“Why I Travel” is a new segment in which I ask other travelers to share the reasons behind their passion for travel. It might be an anecdote about an experience on the road, or the story of when he/she first fell in love with travel – anything that captures the “why” of their wanderlust.
Today’s post comes from Hilary of the Nomad Grad, a Las Vegas local and world traveler. After the devastating blow of not getting into graduate school, she took to a vagabond lifestyle to figure out what’s next for her. Now, when she’s not at home working on productions or taming lions, you can find her boarding down volcanoes and living in villages.
I hobbled to the communal kitchen of the Brisbane YHA Hostel trying to determine what I had in the fridge that could pass as breakfast. It was way too early to be up on a Tuesday and had the foul mood to prove it. The weeks of traveling had officially caught up to me and I was beyond exhausted. If it wasn’t for my obscenely cranky roommate, I wouldn’t have even bothered getting up. But she insisted on performing a seven-minute morning monologue about why this hostel sucked. So I’d gotten up, excused myself from her lacking performance, and found my way to the kitchen.
I rolled my ankle in a circle as I pulled out a carton of eggs with my name on it. Two were missing since the last time I’d put them away. I rolled my eyes. Such is the risk of communal refrigerators.
I shuffled slowly over to the stove, scrambling my eggs and throwing them in the pan. I surveyed the patio, resentfully eyeing the group of friends laughing and enjoying the perfect weather. I sighed and finished making my meal, adding some fruit to my plate before making my way outside.
I sat down at a corner table, propping my ankle up on a chair. I took a bite with my right hand and tenderly touched my leg with my left. Even though it wasn’t nearly as painful as it had been in Cairns, my bad sprain still limited my ability to walk. Of course, this put me in even worse mood. I mean, how else was I supposed to get around? If there’s anything that the backpacking world does not forgive, it’s handicapped travelers.
I tried to avert my attention from the jovial, obnoxiously loud group of friends sitting adjacent to me. Did they have to be so happy so early? I sighed. Be honest with yourself, my mind said. You’re just jealous that they are such a close group of friends and you don’t have that. You’ve got a cranky hostel-mate but no friends.
My wounded pride wanted to fight it but it was the truth. I’d just arrived to Brisbane, once again alone and excluded, after working hard to make fruitful relationships with backpackers in Cairns. But as was the way of the nomadic life, I’d had to say goodbye to my traveling clan and start over. Between the packing, unpacking, befriending, connecting with strangers, adventuring, learning a new city, and then having to do it all over, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
I stabbed the eggs with my fork in frustration. How do people do this all the time? Why is it that this was so exhausting for me? Why didn’t any of these people seem to have any fear? Why aren’t any of them questioning of what they’re doing or why they’ve decided to leave home to travel? Was I the only gypsy wondering if I was cut out for this lifestyle? I hobbled back to the kitchen to rinse my dishes.
I put everything away and turned to leave, only to notice a girl waving me down from the sinks. She had a band-aid in one hand and her thumb in her mouth. Her green eyes were wide as she hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. I cocked my head to the side. “Do you need help or something?”
The brunette nodded and pulled her finger out of her mouth. Blood oozed from her thumb. “Oh my God!” I cried, grabbing paper towels and compressing them around her wound.
She handed me the band-aid. “Would you mind?”
I watched the towels grow crimson. “We may need more than that!”
Within a few minutes (with the help of twelve more band-aids), we had her patched up. She thanked me shyly and invited me to come and sit with her outside. I hesitated. This would obviously cut into my feeling sorry for myself time and wasn’t sure I had the energy to engage in another, “What’s your name? Where are you from, and how long are you traveling for?” conversation. But we’d shared this moment of panic, so I said yes. (I figured I could always make up some wallowing time that afternoon).
Her name was Piya. She was an eighteen year-old expat from Germany. She was in Australia for six months as part of her gap-year between high school and college. We were both solo female travelers starting our journeys Down Under, but this similarity only fed into my dislike of her. After all, I was five years her senior and just now starting to explore the world. And on top of it, she’d survived her moment of medical distress without much as a blink of the eye. I was a week into my ankle injury and still complaining. Why did it feel like everyone was better adjusted than me
I watched her eat her breakfast with a pleasant smile. “Thanks for coming to my rescue today,” she said in a sweet tone.
“No problem,” I replied. “We all need help now and again.” The group of happy campers laughed and scattered, racing each other back to the kitchen. I was simultaneously dying for them to go away and invite me to join in on their fun. What was wrong with me?
Piya watched them and then looked around before leaning in close to me. She whispered, not wanting the nearby backpackers to overhear her, “Do you ever feel like— like you’re more alone than everyone else here?”
I was caught off-guard. Was she trying to trick me into revealing my weaknesses? Could she read my emotions my face? I gulped, “What do you mean?”
Piya placed her fork down and put both her elbows on the table, cradling her head in her hands for a second before looking back up at me. She looked pained. “Like, in that everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t?”
Yes. Yes, damnit! I know EXACTLY how you feel! Of course, I didn’t say that. “Well, what do you mean?”
She sighed and tugged on the end of her ponytail. “I feel like it’s hard to meet people when you first start off at a new hostel. And that you are constantly having to make yourself a priority over other’s wants, because people will try to push you around.” I thought of my hostel roommate and her complaining, but said nothing. Piya smacked her hands palms down on the table and leaned into me. “Do you know I’m staying in a room with six guys? SIX. None of them talk to me. But they are up all hours of the night.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t move. This shy, sweet girl was verbally vomiting up her problems. I hadn’t expected this. I didn’t know where this was going but I sure as hell didn’t want to do anything that would make her stop.
She didn’t seem to take notice of my internal processing and continued on without looking at me. “I mean, I’ve been traveling around Australia for three months now. I was traveling with these girls I’d met for awhile, but they got mad when I didn’t want to do what they wanted to do. But what’s wrong with me wanting to do something different? Or just wanting some ‘me’ time? Or not wanting to talk to new people everyday? I mean, sometimes I just don’t want to do the small talk thing. Sometimes I don’t want to explore. Sometimes I just want to sleep in.”
Me too! My insides screamed. I wanted to do that just today! But I didn’t dare breathe a word. I sat silently, nodding encouragement.
She blew air out her lips and rolled her neck in a circle. She sipped her water and looked out over the city, as if addressing the pedestrians on their way to work below us. “Sometimes solo travel sucks. Sometimes you miss home. Sometimes you are desperate for money, and sometimes you don’t know anyone.” She turned back to me and smiled. “But then I think about my life back home and how far I’ve come… All that I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished. And then I’m reminded. For all the struggles of solo travel, I have no regrets; I wouldn’t do it different.”
I met her gaze, and for the first time that day, I genuinely smiled back at her. She got up to wash her dishes. I remained at the table, trying to swallow everything that just happened.
Piya came back out after she finished washing up. She gave me a giant bear hug. “Thanks, Hilary.” She said. “Thanks for listening. You looked like you would understand.”
I hugged her back. “Of course.”
She laughed as she examined her bandaged thumb. “And thanks for your help with this.” I nodded. Before I had time to collect my thoughts she turned to leave. “Well, I have to get to work, but I hope I’ll see you tonight. Us solo females have to stick together.”
And with that she was gone. I stood for a long time in the kitchen, trying to make sense of it.
Had I just been visited by the Ghost of Traveler’s Future? Was this The Universe’s way of showing me that I wasn’t really alone? That other solo backpackers go through the same internal struggles? That even after three months on the road, you may still have doubts, run-ins, or uncertainties? Could it be possible that life just continued on as it wanted to, regardless of what country you were in?
I guess I must have stood there for awhile, because finally some guy tapped my shoulder and asked me to move out of his way. “Sorry,” I stammered, gathering my questions up off the floor.
“What wrong with you?” He asked, clearly not really caring to know the answer.
I looked at him and smiled. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No regrets.”
The guy gave me a funny look but I didn’t care. I hobbled away, repeating over and over to myself: No regrets.
This is why I travel- because you never know who you’ll meet, or how much you need to them, until you do.
Are you interested in sharing a “Why I Travel” story? I’m looking for submissions! Send your ideas to email@example.com