Vincenzo Abbondanza/Unsplash

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