The first thing I notice whenever Travel enters the room to embrace me is her eyes. She has these infinitely deep aqua marine irises that reflect a splendor of foreign personality and serene destinations that beckon me from the depths of her mind. She always comes to tempt me from across the bar in my hometown where I have given up on the staleness of my surroundings to write and cry. She is an experienced hypnotist who is able to make me believe that I am strong and courageous whether I feel I really am or not. A seductive siren, she promises to introduce me to Love, Freedom and Immortality by taking ahold of my hand and leading me somewhere new every time. I never take much coaxing. I am addicted to her after all, and soon I am back in the ballroom, letting her sea salt and vanilla scents envelop my nostrils and seep into my skin, accepting her invitation to embark, and get away again.
Travel is not evil, but she is not known for consistency in the goodness that she brings. Her enchantment disburses in the form of euphoric lights that illuminate the highs of sweet experiences, and they evaporate while preserving the taste like cotton candy inside of my mouth. When she feels the need to show me something essential to my existence, she yanks that bliss away with a hardy tug that knocks me off of my high-wire into an abyss of unadvertised devastation. What hurts the most is that she always does this on purpose. She schedules meetings for me with mysterious strangers under warm, crimson skies on stretches of Buddhist sand. She knows that my lovers will fulfill me completely and then disappear the next morning. She invites friendly faces from every nation to wild, midnight bonfires knowing that they will change me forever, but I will never know their names, and they will always forget to say goodbye. After she has gained enough satisfaction from shaking me up in her snow globe of chaos, she takes all my money and tells me to go back home. That Travel, she is a madwoman, but I could never deny her. Despite it all, I know she brings out the best in me.
The last time I danced with Travel was in May of 2012, after she caught me having dinner with Stagnancy, Destruction, and Sexual Abuse. She was outraged like a lover who had just discovered a mistress in bed with her partner. She threatened to stop taking me away with her if I did not start think about her more and leave my guests forever. I told her I would do anything to keep her in my life, and I eagerly did what I was told.
Stagnancy was easiest to separate from. Destruction and Sexual Abuse, on the other hand, were a tag team of snakes that slithered onto my plate and latched at my neck whenever I pushed them away. Still, I figured out a way to escape their labyrinth of grips and climbed back into my familiar airplane sanctuary that was free of chains. There, on a flight headed anywhere west, Travel held my hand and let me cry over the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic. She knew where we were going, but she always kept it to herself. She, again, promised to introduce me to Freedom, Immortality and Love, but she warned me that such a quest would take much longer to complete this time. I had no idea then the crazy woman was planning to take me completely around the world in twenty eight days.
My voyage landed me in China first. I had felt an earthquake inside of Tokyo’s Narita airport while I was changing planes and about to board a flight to Bangkok. The tremors shook my pen as I wrote in my journal near a coffee stand, and I took it as a sign. Four hours later, after a restless flight and an address fabrication on a Hong Kong declaration card, I began drinking cheap, fruity liquor with a fun-loving British boy named Ben for four straight days. Together, we immersed ourselves in a foreign mecca of Chinese business culture. The cloud-capped skyscrapers, porcelain prostitutes, and bright Technicolor city lights blared at us like a distorted version of Vegas, but being lost was never enjoyable for me there. The city had a pungent residue of English-speaking men in suits who eagerly bounced prostitutes on their legs while amnesia replaced the presence of their families. They also never knew how to handle their booze after midnight. I didn’t believe her at first, but Travel said that seeing these vomit-stained alleys and grotesque sexual pursuits on Lan Kwai Fong Road served a worthy purpose. Later, the images helped me appreciate the majestic, rolling green hills of the Sri Lankan country side that would replace it. It was there, on a train from Colombo to Anuradhapura that Travel introduced me to Freedom.
On May 23rd, 2012 I wrote, “I am sitting on a dilapidated, worn and rustic train painted in deep, bold red on the outside—of faded blue on the inside, in a class two car on a rickity west bound train. There are a wide variety of trees and combed tea plantations here, all fluffing out from an orange clay along a sloping, winding countryside. I am sitting with the other women and we hang our heads out of the open window to feel the only breeze. It’s muggy. Hot, with two small, rotating fans on the ceiling that are fighting for their lives. I’m eating salty potato and veggie breaded cakes. Spicy. The one with egg inside is my favorite…The train is surrounded by fog now, and it is misting, like sprinklers inside of a grocery store, perfectly reaching ever plant in the rainforest—bringing it to life. The mist is unlike any rain I’ve ever seen. It is slow like music and graceful as I rock back and forth watching carvings of the forest curl their fingers to invite me in. I can’t believe I am here right now. This place was designed so perfectly.”
A man on the train passed by with a bucket of apples, and I watched him cut one at a time for customers with his machete. He squirted a juice on each slice and sprinkled them with a spicy, orange salt before handing it to customers on a thick, square sheet of paper. It was a tasty snack that only cost me thirty rupees. We moved left to right with the jolts and jerks of the old tracks, and I could hear jackhammers rumbling in the distance. Bright green leaves traced the sides of the train as we click-clacked onward, and the landscape began to harvest mountains that grew taller and wider as we headed northwest towards Anuradhapura, the city said to be rich in Buddhist history and full ancient temple ruins.
I took out a book with words in the local Sinhala language and stammered through the phrases in an attempt to make conversations with dark, cocoa skinned women bouncing their bare feet on the ground to pass the time. Together, we ate breaded prawns and smoked coconut candy as more men boarded with their buckets onto the train at each station to sing us their jingles and sell food as they passed by. I bought everything in sight. “Estuti!” I stammered enthusiastically. I polished off my snacks with delicious slurps of clear juice from a young coconut, and I let my hands fly freely out of the window to trace the bright green leaves and rainforest air. I beamed at Travel and thanked her. She really did find Freedom and introduced her to me there.
Then, on an inlet hidden away from the world on a western stretch of Sri Lankan sand called Arugam Bay, she took me to meet Immortality. On June 2nd, 2012, six days after I arrived to this bizarre paradise, I wrote a letter to a friend back in Indiana, trying to describe what I was experiencing but could not yet understand.
I wrote, “I’ve been sucked into life here in this strange and surreal universe called Arugam Bay. I’ve traveled a series of bumpy roads for hours on end and landed here with a concentrated group of long-term transients who’ve come from every far corner of the world to be free. We all enter our respective huts and become part of a community as if we are born into life here. Everyone has a story, and each person brings a fascinating dynamic to the table. There are environmentalists, people in between jobs or out of uni, and gypsies without a plan at all. I have been dubbed the social butterfly. After a day of surfing or lounging in tiki bars along the shore where we sip banana and mango ‘lassies’ and fresh mint mojitos, we dance all night at parties that blare techno music. Our faces are illuminated by tiki torches on the beach, and we shoot fireworks, smoke pot, and drink so much… as if we are incapable of dying. One night I even drove a tuk tuk (a three-wheeled scooter) drunk and crammed in with seven of my friends inside (it can only hold four) all the way down the beach back home. That next night I walked across an open fire. We have become a family here, driven by a common passion: To see the world and experience life. I don’t know how long I’ll stay here, but in this moment I don’t think I’ll ever want to leave.”
Arugam Bay was a spectacle that appeared to be an everlasting paradise, but it slowly became bewildering as truths about the beach were slowly revealed. A rumor that some of the local men were rapists was proven to be true one morning, and I didn’t feel comfortable when they made drinks for me in the back kitchen where I later learned they snorted cocaine. There was also a secret war between rivaling tribes that had lasted for centuries, and fights broke out at parties when too much alcohol was involved. Wild dogs that would nuzzle us playfully on the beach, would later bite one of the girls, and send her to the hospital. For the rest of our stay, it seemed like we were always breaking up intense dog fights. Finally, my lover Marco from the French Alps disappeared into thin air one afternoon after a series of whimsical nights on the beach where we made love underneath the stars and laughed as we lounged in hammocks all afternoon.
All of the travelers that were born into the bay would eventually die out of it and move on to other places. In time, we were propelled into motion and replaced by new transients who had arrived, astonished as they dropped their backpacks that covered our blood, sex and tears on the sandy hut floors. Though it was a bittersweet taste, it was an unforgettable one, and I never regretted meeting Immortality. When I came back to reality, Travel was giggling at my confused euphoria and encouraged me to keep moving after eighteen unforgettable Sri Lankan days.
Over the last ten days of my journey with Travel, she introduced me to a man she thought was Love in the Alexanderplatz train station in Berlin, Germany. If she had had any sense at all, she would have kept me away from him, but she was in the mood to teach me one last lesson before letting me go.
Love’s actual name was Calogero. who was born in Sicily and raised in Dusseldorf. He was a drug dealer. He found me walking past him outside of a convenience store while I changed trains on the metro around midnight. He thought I was Italian. We laughed. We drank cheap beer infused with tequila and rode aimlessly around on the train all night, singing and laughing with every new passenger who got onboard. We had sex for three nights, and on the morning of the fourth day, his cousin who lived with him became very jealous and told Calogero that he had slept with me three times while he had been out that afternoon. I came back to find Calogero in an intense rage. His black hair stuck to the sweat on his face and his fists were flying in the air as he screamed words inaudible to my English-speaking ear. His emotion provoked me, and I smacked his cousin in the face and watched my hand swell as Calogero’s cousin dropped his jaw in astonishment and shock. Together, Calogero and I left the apartment to stay at his uncle’s house. He waited until that moment to tell me that his family was in the Sicilian mafia.
I left him to dwell in his own chaos the next day, and I flew back to the comforts of Stagnancy. Somehow I returned unscathed. I brought Freedom back with me to savor the taste of apples and the touch of rainforest leaves whenever I wanted to taste them or feel them brush my face. I lit tiki torches in my simple Indiana backyard, and I invited Immortality over for one cocktail too many just to relive the feeling of being in a mesmerizing, faraway paradise. As for Travel, I learned to trust her and be okay at times with letting her go. I recognized that she was a monumental part of my life, and she had never stopped standing beside me, even when the winds of change had been devastating. She inspired courage in my heart and taught me things, how to cherish people and places around the world, even when it hurt to say goodbye. Above all, she taught me that..
Love was not a mysterious stranger waiting to be met on a beach in Sri Lanka or in an underground train station in Berlin. Love was always with me where no one could see. Love, she was my guardian hiding right inside of me.
I had a revelation in Nashville this morning, on what I had decided days ago would be my moving day. I woke up to sunshine and not my work alarm this time, too excited to sleep, reveling in what I knew was about to happen; what I finally had the strength to do.
For the first time, I saw everything I had wanted to believe about myself but could never see. Today it was clear that Over the past year of my life, I had immensely changed.
Just then, my past year of life wandering the world intentionally homeless became justified; all of the confusion, anger, tragedies and great escapes I had made from them and how it had defined and affirmed me, happening intentionally, I realized, all along.
I saw the friends I had made as my mentors and sources of inspiration. And the lovers, oh the lovers I had embraced; They had moved in me, with momentous force as fierce as lightning, strikes of serendipitous intensity; of longing and objectification, of fun and faith in the reckless abandon we defined our lives by. That love, no matter how long or how short of a time, was real.
By heartache, good god defined by heartache. The pain shed in heaves and tears on trains to airports, writing violently on a plane again, bound for a new place, anywhere but where they were, escaping, starting the process over, beginning to learn how to say what I wanted and what I didn’t..and how to stop the act of an unhealthy compromise. Through that pain, I began to learn who I was. The good, the bad, and the insecure.
I traveled and drank and danced and laughed and cried and ultimately explored and found out who I was on a total of 4 different continents in 12 different countries in well over 50 different hospitable homes this year..3 harsh breakups included, Grandpa would die after his fight with Parkinson’s and Dementia, and Dad was struck with cancer at the same time earlier this year.
Disowned by members of my family, we are still silent now, for the way I am choosing to live my life. Accepting that for now we must agree to disagree, I miss them deeply and think of them everyday. I am optimistic for our better days when we can understand and be happy for each other, when I can be there for them in the best way after figuring out my way.
In this same year I’ve enrolled in school, challenging myself academically from the road. I traveled around the world in 28 days, surviving nights with a Sicilan drug lord inside a mafia house, a crazed Trekkie, and the devil, who maybe wasn’t the devil at all, just a man with a past full of strengths and weaknesses in search of love and happiness like everyone else..and fighting the devil inside myself.
2 weeks ago, I fell off the back of a motorcycle while climbing the hills of Santa Monica. My friend Patrick and I were bloody and bruised, and he picked the bike up off of my and hoisted me up to carry off the road to safety in the dirt, minutes before a speeding car flew past us over the center line.
Fear puts the fragility of life as we know it into perspective. We mustered up courage and climbed back on the damn thing, jeans ripped and wounds bleeding, clutching onto him for dear life as we rode back down. We were so lucky.
I knew then I had to take advantage of my time and pursue my dreams. And Portland, as a writer who’s favorite authors migrated towards, was where I had always wanted to go.
The discovery of myself over international waters as a nomad this past year has been absolutely surreal. And somehow these events once labeled as chaos have flowed into a systematic place, making all of it worth it, serving a purpose, all somehow real.
I am so grateful that each time shit got crazier, I could make it through, not understanding why it was happening, but growing thicker skin, pressing on and deeper, with a stronger sense of self, and a clarified purpose. With perseverance and an open heart.
In that moment in Nashville, with bags still dusty and worn with the experience of a lifetime, I rose from the sheets and, with a smile, began packing.
The journey of life continues for us all in different ways, but in the end we’re after the same things. Fulfillment, growth, and happiness. And through failure after failure, challenge after challenge, Just maybe I’ve found it. Learning not the answers, but how to ask all the right questions. And discover the right path for now.
Around the World in 28 Days: Why I Got the Hell Out of Dodge and Headed Anywhere West on the 14th of May
I left town as I usually do: On my own, without any plans, heading anywhere new and out of Indiana. I was westbound, and I didn’t want to know where I was going until I had arrived. This degree of spontaneity was insane, but it was the only way to preserve adrenaline in my traveling bones. Still, nothing could prepare me for the next 28 days of life. When it was all said and done, I would land back in town from the east this time, having successfully journeyed my way completely around the world.
There were more than a few reasons why I wanted to leave and leave for good, and getting away began to feel like the only way I would be able to breathe. I could blame it on the surroundings and the zero travelers around me doing the same things everyday, but there was much more beneath the surface to hide. For one, my relationships with my family were crumbling, and life at my dad’s house, where I was staying, was becoming a nightmare. We were at each other’s throats, and after every yelling match about the way I was choosing to live my life, I started to show up less and less, until I stopped showing up at all. I’d escape to my friends in the bars and the men who dwelled around them. When I’d come home, Dad would reinforce his disapproval. Sarah was selfish. Sarah was irresponsible. Sarah needed to stop traveling and grow up. Settle down. Save money and get an extra job. When I got another job, now I was working too much. Now I needed to stop overdoing it and get more sleep. I couldn’t win.
I stopped listening and started doing things out of spite, like pushing his buttons and sending him into a rage that sent him hitting the walls and screaming out of control, out of his mind, lost. What had we become…Later, he would say the rage never happened, that it was just the stress of the cancer, but I had seen it my whole life and so had my mother. Still, I’d feel guilty. The man was exhausted and going through chemo and had no hair on his eyebrows or eyes anymore. We’d gloss it over and he was right, it never happened. Not until next time.
But after his Lymphoma treatments were over and the cancer was gone, the screaming and door slamming continued, carrying on late into the night until I was never there, out being senseless to avoid it, with rage he could no longer blame on his disease. Just me and my evil mouth, he said.
I started to realize that this was a neverending cycle that had started a long time ago, and I had to break free of the combative environment. I had to learn how to succeed in having relationships in a healthy, productive, and better manner, and I had to do it before these habits became who I was permanently like they had inside of him. I didn’t want the relationships with my future children to end up this way, and I’d cringe every time I would see my brother mimic him, and shut himself in his room after slamming the door. Becoming conditioned to this behavior would prevent me in every way from being healthy and happy, and I had to get out. I accepted that we did not agree in life right now, and I didn’t belong in his house if love and support were conditional things and if I didn’t have respect for him or the family routine on a daily basis. I left one day with a thank you card and a wind chime on the table, and we cut each other out in a silence that, to this day, still stands. Wait for another day…
Meanwhile, I had bounced from his house to my mother’s new one, just built, right after grandpa died, completely depleted of pride. My mom and stepdad had ways been more accepting of my come-and-go lifestyle, but I felt the need to make some improvements, so I decided to stop drinking and dating men pointlessly for a month just to prove that I could and to see if it would improve my level of happiness.
But soon, tension would erupt again, brought on by depression from grandpa’s death, job stress, and the close proximity to each other we hadn’t experienced since I was 20. I was stubborn and upset with leading a double life, flying on airplanes with my independence intact, then flying home, dependent on living with them so that I could escape and afford going out of town and out with my friends every night. I took flights unannounced after work to London just to stay away. There was no reason or rhyme to what I was doing. I made certain of it. But I was crumbling, and the ability to look at the departure screen and fly away just like that was the only leg that I felt I had left to stand on.
My dating life was also a factor in plotting my permanent escape. Back in August, I had left the end of Allan and I in San Francisco and rebounded with an NYU almost English grad/writer/home owner in Camby, Indiana who appeared to be reliable and inspiring on the outside, but months later, after moving in, would reveal himself to be something else all together.
After vanishing into thin air by simply not coming home from work one day and never coming back, I’d find that he was into rendezvousing with a married mother at the neighborhood Wal-Mart and was in the process of rekindling a previous engagement to his blood relative cousin…who was currently expecting a child from someone else that he would raise. And you thought YOUR dating horror stories were good..! That’s when I vowwed to stay the hell out of Camby, Indiana and away from inbreeders for good.
I went back to the dating scene after awhile and upped my screening process to the notsocrazy ones. Still, it wasn’t going anywhere, and I had good reason to stay distant, with no intention of sacrificing my single traveling life for a long time.
I pushed away a guy I had dated for 3 months who was too bland and weed dependent for me and when he found a nice girlfriend, letting him go was easy because I saw him happy. I’d rekindle a flame with a hockey player who didn’t speak great English and was boring, a pilot who I had cared for over the years but just wanted me as a fuck buddy, a radiologist who I’m pretty sure cheated on his girlfriend with me after lurring me into his house with the promise of listening to music on record player he didn’t actually have. Ti many gin martoonis, and even tried dating a female nursing student with a boyfriend out east, which didn’t work out so well either…
The final straw was my date with a 42 year old techie that ended with him slobbering on me in the passenger seat of my car after dropping him off when he was too drunk to drive. Again, my dating life is so comical, it would push anyone to escape the country looking for better fish in the sea…Make. Better. Choices.
At the tail end, though, I’d attend a birthday party sober on Indy’s party drag of Broadripple on a Friday night, and I’d meet a cellist who I liked from the start. He had looks, he had drive, and depth and intellect too, but there was something I couldn’t quite figure out about him. I couldn’t decide if he legitimately liked me or if he was trying to get in my pants because he joked about it simultaneously, so I kept my distance and my thoughts of him at bay, finding myself thinking of him more and more while we were apart. Still, we said our goodbyes, said we’d see what would happen, and I left single, holding steadily onto my freedom for my month long ride.
Being honest with myself, What I really thought I wanted at that point was to meet and fall for an expat while I was away who had given up on their own luck in their respective country a long time ago, and would give me their love and support while I did the same. I had dreams of meeting this person and falling in love on the road, mailing back my passport, and never looking back.
It’s important to mention that my last night in Indianapolis was spent with Allan, my old boyfriend from San Francisco, and that encounter brought some groundbreaking change within myself and progress in this project to light. I had loved him deeply when we were together, on our travels and in a city that, to both of us, was new, and over time an insecurity and lack of confidence was exposed in our foundation of unhealthy behavior between us. We were partying all the time, and there were secrets, and he was the only person in the city I could rely on, which wasn’t healthy, and everyday I dwelled on what we never said. But here he was, in front of me on my last night in Indiana, spilling all the beans about how he had felt now.
I couldn’t believe it. There was so much I never knew, and it was surreal to hear. It felt good somehow to have affected him when I had felt so much pain. He kissed me that night, and we got somewhere close to familiar, but it was in no way the same. My dependence and need for him had finally gone, and I felt myself caring less instead of just trying not to show it somehow, and finally I had control. He begged me to get in his car. And after 2 years of magnifying him and minimizing myself, I exuded a newfound strength genuinely and effort to force, and I turned him down. I could savor the experience with this great man and cherish the collection of our memories, and finally let go…
I headed home alone to pack, beaming and valuing what I was doing more than any other trip before. I celebrated my strength as the sun rose and put my backpack on, walking into the airport and, again, feeling alive. I started to forgive myself for my past mistakes and hoped that, in time, others would too. I put my ticket stub in my journal pocket and sat in my seat, opened up the window to views that would soon be the sky, and went away looking for something better, finally letting the air out of my lungs, optimistic for all I would soon see, feeling in tune, and in every way, free.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Around the World in 28 Days! Breaking the Law in Hong Kong, Riding Trains, and Tuk Tuks and Surfboards in Sri Lanka, and Escaping Horny Toads of Arugam Bay
I’m flying away without a destination as of tomorrow morning. Thankfully, I’m beginning to understand why I do it, what I’m out to find. Knowing what motivates these spontaneous excursions clarifies things in uncertain times, getting myself more lost to be found, clearing the path to keep it undefined. What I’m learning, above all, is that why and where I travel has so much more to do with the people that I meet than the actual place at all.
My most memorable days in a foreign country were spent, not by accounting for where I went and what I did, but who I met while I was there. How we crossed paths and what their story was, how they came to be a traveler and where they were going next. How they felt about themselves and what they were aspiring to be. This was and is what fascinates me, drives and encourages me, to understand myself by way of eyes that see things differently. Uncovering my own identity when putting myself next to them and in their shoes. Knowing we are both wanderlusters, all one, yet never the same.
After meeting said travelers, I find myself in new elements, more exciting situations, taking bigger risks and new approaches with a new perspective and newfound value in fulfilling myself and not just an audience. Inspiring me to turn left instead of right. Rent the boat instead of the car. Stay on that island, and meet that new group of people, and write songs to sing when I’m old one day in a rocking chair. Leading me to unlimited opportunity and unplanned possibilities.
My hypothesis in month 8 of Project Nomad is this: Could my contact with like-minded travelers and expatriates who have left the countries they were born in, in search of happiness and a truer sense of home, could they help me define a better sense of happiness and home in myself?
An example of such a person is necessary, so you can see what people I categorize this under. Whether they are a hero or a villain or both, and whether my encounter with them is noble or not, is unimportant. Whether you feel the scenario is dangerous and naive or safe and welcoming, it matters not. How we came to know each other and what was learned from the experience and how it was applied is priceless, no matter how long or short the experience.
Be prepared, some characters I will introduce will be loved or hated, and some will love or hate me for being publicly shared, but their effects, they resonate, so with honesty, I share.
The Sailor, The Artiste, and the Spy
I met Dylan just a few weeks ago, at a rave on London’s south end, in my 11th hour of a 21 hour, whimsical stay. He was 30-something, wearing a brown leather jacket that screamed cool, looking smooth and poetic by the entryway of the smoking section at the party. I walked up and said hello.
Within moments of meeting, I learned that he was Australian, originally from Brisbane, living in London now. We walked inside and had friendly conversation of how I came to be there, until, next to us, a drug bust went down, and guards in black rushed in and swept a couple away. After the excitement of it died down, we walked into the main hall where the headlining DJ’s were about to play, and we smiled and danced. Then, just like that, he disappeared…
I would find and lose him in the crowd throughout the night as it went on, thinking he must be toying with me. I made my way up to the front row and danced and forgot about everyone. Then, as I was leaving, I found him wandering through the side room, leather jacket shining through the crowd of tired ravers. We smiled. And I began to learn more.
He told me that he had been the right hand man in the drug bust I had seen earlier and several others throughout the night. That’s where he had been disappearing to, and he was really an undercover informant for the club. He was also previous night club owner back in Australia, and that’s how he had become involved months ago. He was to blend in, find the drugs, and the bouncers would do the rest. l didn’t believe him at first, til a giant man in black, wearing an ear piece told him to go to the back door to collect his check in a thick, british accent and a girl I had met him with earlier walked across the back to the door. How wild it was to watch, like a lighter Mission Impossible watching the end when everything odd is explained and comes together. There were over a thousand people there easily and somehow I befriended a spy working the masses. I became intrigued to discover more.
His full time job was building flower arrangements on the sides of buildings. They were beautiful, as I had seen earlier, and the work was physically demanding. He had thick callouses all over his hands and I imagined him hanging suspended over buildings for hours at a time. He didn’t talk much about it. When I talked to him, I had to sit on his right side because he couldn’t hear anything out of his left ear. I had no idea why. We took a journey across town with the few hours I had left. “What else are you going to do with your last bit of time?”
He snuck me through the turn styles inside of train stations for the tube. Then behind double decker bus drivers across the north side, calling it “the ghetto way to see London town,”. I thought of the song by Kate Nash, where her and a boy she likes skip fare and run from officials, singing “so we ran into the station and jumped onto a bus with 2 of yesterday’s travel cards and 2 bottles of bud and he said, ‘you look real nice’.”
He liked to sit at the very top of the bus by the front window above the driver, an open view to the morning in the city. “A front row seat on a ride called ‘life'” he called it. He knew his way around town and improvised when trains weren’t in service early on in a Sunday morning. I admired his sense of direction, considering he wasn’t from there, and wished to be the same if I were the one showing a boy around from out of town. I wondered if he felt as cool as I thought he was.
We walked through a park after the second bus ride. We were both exhausted from the night and It was 9 in the morning. The city was now full of people, waking up and starting their day, preparing for rowing practice, getting their coffee. People looked in disgust at my shoes because they were completely covered in front row grime.
We crossed a wooden bridge over a river crowded with small boats. He opened a gate to a marina and a shipyard with his key and I thought, “Holy shit, He really lives here on one of these boats.” “Which one is yours?” I asked. I was bewildered, struck.
“That one over there.” he gestured. The boat sat on blocks, beaten up, scattered with tools. His hard working hands all over it, projects in progress, grey, it stood, full of character and a ladder propped up on the side. As he climbed it, still wearing his leather jacket, he looked weathered and worn, having seen and experienced a lot, just like his boat, bonded to it in that way. I was captivated, and as I captured a picture, he held his hand up to his forehead. A true captain.
Inside the boat was his home. A bed, dishes dirty in the sink, drawers cluttered with miscellaneous things, an old computer, a moleskin journal, a bicycle filled it. The place spoke mountains about him. I was so inspired and had so many questions but I couldn’t speak. I just looked all around trying to not look too impressed, trying my best to make mental note and remember all.
He put 60 hours a week into fixing up the exterior, planning to one day say, “screw it all,” and go away. With every detail he exhaled, I wanted his life. Not to be his girl, but to take over his work and make his plans my own, alone. To be the spy at the party and build flowers, dangling from the sides of buildings. To nail in the final piece of wood and say “screw it all” before pushing off the dock and watching the land fade away from the water in the distance. This could be me. I could make this mine.
I kept disbelieving how I had crossed paths with such an interesting man in such a short period of time. I was thankful that he had let me and thought he probably did only because he knew I was leaving, and disappointed because I knew I would only see this and him once.
Before I knew it, as soon as I had arrived, it was time to go. He walked me back to the bridge to wait for the taxi, realizing the journey to Heathrow would take an extra hour and thirty minutes that I didn’t have to get there in time.
He left me on the bridge to retrieve his phone from the boat and call the taxi again. He said if it arrived before he returned, to get in the car and not look back or wait for goodbyes. Sure enough, as soon as he was gone, the cab came, and reluctantly, I had to tell the driver to go as fast as he could in the opposite direction. A call from him came on the driver’s phone and I answered. “I made it,” I said. “It was so wonderful to meet you.” And there it was. Our first and last goodbye.
I know I’ll probably never see Dylan again, but I’m inspired by his passion to live and shape his own life into exactly he wants, whatever it may be. The fact that I only knew him for 12 hours, and traveling throughout the city, hearing his story, made for one of the most exciting nights and mornings in my personal history in London town. He is the type of person that could change a person’s life just by meeting them. For that, he is someone I will always admire.
• • •
As I connect deeper to travelers out in the world, I also get closer to a few of the locals back at home. My new friend, Bradley, who I met at a deli across town, sits across from me at the diner I usually write at alone, and we have a long conversation about the progress of the project, the turns it’s taking, and what could come next. As the epiphanies hit and our excitement grows, we get closer, and I learn that with him, time will always fly by.
I call him tonight, distressed and in need of relief of tomorrow’s uncertainty. My departure is looming and I still have no plan or answers. He offers neither, but insight into all the right questions. Smiling calmly on the line, he offers advice in the form of a metaphor, saying:
“The pirate doesn’t know where the treasure is, only that he’s hunting for it. You may not know what you’re after, only that you’re out there looking for something.
Remember, also, that the only pirates who are remembered are the ones that find the treasure…so be bold. Be bold in your search and enjoy the hunt.”
I get ready to leave, appreciating Bradley and Dylan, and everyone I have met and will meet along the way. To me, they are not just friends, but markers, guides pointing me in the right direction, sitting with me in the front seat on a ride called “Life”.
Inspiring me on my hunt for a treasure called “Happiness”.
It took a hell of a lot, coming from someone living life by extremes and outside of comfort zones, for me to finally realize when I had hit rock bottom, my own personal hell of a threshold. It took just as much to finally be honest about it with you, and even more to be completely honest with myself.
It began a long time ago and grew considerably over time. Cracks that settled deeply into my foundation, caused by the impact of unmet emotional needs and insecurity, as deep and permanent as strikes of lightning in the ground. Those cracks swelled up, depending on how much love and affection I was shown from others at various times in life but would never accept from myself. By the second week of April this year, under a variety of circumstances and unresolved emotions, those cracks broke open into canyons at alarming speed, and my efforts to fill them were unsuccessful and self destructive.
It was a combination of more than a few toxic persuasions, not just one. First off, I was out every night I was home, basing most of my time around the bars and the boys that filled them. The objective was a game. The seeking of validation, the enjoyment of attention. Running with it. Maintaining the illusion of control and keeping things casual, all with an eye open, just in case, for “Mr. Right”.
I loved it. I multiplied prospects. I objectified others and unknowingly objectified myself. Juggling was to preserve the temporary high of esteem and validation that I needed but didn’t know how to provide within myself.
To make matters worse, throughout this period of time, I would always be drinking alcohol, for hours at a time, every night. I’d have greasy, shitty food loaded with fat and eat it late into the night, and I’d smoke socially like a chimney.
I also started to neglect my relationships with positive people because their priorities were different, more focussed and productive than mine. Still, I justified what I was doing and kept my distance, hooked on the temporary acceptance and attention. Sinking deeper and deeper into an unhealthy pattern.
The breaking point was when I started making more and more bad decisions, and when those decisions got worse and worse. The late nights got later, the company less caring, my behavior, for the first time, apathetic, unpredictable, and at times, terrible. Evenings began to blend together and I started to forget things. My body was sluggish and out of energy everyday because it was completely full of toxins and the need to gain approval from others. My goals became mere conquests. My behavior became worth hiding from people I cared about. I traded in time with my family for sleep until the late afternoons and went out with boys that my grandfather would never ever have approved of.
What had happened to all of the things I had wanted to learn? Everything I was excited to do? My potential? My future? My luster for the sake of traveling to travel, not to party? This lifestyle made me want to keep going after something that didn’t exist, chasing an excitement that never lasted, making me feel like shit all the time. Why I am I doing this? When will enough ever be enough?
Finally, it was enough. After a week of pure and awful hell that went above and beyond the others, (painful things I won’t go public with probably until publishing this project) I knew what I had to do. So on the 16th of April, around 6pm on a Monday, from my parked car that sat outside of a cafe for hours on end in Indy, I held up my hands and finally surrendered.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I said. “I have had enough.”
The initial halt was easier than I expected. Endurance in the resistance, however, is a whole new ball game. Until I was certain of what my specific issue was, I decided to stop everything that made me feel remotely bad. No late night drinking and flirting with boys, no bar scene. Nothing. I buried my eyes inside an inspiring book and pushed through the cabin fever instead. I bought healthy foods that wouldn’t be caught dead at a 4am drive thru. I went to the gym and focused on the music playing instead of the text messages on my phone.
Slowly, I started to feel different. Hydrated, wow, and respected, neat. I started to analyze my behavior, looking at what motivated me to grab vices to fill what cracks . Noticing what caused the cracks and how they affected my behavior. Having epiphanies like, “THIS is why I did that and felt that way! And THIS had a negative impact because I never solved THIS issue. And THAT is a healthy way I can meet my needs without dependency on something negative. THIS is how I can treat myself and those around me better. THIS is how I can be the best version of me.”
Then, with more time, came the reassessment of friendships. The toxic people I had invited in, they had to go, and the unconditionally loving and supportive ones had to be appreciated more and shown gratitude. An environment full of positive energy was key, and I began to shift focus onto the affection, attention, and appreciation for the good people around me.
There’s a lot of good people out there, and I’ve just gotten started. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you legitimately care, and that person includes you:)
It’s now day 16 since I committed to “turning over a new leaf” as my Latin teacher used to say. 16 days since I changed my path. Changed my mind. I’ve chosen to stay away from things that could sabotage my progress until I am confident in the love and respect I have for myself. Such love has brought out new meaning to the word”home” and the relentless search of a nomad, so focused on finding it by continuously changing scenery.
But the change of regret into acceptance, of ignorance into awareness, of weakness into strength and perseverance…That has, for me, created a growing sense of endless possibilities, and the appreciation of an inner sense of home that lies much closer than farther away…right here, in the very heart of me…
I acknowledged in the air, on my 21 hour journey to Australia, that losing him while I was away was a possibility. But, more so, the granddaughter inside me still believed, even when he could hardly speak or open his eyes, that he would beat it and bounce back. That he’d leave his bed and this depressing state soon and we’d be back to catching lightning bugs in the backyard in no time. Next time I’d be in this diner, it would be with him because the Homestead Breakfast is his favorite. He’ll live forever, I just know it. This is the first man that will defy time and live forever.
None of us believed the inevitable because he fought so hard for so long. Parkinson’s and Dementia make a cruel combination. Slow and powerful. His body was breaking down and this was the man who could fix anything. His thoughts were irrational and distorted and he was brilliant and intelligent. Nothing could beat him. He could most certainly fight it. We could personify the disease into a real enemy and rid them of his body and the world forever. We all believed it. And we made it real.
Cruel is also being powerless and forced to watch, and unable to fight for them.
I fled my friend’s apartment 5 minutes after I had arrived there in Sydney and ran out into the street, curled up with my mom’s voice on the line in an empty Sydney parking lot. I was 9,000 miles away from her. 9,000 miles from anyone who knew him. Where was I?
Temporarily, I was without a way home. I had no idea how I was going to get back in time for the funeral. Flights were full in every direction. But, I had to make it. My family needed me, and if I didn’t get closure, a part of me would still believe he was alive. I got desperate and looked at flying all the way around the world. Sydney to Indy via Dubai.
Thankfully, my work came through. I was on a flight bound for LA by 2pm the next day. Then Denver. Then home.
At the funeral, I stood up and gave a speech about Grandpa – something I decided I was strong enough to do and very thankful now that I did. I wanted everyone to remember how much he loved my Grandma, married 56 years, and the strength and compassion he inspired in his children. His son sacrificed his life in 1989 while saving 2 children from drowning in a river, and his daughter, my mom, would devote herself to saving lives everyday as a nurse in the ICU.
I told our funny story about getting picked up from pre-school everyday and him taking me to McDonald’s afterwards. He would say “We can go, but only on special days,” and I replied, “But everyday is special when I’m with you, Grandpa.” What a runt I was! And how could he refuse.
As the days pass on, memories get stronger and the grieving, consistent. For some reason, when a loved one dies, you think your own loss is different from everyone else’s. That no one else could possibly understand THIS loss. Especially, when you’re young and haven’t experienced it close to home before. It’s a devastation that makes you angry and want to be isolated. Pissed off, unmotivated to move, and sad around the clock. Thank goodness for family and core, quality friends in those times.
In Sydney, I was fortunate enough to be in the company of close friends when the news hit. I don’t know how I would have handled it without them around.
Ross (on the far right) took me to Bondi beach and he talked me into jumping over waves in the brisk ocean. I reunited with Jack (on the left),a friend from San Francisco, surprised him on the beach because he didn’t see me coming, and our embrace was priceless, strong, and comforting. “Fancy meeting you here” I smiled, halfway around the world from where we first met.
Ross’s girlfriend Rachel (on the lower right) gave me cheese and wine and blankets and company. Seeing them in love was very inspiring because it was so genuine, very much on a chance meeting, and he took care of her like my grandfather would my grandmother. It was the real thing. A rarity worth treasuring and putting on display for the world to believe in.
There is, in the midst of loss, a big positive to share. This photo was taken on the last day of my father’s cancer treatment. My dad finished his last dose of radiation 6 days ago, and now he’s on vacation in the Ozark mountains to celebrate. My father beat cancer! What an inspiration. He also wrote about his experience and his progress everyday to share and inspire others going through similar experiences. I could not be more proud and excited for my father and his renewed spirit. His closer relationships. His second chance.
I don’t know how long I’ll stay here or where I’m going when I’m ready, but I know right now there is more here to do. There is a house to move my parents into, and comfort to give in the transition. There are plans to make and things to learn from the people I care about.
And the more people I talk to, the more I realize how many of us don’t know where we want to go and what will make us happy. We are on this search, each of us, in our own way. How frustrating, to question so much and know so little. How hard to accept when you’re stubborn that the choices you make may be wrong. But how comforting to know that you’re not alone.
Throughout this discovery, I want to keep alive the things inside Grandpa that made him great. His thoughtfulness of others. His strong work ethic and dedication to succeed at everything he did. His love for his family. His ability to make others happy. These things will most certainly make me a better person, and help light the way.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been in this diner, writing about life in search of a home. But the waitress remembers me here, and she brings me a cup of coffee expectantly. Everything has changed since I was here last though, and today I want something different. Today I want bacon and iced tea.
It happened on a Wednesday in the heart of February for me, the day I felt the effects of a perfect moment on my heart. I was listening to new friends from England embrace nostalgia and sing along to Oasis songs. We were in a treehouse overlooking the ocean in Gulf of Thailand then, opposite of the Adaman Sea. We went there after we swam all afternoon in our Bungalow resort where we met, right as the sun began to set.
We took turns swinging from rope swings and trying each others Thai dishes, taking in the sun and talking about where our travels had taken us…what we thought about love and sex and what places we were going to next. All plans after our time on the island were different, open ended, and personalized. We all had in common, though, the need to explore, to thrive in independence, and to open our minds.
There were 8 of us there that day, and that number changed as the evening creeped in. But, for those few hours, in that treehouse on Ko Phangan, we were very much present, sharing the sunset and our stories of nomadic life, savoring the common ground and connection to each other and to the day.
That night, I danced at a party in the jungle and watched a couple from our group fall in love. I, myself, fell for the shirtless dj making me dance, and for the idea that all these people from around the world had come to this jungle on this island in Thailand to celebrate.
We stayed til the sun came up, but I would have stayed forever if I could have. People left looking like zombies with remnants of bright neon paint streaked on them, and soon we would all be getting on ferries and going somewhere else, never to be together all in the same place again. What a poetic thing it was, getting together from around the world to dance all night in the jungle.
This day, among many others, on different islands in Thailand, and on last minute, majestic bus rides through Milaysia into Singapore, were defining ones for what I want out of life right now. Not to commit to a destiny that doesn’t really fit, but to wander for the sake of wandering and learn from the unfamiliar. Making it about the journey itself, and never the destination. Thank you for this notion, Aristotle. These are true words of yours to live by.
When I arrived back at home, changes were made to suit the changes made in me. I was now driven to save up just enough money to go back out and travel again, and that meant no more potential planning to get an apartment downtown. The thought of signing a year lease smothered me and made me feel trapped, so I took the invitation to stay with my mom, stepdad, and grandmother when I needed. They are currently having a new house built, and they understand my desire to come and go because they instilled it in me years ago. From growing up in Montana, to road trips across the United States and train rides from the ocean into Rome, they are passionate in their own way to see the world, and thankfully are supportive of mine, be it erratic, independent, and somewhat dangerous at times:)
Feeling also trapped by elements of a looming potential relationship before I left for Thailand, that was also something I had to let go. I delayed the ending for reasons of comfort and great company when I found myself in town. But I stayed honest, and reaffirmed that I was no where near settling down, needing to have no outside influence on my decisions, and knowing that when it’s right it’s right, and when it’s not, it never will be.
Thankfully this honesty moved the roadblock from their path towards happiness, and they will no doubt find it from here on, just the way they want to and deserve it to be. And me, my own:)
I type the last lines and take my check to the diner cashier, and step outside into another plan…to plan nothing except what to pack. And tonight when the sun kisses the horizon and disappears, I’ll make a wish and set it free into the sky, just as I did on my last night in Thailand, that I’ll continue to learn and grow somewhere between here and the coasts of Australia. Back out on another uncertain, crazy, and exciting journey, on my very merry nomadic way…
I can feel drastic changes close-by. Uncertain, but hopeful that they are positive.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to bartend in Super Bowl Village here in Indianapolis on my 26th birthday. The experience of meeting new people, being in a lively music environment, gave me an overall sense of pride to be here and call Indy my hometown. An important feeling for a nomad. I’ve always wanted to bartend, and found it to be a perfect fit for me. I made a lot of friends that night and am really looking forward to working there the rest of the weekend for Super Bowl.
That being said, it may be the right time to let my other job at the restaurant go. I have felt that the people there are amazing and worth staying for, but the money could be a lot better elsewhere, particularly downtown. And after experiencing this first hand and making triple the money in one day just to pop open a beer bottle and enjoy the people and listen to music, I am that much closer to making the transition.
There are also transitions in the dating world, and I feel the need to reevaluate how I’m handling it as I get closer to people, because I know I’m not really being fair.
I’m rigid in my desire to stay single, but also connect and share feelings with who I genuinely care about, creating the desire for progress and attachment. But then I restate the desire for freedom and go out with other people, knowing that if they did the same, it would hurt. So this me in a “have your cake and eat it too” situation that needs improvement. I have no idea how the situation will unfold. If it will progress, or they will get impatient and I’ll get scared and stubborn, and it will end.
Transition with the help of upcoming travel too. I’ve been in the states for awhile and I’m getting the itch to escape with my backpack completely on my own for awhile. I find a lot of clarity in it. A lot gets pondered and solved when I go away and come back with a newly experienced culture and perspective.
So, Calvin Harris is DJing in Bangkok, Thailand on February 16th and I dream of experiencing the most amazing show of my life there and then traveling the country, island hopping and learning about music and falling in love with scenery I’ve dreamt about since seeing the movie, The Beach, when I was 15. Then I’ll play banjo for Calvin and go swimming at a rave on Phuket island. Like I said, it’s a dream:)
New Zealand is also a possibility. I know a musician there who has offered to put me up and guide me across this pristine, beautiful country that begs me to explore it and stay forever. Either of these places will be very important in the self discovery. I just have to narrow it down and decide.
Where will all of these changes lead? How will they feel and where on Earth will I go? What does it all mean? And in time, will time really reveal? Plenty of questions still remain here in nomad land…
I used to think it was in my best interest as a writer to portray my traveling life in the most positive, uplifting perspective for my audience. That, regardless of what was running through my mind, I would make it outwardly upbeat for my friends and family to enjoy and be inspired by.
“So you travel for a living, and you’re going from place to place all of the time?! That’s really awesome, Sarah!” They would smile. “Yeah,” I would affirm, “It’s a lot of fun and interesting everyday. I love traveling and experiencing new places and great people.”
But how many times have you told someone that you were doing great and your job was going well and your relationship was the best…and you were absolutely full of shit the entire time?
This was a response you’d get from me all of the time. And now, now I’m ready to be honest.
I’m actually scared shitless of being alone and conquering this project. And sometimes my confidence is masked insecurity. Some of these days have been harder than I have ever known. And some days I question who I am and what the hell I’m doing to my family what I’m doing here. That.. is what is real.
I relate to an experience I had a couple years ago in France with hope. Hope because I found purpose and enjoyment in the loneliest of places on what turned out to be one of the best days of my life:
I had fled to Paris from Denver, where I was losing myself in a loveless situation, in search of a different culture and a hopeful rendezvous with a man I had met months earlier in Venice, quick to again be disappointed by and leave behind.
What I found the hard way, however, was a lot more of myself. Lost in a sea of people and a language I didn’t know or understand, it was my own company I was reluctantly reliant upon.
I spent most of the day in silence, writing in my notebook and eating cheese and watching Parisians. I wandered through churches and museums telling stories to myself about paintings, getting drunk on wine by the river watching soccer games. I was isolated and forced to reflect on everything I was running away from.
But, by the end of the day, I was having a blast. And although it was painful to admit at first because I was alone, I knew I was the only person who was making myself truly happy.
I had forgotten about that day in Paris and had lost myself again, but last night in Indy, I was reminded by a friend who knew himself completely.
“What you have to do is find something that makes just you happy,” he said. “I have a friend who’s lived everywhere and done a lot of things. But he’s always looking for that new place that will make him happy. But he’s still not. And that’s because, where ever you are, Sarah, you’re going to have the same problem until you are good with yourself first.”
He was absolutely right. And I was again forced to think about what I had to do to be right with myself on my own.
In a coffee shop in Paris, or on a bus ride in Ireland, or a museum in San Francisco, or a hotel room in a city I didnt know. Even this restaurant I’m in right now.
The answer was simple.
It was when I was writing.
So I continue, with the power of that day stronger again in my mind, learning another valuable lesson in finding myself and my path. That embracing loneliness with what you love, like a pen your hand or camera in front of your eyes, is key. That facing your fears can surprise you.
I poured syrup over my blueberry pancakes, sitting at the counter of my favorite diner where I love to be alone and write, talking to my friend Brent on the phone this time. I love his spontaneous calls from Phoenix. He tells me about his new business venture and asks about my nomad project and the traveling life. We flirt as always, as old flames and friends of many years do, and he never fails to make me blush and laugh.
I tell him about my idea for the next Project Nomad post. “I think it might be about..well, what it’s like to.. date me,” I laughed.
“Well, that is something,” he chuckled, “that I would love to read.” So here we go…:)
Dating has been an experience I’ve really been enjoying. And with my project, it’s offered me a very different perspective to something a lot of people dread. But I love it. I will be honest though, some people don’t know anything about what goes into dating a nomad.
In this time of introspection and evaluation of place and self, I find that i’m not easily attached to any person or rushing at all to be exclusive. Avoiding it, actually. And thankfully so, because wanting the freedom to fully experience this project and having had a boyfriend for the past 5 years really affirms my want and need to stay single for awhile.
Still, the experience of dating and spending time with great people is a pretty awesome thing.
Most guys say they like things casual and understand my desire to stay single, but that doesn’t last long. Then comes jealousy and commitment talks and other things I try to avoid by being upfront from the start. So..
Rule #1: Don’t put pressure on an upfront nomad. I’m honest with where I stand, so be honest with yourself and what you can handle.
Then comes communication, communication, communication. It has made or broken things quickly for me. When I’m out of town as often as I am, a person’s texts and phone calls have the ability make me feel important and build up anticipation for when I get home. I take a lot of pictures and videos of the places I see, and having that reciprocated is a really cool thing. Example:
Look at this kickass hidden cave I went to in Wisconsin tonight!
And when it doesn’t happen, I lose interest. Fast. Simple. It’s just like that.
Rule #2: Keep in touch with your nomad.
The dilemma of schedules has come into play more than a few times. I like to shake up the routine and do things differently all the time. I chose jobs that allow me to have that freedom and it is the way I enjoy living my life. As any nomad should.
Again, that shake in routine is something people claim to love at first, but soon they’re bitching about not being at said location at said time like they’re used to, and then I become the bad influence and why they’re TiVo-ing things so much.
Rule #3: Have a love of spontaneity and the understanding of my very different schedule. Don’t claim to be adventurous in an effort to appeal if you really aren’t. Colors like that show quickly. And I won’t be adapting to a routine anytime soon.
Rule #4: Be social. Very much so. Us nomads have to be. And I have absolutely no idea how to be an introvert or be attracted to one.
Oh yes, and this one:
Rule #5: You have a place where we can hang out (and potentially make out) and you’re absolutely going to be a gentleman about it.
Ah, music:) My parents will tell you that I had the bad habit of dating musicians for a long time, and it was a source of jokes around the household. As soon as I’d mention a guy, they’d ask me what instrument he played and “Oh no, what band is he in..?”. But after I became a musician myself, I realized how unimportant that role was in the attraction.
What WAS exciting was seeing someone passionate and creative about what they were doing. And this is extremely important right now because I very much want to learn something new. To be inspired and to grow. So..
Rule #6: Be creative and passionate about something.
There you have it, folks. Now you can go out and get you a nomad!
The experience has been an interesting and fun one so far. Finding out what I like and what I don’t like by going out, enjoying company, and being direct in saying exactly what I mean. It’s a definite sign of growth for me, and an assurance that happiness is a product of forgetting how to settle for anything less than what you really want. Something I intend on keeping along on this beautifully unpredictable and wild ride:)