My First Real Adventure

As much as I hate to admit it and how naive it makes me sound — I’ve always been a little afraid of traveling.

Getting on a plane to New York – a city in the United States that’s only two hours away from my family – is one thing. Sure, that was a bit scary too, but I knew I was coming to a place I could make it, a place where $150 could get me a hotel room somewhere for a night. But going to another country or so far away that it’d be really expensive or difficult to get back to a place where I felt safe, that’s a completely different story.

This anxiety of being out of my element hasn’t prevented me from being thoroughly interested in what’s beyond my own border. I actually read more blogs about traveling than I do about what I write about: dating, love, sex and all that terribly-personal jazz. I’m captivated by the adventures others are brave enough to go on, often without much of a plan or even a place to rest. I’m insanely jealous of my friends who have made opportunities for themselves to get paid to go somewhere and write about it. Or the ones who put their faith on a shoestring budget and everything they need in a backpack and just jump freely into the next flight that welcomes them.

It all sounds so exhilarating and so not me. But then something odd happened a few weeks ago.

My good friend R returned from a trip to Costa Rica where she extended her stay by a week because she loved it so much. On Gchat, I excitedly asked about her getaway and she ever-so-politely refused to tell me anything until we saw each other in person. A few days later, over sushi and wine, she informed our group of friends that not only did she have an incredible time, but that she was leaving for a five month trip around the world. She didn’t know where or how, but she quit her job, found a subleaser, made plans to bring her pup to her mom and a ride cross country to visit a friend in California before leaving for Asia. Or Greece. Or somewhere. She looked into a sailboat that would make her a crew member, traveling the Caribbean and over to Europe. She explained her couch surfing successes and how she planned to keep floating from Lazy-Boy to Lazy-Boy, seeing all that she could along the way.

It wasn’t the haze of the cheap white wine or the lack of sleep from the night before – it was pure shock that stunned me to silence. Here was my beautiful friend who has been unhappy with her job and with her life in New York for a while, finally taking a plunge to see what else is out there. She seemed more alive and refreshed than I’d ever seen her, and because she has no family or partner to care for and 10-years worth of savings to pull from, she isn’t worried. Sure, her cash could run out, but she’d figure it out. Her courage was astonishing and woke something up inside of me.

Every dime I’ve made has either been in pursuit of moving to New York or while living here. I save because I know I should and for emergencies, but I don’t spend. Unlike the majority of my friends who could call Bloomingdale’s their middle name, I’m a little hesitant and super-cautious with everything I earn and especially what I put away. But for what? What is it that I’m pinching pennies for? What I am working toward?

Or more importantly, what am I so afraid of? No, money doesn’t grown on trees, but wouldn’t I, just like R, figure it out if something happened? If I found myself in a tight situation? If I was afraid overseas, wouldn’t I use my street smarts to ease my confusion? If I ran into trouble, couldn’t I get myself out of it, as I have so many times before? Or am I waiting to go somewhere until I have a man? But what about this feeling I have now? This incredible, impossible to explain sense of peace and sense of self that makes me not want to be in love with anyone? That makes me so happy to be flying solo? Am I hesitating so someone can split the bill and someone who protects me? If so, there has never been a better time to dream bigger than a honeymoon that’s nowhere close and nothing that I want right now.

So really, what’s keeping me from seeing the world, other than me?

After some long-winded conversations with my mom and much encouragement from my friends, I booked a vacation. Not just any trip, though – my first getaway, completely alone. In April, I’ll visit Puerto Rico, hike through the rain forest, do yoga on the white beaches and tour the ancient city near me, all by myself. While I don’t need a passport for this excursion, it’s at least one step closer to taking those chances I’ve been wanting to take, and seeing that big world that’s been waiting for me to leap.

And while I’ve always thought I wasn’t the traveling type or the woman who could jet-set from place to place without writhing in fear of failure – or worse – I’m starting to think that maybe, I’m not any sort of woman of all. I’m still a lady who is changing, who is figuring out what she wants, where she wants to spend her money, how she wants to live, where she wants to visit, what languages she wants to learn, what things she’s captable of. Instead of living in my own self-perceived stereotype, it’s about time I challenge myself to be something so much more. Someone who knows she can do so much more than she gives herself credit for. Someone who can go on a trip all by herself and have a damn fabulous time. (I hope!)

Looking at my confirmation, noticing that my purchase was non-refundable and seeing my name as the only name on the ticket, I couldn’t stop smiling. Finally, after years of talking about it, hours spent fretting if it was the right decision and years passed never spending money on anything than the necessities, I did it.

I bought my very first real adventure. And if this aching to search for another vacation (perhaps to Spain?) is any indication – definitely not my last.

The Freedoms We Don’t Choose

We all value our freedoms in different ways and at different degrees. Some of us are so liberated we have a difficult time committing to anything or anyone, while a few only like freedom when they need a little space (but even then, they want to know someone or something is close by, just in case they feel lonely).

Freedom is funny in that way – we want the freedom to choose our freedoms, not have them decided for us. If we don’t want to be free of something, then we want the option not to be, but if we do, then we want that choice, too.

Say for instance, we’re dating someone we really like. He fits the bill, he stimulates us intellectually and otherwise, he is giving when we need him to be, but demands that we take, too. He’s tall and handsome, chiseled and yet has that boyish demeanor…we’re smitten. But then we’re an independent, self-sufficient, confident female. We don’t really depend on him to fulfill us in each way we need to be compensated. We don’t need him to open really tight jars, just need him to be at an arm’s reach in case we absolutely can’t budge it. We don’t need him to help us move – we can hire movers, after all – but it’s nice to know he’s there…

…until he’s not.

And then, all of those freedoms we craved, all of the space that our independent-self thought she needed, suddenly doesn’t seem so important. Now what we want more than anything is to reverse the breakup, reverse the fight, reverse the need to be liberated, and have him, right here, right now. But the freedom of choice is gone because someone else decided to exercise theirs.

Or what about a job? They’re hard to come by these days and seem like precious little entities once you find one you actually like. Or at least one you like a little bit, at least. And so, you work hard and you dedicate your time, your energy, your creativity to making your company and your own career better and more competitive. You suck up the things you don’t like and you make a promise to yourself (and to the job gods) that you’ll find a way to make any work, work…

…until it doesn’t.

Until a company downsizes or collapses in a dismal economy. Until job performance suffers because as 20-somethings, we’re given the same advice for our career that we’re given in the similarly dismal dating world: keep your options and eyes wide open – unless you have the dream job (or man) of course. But in keeping freedom in mind, do we ever really commit to anything?

Or anything other than wanting to be free? Or at least have the opportunity to choose those freedoms for ourselves, instead of having someone else pick for us? We want the ball of freedom in our courts, not in the court of the universe, but more often than not, our speed, our agility, or our ability to slam dunk has little to do with us, and a lot to do with fate.

Because maybe that guy seemed wonderful and perhaps that job kept a roof over our head and happy hour drinks in our tummy, but it wasn’t what was meant for us. Maybe we end up staying with guys or at jobs longer than we should for fear that nothing else will along or that every human’s greatest fear will come true, and we’ll be left alone, homeless, broke, and unloved.

But those things don’t happen as often as we’d like to believe. And when they do, the universe just takes the ball back and encourages you to shoot again. To aim higher. To run faster. To feel the sweet wind blowing through your hair. To enjoy your freedoms, even when you didn’t decide to have them for yourself.

Because sometimes, these liberties are the ones that open up the most doors and ultimately, make us the freest of all.

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful to be free.