On Travel

On Travel

May 4, 2010  |  Blog, Featured, Travel

In 2007, I quit my first real job that I had for over three years. There was one main reason in mind for doing so: travel. I’m not necessarily one of those travel junkies like Rick Steves (which is fine if you are), as he seems fascinated with always getting away. I like getting away, but it’s not my point. I may just be floating my own boat, but I feel I view travel differently than most. The idea of traveling to most people is seen as vacation and escape. For me, I’d often rather engage the local community than have a fun and relaxing time, even it that means being uncomfortable sometimes. Traveling has become a way to free myself of self-absorption and the poor decisions I make in that inebriated state. Traveling and its experiences give me a fresh perspective on the life I live at home.

I come from a Southern family where we often traveled. When we did, we were limited only to a car with a meteorite of bags strapped to the roof, a worn-out tent that when raining could fill with an inch of water, and a love for seeing different places. If one week of time was available, our family of six would often travel to the Outer Banks of North Carolina trying to catch the aberrations of Black Beard’s ghost and others found in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” If given two weeks, we would pack up that station wagon, travel five days across the country (and five days back) to explore anything in between. During this time, I developed a sense of awareness of my surroundings that I wouldn’t give up for much of anything.

Our parents encouraged us to travel anywhere when finishing school. When I finished, I spent a month alone in Europe traveling by train from the UK to the Czech Republic. Many parts of the trip were tiring and I was happy to be home in the end. But that trip set me on a lifetime of desiring to view the different places. After returning, I left my native North Carolina for Oregon to get my first “real job” in graphic design. And I should mention, when accepting this job, my dad encouraged me to do otherwise. “Don’t get a real job — go to Yosemite for six months, take pictures and be an artist!” To which I responded, “Dad, I’m not sure you know, but you’re supposed to tell me, ‘Get a real job, don’t be an artist!’” I never took the advice of living in Yosemite, and I feel I’ve always struggled with being a little too practical for my own good. I think my parents knew that too.

Well I moved to Portland, and I spent over three years working in front of computer, only traveling to North Carolina to be home for the holidays. That stagnancy ate at me. At a wedding in 2006, my good friend, Dan seemly randomly asked me to join him and his NGO, Lahash International to photograph in East Africa that December. Without much thought I responded, “yes” on the spot. At the time, I had only left the country for Canada and Europe (which I don’t think Canada really counts as leaving America). Coming from my sheltered job, where beer was on tap in the kitchen, Africa was a quick reminder of the world that exists outside of the West.

I had spent my time in Uganda and Sudan and I don’t believe I have to write anything here to explain how different it is there from the States. To be honest, it wasn’t much fun and was sometimes quite miserable: from the four-hour Christmas day service (which at four hours we left early), buses full of people and chickens breaking down on the side of the road in the hot savanna, negotiating with locals every penny every time money was to be spent, hours drained typing emails that quickly vanished in lost power of Internet cafés, to Kampala streets where thousands of eyes would not divert from the Mzungu (white person) that walked awkwardly and out of place.

And yet during this same time in a place with a history of war, there was much peace. There were smiling kids and laughing adults that even in the hardships of Africa, they found a joy in life we often forget in luxury. They live with what they have and nothing more. Why would they expect anything more than that? They seemed to have a better understanding of joy than most Americans, which appeared to make their lives more real than ours. They had a deep heart-knowledge of what Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet,

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Things within my own life would not be the same after leaving Africa. In Africa, I felt that I had come with empty hands but left with more. It is a beautiful thing to be empty handed every now and then — to fully realize what it is we have and which of those things are truly important in our lives.

I couldn’t go back to the same situation with work after that time. I quit a few months later to go into an unpredictable world of Freelance, which looks a lot like traveling in many ways (meeting new people, creating my own schedules, and a job different every day). I am lucky to work in a field that enables me to work this way and so I try to take full advantage of that lifestyle.

I made a goal for myself that I would travel outside my comfortable walls each year, and I’ve accomplished that goal so far. Sometimes I travel this alone, creating a whole new dynamic, oftentimes even more uncomfortable. And there’s an interesting perspective when traveling alone my friend Beth mentioned to me: when alone somewhere different you are a nobody. No one knows who you are or what your story is. You are just like everyone else around, just more cumbersome looking. It’s a humbling experience and one that I believe I am better for (is that an oxymoron?).

The joke many of my friends have with me after returning is they ask, “Do you ever enjoy a trip you’ve been on.” I then awkwardly try to think of some amazing story to tell that would involve falling in love with a French baker which would make the next sequel of an Ethan Hawke romance movie, but I’ve found I’m not that dramatic — but hey, I’m not boring. My friends’ joke is both true and false in the same moment. Through the discomfort I often feel in leaving home, I come home appreciating the variation there is in life by carving a deeper well for myself. There’s a beauty knowing that you can still be rattled.

> View the photos from East Africa

> Recent BBC article on laughter in Africa, “Zimbabwe laughter course to cope with economy

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1 Comment

  1. We did a lot of family roadtrips when I was growing up too… it’s awesome that yours trained you to expand your horizons and step frequently out of your comfort zone. Plus, all of those experiences only deepen the creative well that we can draw from (stories, photos, drawings, songs, etc etc etc)

    More entries!

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