For the Love of Traveling: Where Fears and Risks Become Soul Food
I planned on writing all about Jamaica the minute I got back, a complete retelling of the deep substance that made my trip so meaningful and brings so much life to the island.
But I've been back in Cleveland for weeks now, and I've worn out every excuse to put off telling this chapter of my story.
The trip was so far out of my comfort zone, there wasn't a trace of light at the end of the anxiety tunnel as my plane took off. It was my first time for so many huge things...traveling for more than a week, internationally, in a hostel, with foreign currency, immersed in a different dialect. It was also the first time I forced myself onto a plane in forever without the relief of jumping out of it, but most importantly, it was the first time I listened to my gut instead of every excuse I could think of, and finally just went for it.
It was hard not to feel pathetic the first few days as I fought off jabbing anxiety from the discomfort of being away from my usual surroundings. I watched my normally busy brain flip sh*t with the stress of all that new space, but overcoming that time was pivotal for my growth. I longed to face the first obstacles of being away, to sit with them and learn to trust that fear of the unknown is just a mind game.
In a way I felt safe with my anxiety because it was something familiar I could hold onto, but that wouldn't have gotten me anywhere beyond where I'd always been, feeling out-of-place. So day three or four rolled around, and I had to admit the panic attacks were becoming scarce as the urge to explore took hold.
Slowly, ten days went from seeming excruciatingly long, to not nearly long enough.
And that was the turning point as I realized I suddenly cared about stuff again. The sun was shining, the birds were a magnificent orchestra, the music never stopped, and the food was natural and amazing. I never wanted the storytelling, sun-soaking, and especially eating to end.
I learned to embrace to the humidity, the street vendors pushing home-grown coconuts or hand-made jewelry (both of which I took advantage of), even walking in downpours of rain and down steep hills in the jungle's darkness. My love grew even more for the language, historical roots, and jaw-dropping vocalists, dancers, chefs, and other true artists that make up the island.
My final night in Jamaica, I celebrated a full year at my writing job by enjoying a Red Stripe at the Twin Palms bar hut down the hill. Next, the well-known, lively beach party at the end of town.
After much-needed dancing and another Red Stripe or two, I went for a stroll away from the crowd for a break in the sand. With the splashing waves of the Caribbean Sea at my back, I marveled at the view of the hazy green mountains.
I realized I had fallen in love with Jamaica, and in spite of my stubborn doubts, in love with traveling too. I adored it all so far beyond what I thought possible, so much that the idea of becoming a travel writer hit me as if I'd never considered it before. This time I saw beyond usual underlying excuses though, and sculpted my pointless fear of dreaming big into intoxicating thrill-seeking.
Finally, I'd found my true idea of living.
A strong feeling overcame me that took me several hilarious moments to identify. Theories like panic, hysterics, and dehydration all flew through my mind until I realized how silly I was being.
I felt happy.
I was so astonished that it took me actual minutes to utter this long-lost feeling aloud.
For some time I believed really deep joy was impossible for me. I've always had comfort, family, an education, and so many more extraordinary things to be grateful for. Still, I felt like I was missing some huge neon sign pointing me toward a fuller life.
When I first embarked on my trip, I choked up for a few panicked moments of cold feet before leaving my cat and roommates. But on my final day on the island as we made the hour+ drive to the airport, I fought with streaming tears that longed for somewhere I had yet to leave.
Later as the plane departed from the gate, a voice in the back of my mind yelled, simply furious, "Where the hell are you going?!"
I assumed I would be more relieved once I was back in the states, but stepping away for those ten days helped me discover so many valuable things about myself that I couldn't trade for anything.
For too long I'd been making life choices that didn't serve me, and as dramatic as it sounds, I simply hated life.
I fought off anxiety, depression, rage, and hopelessness, not understanding how others enjoyed themselves. I thought anyone who thought they were happy must be content under a rock, not ever contemplating the reality of our existence.
Now I know all I needed was to live a different kind of life, and that has saved me completely.
And if there was any doubt left, since the day I returned I've dreamt so vividly about being back in Jamaica that the first night I was convinced my soul actually journeyed there. Now, weeks into these realistic scenes, adding in a few other sunny destinations and imaginative writing opportunities, and my brain is overcome with thoughts of adventure day and night.
Friends have told me how sad it makes them to know I'm not entirely fulfilled here, in the city or in the cold, but it never occurred to me that this should make me sad.
I know what I want now. I want to see the world.
I want to dive into diverse cultures, landscapes, back roads, and nature, and be surrounded by unstoppable change far beyond my comfort zone.
I know there will be many times I will feel paralyzed, like I've fallen too hard to keep going, but the only mistake I can make is letting that stop me.
And only now, sitting with my ugly fears, I realize why it has taken me so long to commit to this post. Hitting GO on this entry is the beginning of a long, unknown journey for me...one of frequent flyer miles, seasickness, language barriers, real-life human interactions, and stunning views. It signifies my terrified acceptance of the adventure that feeds my soul, choosing what is right for me and not what is easy...and of course, I couldn't be more excited.
But now that I've been working on this post "for a hundred years!" (as my grandma would say), it's time to let go of this opening story to make space for the next one, and the one after that, until I can finally say I've done it! I'm a travel writer.
Remarkable things can happen beyond your front door. Where have you traveled outside of your comfort zone?
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