I’m alone on a plane, the cooing of Britney Spears’s voice on her latest album blaring into my headphones, but I’m not really listening. My mind is elsewhere. I just hung up the phone with an ex-boyfriend that I keep in touch with from time to time. I broke his heart, and he quickly replaced me and has happily moved on with his life.
While we start to barrel down the runway for takeoff, my mind quickly wanders to past relationships and loves lost and how I traded everything for love that didn’t work out. After that, I quickly traded my last relationship and many of my fair-weather friendships for this insane life of travel. When you are in and out of town, friendships and the chance of a new relationship quickly deteriorate. As I reminisce on loves lost, I begin to beat myself up. “What the hell did I do? Why didn’t I just settle for my last relationship?” I turned 30 this year and my personal life is far from where society says it should be at my age a depressing thought.
My eyes start to tear up and so I close my eyes trying to stop the tears before the entire plane filled with my fellow travel writers wonder what the hell is wrong with me. My mind rewinds to less than 24 hours ago. I’m alone on the bow of a boat on the Sekonyer River in Borneo, Indonesia. To my left and right are the jungles of Borneo, filled with orangutans hollering in the distance and small monkeys playfully scrapping with each other in the treetops. A colorful bird flies by; it’s a Kingfisher. On the bow of this boat, I try to take it all in and remember each moment. “I can’t believe I’m here,” I whisper to myself. No one responds except the cicadas on the nearby shore. These are the moments that make every sacrifice in my life worth it.
It’s moments like these when I feel like I need to pinch myself. I constantly hear from others how lucky I am. “Lucky?!” I think to myself angrily each time I hear someone say that. They don’t see the 18-hour days I put in at home. They never see the sleepless nights, early flights, skipped dinners, lonely travel days, lost ATM-card meltdown moments that constant travel inevitably brings. “I work hard” is usually my defensive response to these people that don’t see the actuality of my life and instead only see my nearly perfect Instagram photos.
I’m forced back to reality as the flight attendant hands me a fluorescent orange box containing a meal that will more than likely taste like shit, but I happily accept. I am starving. As I quickly consume the bread that will likely give me a stomachache before I reach Jakarta, I think to myself, “I am lucky.” I’m not lucky for the 5-star hotels or the Michelin star restaurants. I’m not lucky that tourism boards fly me around the world (sometimes in first class). I’m not lucky to have spent the last two days trekking the jungles of Borneo for orangutans that undoubtedly brought a lifetime full of memories. None of that makes me lucky.
I’m lucky because I was somehow fortunate to be born with enough grit and determination to follow my heart and my wandering feet. I am lucky to be brave enough to do what makes me happy, no matter the cost. The costs are high, and no one understands. The weight I bear is my own. But when I close my eyes and think of the scenes on the Sekonyer River, a place most will never get to see in their lifetime, I am truly happy. I am satisfied traveling the world, seeing places most people only read about in books, and connecting with strangers from all over the globe. That, to me, is worth any cost, no matter how high.
The plane begins its descent toward the crowded Indonesian city of Jakarta, and a smile replaces the tears from takeoff. A world away from those lost loves and fair-weather friends of my past, I realize maybe the love affair that I have with travel is the relationship I have been searching for all along. I turn up the volume on my headphones and approach the runway.