why i'm still traveling

I recently had a traumatizing experience in India that threw me completely out of orbit. For the past week I have felt emotionally and mentally lost and I haven’t found the same sense of urgency and excitement for travel. In truth, I’ve never felt so stuck, lonely and doubtful of what I’m doing.

Now I’m in Thailand, and as each minute, hour and day of this last week went by, I repeatedly asked myself the question, “Why am I still traveling?” After all, I’ve been gone for four months and I can go home at any point. Should I?

Yesterday I left my hostel here in Bangkok to spend my last two days in the city with Jackie, a TEDster I met three years ago at TEDGlobal. In order to get to her house, I had to walk 15 minutes from her office to the sky train, take that across town, and then walk another 30 minutes to her place. It was about 95 degrees outside, ridiculously humid and I had about 55 pounds to carry on my back.

As I was nearing her home, I started to become very mindful of everything I was physically feeling and seeing. I was drenched in sweat from head to toe, my shoulders were aching and it was about to downpour. Around me cars and motorcycles were whizzing by carrying everything from hundreds of plants and flowers to babies and animals. The cracked sidewalks were packed with men, women and children trying to sell anything from fresh fruit and poultry to handmade trinkets. Stray cats scampered by my feet, the smell of something burning filled my nose and the sound of dragonflies and honking horns filled the air. A mosquito buzzed in my ear. I could feel the warmth and weight of the moist air heavy on my body.

This awareness of my surroundings made me stop and sit for a minute. I thought of all the little things that backpacking around this world has made me come to love. The smelly streets and alleyways and the wrinkled faces peering out at me. The zips, clicks and clacks of packing everything up. Never knowing the language but being fluent in hand gestures. Constellations I’ve never seen and food I’ve never even heard of. Conversations with people I’d never dream of meeting.

On a deeper level, travel has given me the opportunity to flip the camera around and observe myself. Over the past four months, I’ve discovered more about my true character than I have in my entire life. I’ve learned that you find out what really makes you happy when you’re truly alone. That by going far, far away, you realize what you miss and call home. I’ve learned that negative energy is useless and the only thing that matters in my life is people. I’ve learned what it feels like to be one of a million and not one in a million. I’ve learned how to stand up for myself when there is no one else around who can. I’ve had moments leave me speechless and others leave me begging for a voice.

As I sit here writing, I realize that learning all of this is exactly why I am still traveling. I’m still traveling because what I discover from being truly alone trumps the feeling itself altogether. I’m still traveling because getting an opportunity to do so is not one I can guarantee in the future, nor one that I will ever take for granted. I’m still traveling because to me, learning and growth are paramount. I’m still traveling because it makes me feel human. 

Going forward, I know that I will be challenged and thrown off course once more. My thoughts and perspective will change again and doubt will be a common occurrence. But I also know now what my home is, what brings me there, and how to get back up after falling down.