Approximately three years ago, I was working in an incredible organization on human rights issues, living the life that so many of us idealistic do-gooders dream of: I had a flat share with lovely roommates in a quaint apartment overlooking Bergen St. in Park Slope, dating a man I thought was going to be “the one,” living the foodie’s dream of eating out and exploring NYC’s niche neighbourhoods and constantly occupying my time with culturally induced breaks of museums and art and music, when something hit me: I was absolutely dissatisfied with my life.
Moreover, this dissatisfaction arose from doing the very things that I had been doing for a couple of years, which occasionally involved researching genocides and rape figures around the globe in an attempt to get donors to fund projects to correct the messes that politicians and selfish entrepreneurs throw our way.
I needed a break.
Not just any break, but a huge, life-altering one.
I did what many of us who are unable to accept our status quo do- I bought a one way ticket to Europe.
I won’t lie to you: I love structure, and hence this serious move after 9.5 years in New York state was coupled with a mission to get a Master’s degree, which was fully funded and moreover, provided me housing and paid me to complete my studies.
Additionally, I had been saving up for years, and realized I didn’t know what for. In 2007, I had suffered a serious accident which had led to revelations of hypoglycemia, and subsequently resulted in me getting 11 reconstructive surgeries in 3.5 years whilst being fully employed, and shifting jobs in the middle of the American financial crisis.
In other words, I was absolutely exhausted with my over-achiever lifestyle, that left me feeling anything but accomplished.
Looking back, I realize I was also starting to lose my vision of what I wanted to accomplish with my life: I had long been a happy-go-lucky geek, but while maintaining my “normal” life with my normal friends, I had been stagnant with my obsessive need to go on new adventures, and with my desire to do good on a personal level to myself. Also, I was very very far away from accomplishing my goal of going to 30 countries by the time I was 30 years old (watch this space: number 30 is just about to happen!).
The next two years has seen me shift gears entirely, and whilst emptying out my wallet and traveling across 3 continents and 23 countries, I realized three very important lessons which I’m happy to share, with all you would-be travelers who just need a slight push:
1. Things may not go according to plan, but you always get positive signs from the universe
I’ve had two passports stolen- one in London by professional thieves the day before Christmas eve. The second happened during a layover weekend between visiting friends in Brugge. Both times, the Bangladeshi embassy was great at rescuing me. Both times, so were the Hungarians, in terms of ensuring I had access back to my school.
Losing all your cash and your SLR camera feels like your entire identity was not just robbed, but the cosmos is out to get you.
Each time, however, I had a great revelation too: there were a ton of people willing to help, friends who made calls, and my parents who, along with the awesomenal folks at the French Embassy in NYC, helped track down my previous applications into the EU, in order to make sure that my legitimacy was not thwarted. Others offered housing, and yet others made organic salads to tide my hunger over.
The short end of it is this: Going through crap doesn’t undo all the rubbish you have to endure, but if you’re an organized freak like me, even when things go awry, you may have already set yourself up to quickly correct the cosmic faux pas that’s headed your way. Hence, take deep breaths, have some candy, but don’t freak out.
Things always have a way of working out, and even though you may have sustained severe monetary losses (such as losing approximately 2500 USD), things will always look up eventually, especially if you don’t allow money to control your life.
2. There is NO Such Thing As Tomorrow, to Do What You Can Do Today
I’m a big fan of carpe diem. Seizing the day has allowed me to partake in last minute travels around Transylvania, around Austria, around Italy and France and the list goes on and on. Areas of the world I’ve imagined about for years became possible ONLY when I decided to stop planning my life details out, and was open to other people’s ideas of what I should do.
Being open to the unknown, is ultimately what helped me explore new ideas, new ways of thinking, and meet some of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met.
Whether it is going on a roller coaster ride in the Cyclone in Coney Island and realizing that you just did something that’s left you breathless for more, or you’ve just finished swimming in the bioluminiscent bays of Vieques, take that plunge.
You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and you really owe it to yourself not to become old before you do something fantastic FOR YOURSELF.
There’s nothing selfish about this, and I can attest to this: I am still paying off student loans and the figures make me glum on a bad day, but I’ve also realized that money will always come and go, and without the experiences I had traveling, I would have been disillusioned about how fantastic life is.
Moreover, I have found that my network is fantastic: There are those who have always been there to hold my back when I’ve fallen.
The funnier part is I never realized they were there all along, and it took crises to find out how committed my mates are, to my well being.
Also, every time I’ve accomplished something on my bucket list, such as going to Monte Carlo and seeing where my parents put up some twenty odd years ago, or hiking in the Grand Canyon, or even walking around the Vatican, I’ve realized that there is so much more for me to do, and I couldn’t believe I waited so long to get started.
3. You Will Get More Perspective When You Pack Up Your Bags and Leave
One of the key reasons I was able to travel so freely was because I had made the decision that I had had enough with the status quo, and coupled with the vague knowledge that there was something better and bigger, I sold my furniture, downsized my life to five suitcases, and started discarding my assets as I moved along.
Along the way, I took active steps to stop taking emotional rubbish from some mediocre friends who were only bogging me down, made newer and better friends, cut all ties with my now ex-boyfriend who was being all strange anyway, and decided that I definitely did not want to pursue a blue passport- something many peers and contempoaries did no understand then, and don’t understand now. And you know what? I feel more in control of everything in my life than I ever have before.
Going on different visits to various countries helped me realize that holding onto a Bangladeshi passport, whilst frustrating in terms of getting visas at times, is better than just sticking around someone or somewhere being unhappy whilst your friends are doing what you always hoped to do one day.
Moreover, I’ve realized I’m completely small and insignificant in the universe, but the universe ensures that there is space for me within it, and it constantly reassures me that the more effort I give to it, the more it will give back to me.
I would have never realized this until I spent a week alone in Puerto Rico, after asking my now-ex not to join me, even though our tickets were all paid for for a joint week in the Caribbean.
Even though I didn’t think I would have a good time, I went anyway. And the best part: I spent a week in paradise islands having the most epic vacation I’ve ever taken in my life, snorkeling and hence addressing hydrophobic tendencies derived from almost drowning 13 years ago, meeting new people, going horseback riding along sandy beaches, figuring out constellations in the night sky with St. Thomas in the background, and bonding over local seafood with strangers- strangers, I might add, who I am still in touch with. I also got to tick off another bucket list accomplishment: I went to a completely uninhabited beach and swam along its waters- something that my penny pinching ex would have boycotted at all costs.
I am happily single today.
I’ve made some fantastic friends and met people I could see myself with, and I’ve also realized how petty some people are, and how much they will push you down because they are either jealous or envious. Unfortunately, this is the same the world over, but what I’ve also realized is that for every single person that is there to push you down with their own insecurities, ten others are on the wings, waiting to lift you up- and hence, stability is overrated, especially if it’s with someone who makes you feel like you will be cutting your wings, if you stick around.
The truth is, traveling has made me realize that the more I give of myself, selflessly, without fear of getting back, without expectations, the more people have surprised me with their grace, their beautiful insights, and opening up their lives and homes. I’ve slept on couches, hunted for mussels near Venice, chilled at a jacuzzi at 4 AM with Bollywood stars in Mumbai, saw three shooting stars in one night whilst staring into the Himalayan skies at another point, learnt about the harrowing effects of child marriage from a 13 year old mother in a remote village, and through it all, the company I’ve been surrounded by, has made me realize that I wouldn’t have given up my experiences for the world.
So I ask you: what are you waiting for?
Especially if you don’t have a spouse or children, you are the youngest you’re ever going to be.
So take that trip. You will be surprised by how much you learn, and how much more reinvigorated it will make you, to feel strongly about the issues that move you.
Carpe Diem: Trust me, you won’t regret it!