September 2015, I went on my first solo trip with too much baggage, both literal baggage and metaphorical baggage. I traveled to Munich for 8 weeks and during that time, I suffered through the most acute depression and axiety that I have ever experienced. Yet, lookin back at the time, I remember Munich with gratitude.
why i decided to go
My grandmother died.
At the time and for a long time after her death, I didn’t identify this sadness as a turning point in my life. But in retrospect, I see this event as the first crack in a window that later shattered. Before Mamaw died, I felt content doing everything I was “supposed” to do. I worked hard at my job, saved money and paid my bills; I was in a committed relationship with a good man who agreed we’d wind up married one day; and I had a stereotypical social life in a big city.
Mamaw was part of this perfection. She was round, physically plumb with love, and all of her danced when she giggled. We all worshipped her in a pagan way. Even though her health had declined and we knew her time with us was coming to an end, part of me still believed she’d fatten up in the nursing home and storm out there with her typical stubborn temper to attack the world once again. The part of me that believed this was childish and rose-colored.
And that part of me shattered.
Shortly after her death, I wrote a quote from Benjamin Button in my journal:
I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.
Apparently courage I had. I broke up with Mike, quit my job, moved back home with my parents and bought a one way ticket to Germany.
i dismantled my life
When I was sixteen, I went abroad for the first time and then my passport went unused for ten years. I didn’t study abroad; I didn’t apply for the Peace Corp; and I didn’t take off on international holidays. I viewed all these options as expensive; I thought I couldn’t go alone; I decided that travel was an adventure for a different sort of girl after all. And I thought I was okay with that.
But when the rose-colored-Molly shattered, I was suddenly more afraid of missing my life than I was of being foolish. I thought to myself, “If I don’t do this now, I never will.”
Why didn’t I just take myself on a week-long trip to Italy? Why didn’t I drag that marriage-worthy-guy along on a cruise?
The only answer I have to that is I’m thorough. I’m not the sort of person that can simply clean a room; I have to destroy it. I pull everything apart so I can purge what isn’t needed and clean in the hidden corners I never use. I didn’t need a vacation from my life, I needed to dismantle it. And that exactly what I did.
My blog post, Why do we do what we do, expands on this quarter-life crisis of mine.
it didn’t start off well
Forget everything you might think of me, because my first solo trip was not a dream some true. It was a nightmare.
Just in the fews days I had to leave my luggage at a small restaurant in search for an ATM because I hadn’t gotten Euro at the airport; I struggled to carry my suitcase up four giant flights of stairs; I went for run and got lost for nearly 3 hours; I over slept and missed the opportunity to so parasailing in the Alps; and I spent most of my waking hours preparing for the work day (I’m a digital nomad for a Chicago-base company) or lingering online in case anyone might need something from me.
By the weekend, I was determined to bully myself into some gratitude and excitement. I remember sitting in the Starbucks right outside Hofbrauhaus with my usual order and a guide book , unable to move. I had the entire day ahead of me, nothing planned, nothing to accomplish, and the idea suddenly seemed mortifying. Why was this so hard?
I eventually went to Residenz München, the whole time wishing I had someone to share the experience with me. Since I had treated myself to lunch, I decided to pick up something at the grocery store for dinner–cheap wine, a cheese sandwich and some other snacks. And since Germany doesn’t provide bags, I had to carry these things home with me in my pocket.
depression and anxiety
That was my life as an early digital nomad with little travel experience and no solo-travel experience: I was unprepared, tired, lost and lonely. Understandably I was depressed. I hid this from my family and friends, trying to appear grateful about the incredible opportunity to travel this all while carry the heavy burden of self loathing all on my own.
I worked at all hours of the day, trying to prove myself even though I was no longer in the office. I was also trying to blog and trying to freelance for extra money. And when I wasn’t over reaching on the computer, I forced myself to sight-see. If at no other part of my life, this is when I let the pressures of social media press upon me; I felt the need to do and try everything.
Both professional and socially, I was trying to be a super star, and I wasn’t enjoying any of it.
what i learned and what i’m still learning
It wasn’t all bad, of course. How could it be since I am still solo traveling and working remotely three years later? But that first trip abroad was hard. Every trip has been hard, but that doesn’t mean I regret any of it.
For one thing, Munich and everywhere I’ve gone since has taught me to stop looking for peace outside myself. I’m never going to arrange my surrounding perfectly, the only thing I can arrange is my own head-space. Once I’m able to find peace in myself, silly mistakes like not having enough cash for lunch stay silly mistakes rather than sorrowfully and rage-inducing experiences. And the world is free to greet me as it is, full of wonder and full of surprise.
The old adage is that we travel to find something but end up finding ourselves. I find this statement to be half true because I do find something when I travel; I find many things. I find friends, and food, and amazing experiences I could not have imagined, but a lot of these things I wasn’t able to appreciate until I found that inner peace.
So I choose to love myself, I choose to be foolish, and I choose my life everyday that I wake up. Most people don’t and won’t see the need to drop everything and dedicate their life to travel; they found balance easier than I did. But like me, they choose their own life.