“You keep running around the world, and I don’t know what you’re looking for,” said my overly exhausted father over dinner the other night.
I remained silent, staring down at my barely-eaten Pasta Primavera while trying to think of some brilliant response. Couldn’t come up with anything. Fuck it, that was a fair enough thing for my dad to say. Ever since I can remember, I have been having the same fight with my parents, friends, boyfriends, and myself.
Them: “Why do you always need to leave?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Them: “What are you even looking for?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Them: “When are you coming back? Are you even coming back?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
My mind is constantly running with thoughts like, “Man, I really need to get out of here. When is the soonest I can leave?” Possible explanation for why I moved across the country for college, why I studied abroad my entire junior year in two drastically different countries, why I spend class time and study groups secretly looking up flight prices on SkyScanner. I cannot tell you how many times I wake up in the morning and ask myself, “Why am I not in ________ right now?” Fill in the blank with New York, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Seville, San Francisco, Paris, etc. Places I loved. Places I still love. Places I miss. Places that people are tired of hearing me talk about.
But do I really love these places? Would I move there or is it just a fabricated fantasy in my head? As Iron & Wine brilliantly put it, “everything looks perfect from far away.” And while they weren’t necessarily referring to traveling, it is perfectly applicable. The romantic images of the streets of Paris, the exoticism of India, and the appeal of surfing in the Gold Coast? Tourism at its finest. One thing to travel somewhere, and another to live there.
Probably safe to say that my addiction to traveling and experiencing new things is my greatest strength and my greatest flaw. I learn new things, talk to strangers, make new friends, and find some form of love wherever I go. But I can’t sit still, and I have trouble appreciating what is right in front of me. I take things for granted, and I know that. I’m working on it. I cannot tell you how incredibly envious I am of people who are happy staying in one place with the same group of friends, doing the same things they have been doing for years and are perfectly content with that. I’d kill for that.
Every now and then, I meet someone and think, “This could be it. I could stay here and be happy forever. We’ll make it work somehow. It doesn’t matter that we’re from two different countries or speak two different languages.” Then, they’ll wrap me up in their arms and not want to let go. But then, eventually, one of us leaves. And it’s usually me. Sometimes not by choice, but because I have my life somewhere else to get back to. I feel like I have pieces of me scattered in all the places I’ve been to. You’d think saying goodbye would get easier, but it doesn’t.
The thing is that I don’t know what I’m looking for. I feel like I was more sure of what it was before I started traveling. It was easy to know at the beginning. I was tired of the people and places I knew. I was looking for some sort of inspiration for what career path to pursue. I was hopeful about the Eat Pray Love phenomenon: go somewhere new, clean yourself spiritually with some religion that you never really believed in, fall in love with some ex-pat, and then you’d have your cute little happy ending. Obviously, it’s not like that. I’ve ended up with more questions than answers, not to mention a very sad bank account.
But even though I’ve never felt more lost, I have also never felt more sure of who I am. I know myself better than I did before, even if I’m unsure of what my future will be. I’ve been thrown into countless uncomfortable situations, breaking down cultural barriers and learning different languages. I have met backpackers, restaurant owners, pilots, fire dancers, students, entrepreneurs, soccer players, and teachers from all over the world. Makes sense that my original path has been diverted, after having observed so many alternative ones. Maybe that’s the answer to that question. I’m not actually looking for anything in particular, but rather exploring all the different possibilities for a career and happiness, but ultimately, for life. That’s why I’m never satisfied, because being content with life isn’t good enough for me. I need more; I need to be constantly living. And that’s why I can’t stop.