Chapter 3: The Blank Spaces on the Map

Travel for Inspiration, Home for Building

One of my main frustrations with traveling is that I’m not really building anything.  I’m not doing anything consistently enough to deepen my skills or expertise, nor am I building relationships for more than a few days.  I like to be productive and have something to show for my time.  I don’t want to simply collect enough experiences to be an entertaining storyteller at parties (and not just because as a storyteller, I’m a mediocre at best in person).  Most of what I’ve gathered–a homemade pizza recipe here, some camping savvy there–is simply a spark, the beginning of developing stellar cooking skills or the ability to hike and camp solo.  Making cooking mistakes in a hostel kitchen results in embarrassment and smoking up a community area, and seriously getting into “real” backpacking requires equipment that is hard to get on the road (it’s also probably not the best hobby to pick up in the cold months).

I want to use my responsibility-free single years to build a foundation for later life rather than just living in a series of moments.  I read this article a while back, which contests the notion that one’s twenties are “disposable”, and it got my wheels turning.  “Commitment” started looking less like a trap and more like an opportunity.  However, the stress still remained that there was so much to see in the world, and so little time to see it.  One of the main lessons this trip has taught me so far is that I don’t have to see everything.  Not all places are created equal in my heart, and novelty is not so novel when it crops up every day.

I do want to acknowledge that I have met brilliant travelers for whom the wide world really is the best classroom.  I just got back from a three-day hike in the Moroccan mountains with a Hawaiian girl who had some of the best stories and most developed analyses of people of anyone I’ve met.  She has traveled and hiked all over the world, and thrived from it.  I think she’s the kind of traveler we all want to be when we see posts on facebook and get the itch in our feet, the kind of traveler who doesn’t go places so she can check off a list and boast about how much more interesting her life is than yours, but rather the type of person who genuinely connects with the people she meets and whose stories are so good because they take you to a world outside your own instead of making you feel like your own experiences are insignificant in comparison.

However, I’m a different person and I function differently.  Travel has given me the opportunity to gather ideas and inspiration for what to do with myself once I return home, because for me, travel can’t replace my life.  Contrary to what I said before, perhaps roots and wings are compatible.

Things I specifically want to develop when I go home:

  • Learn my parents’ trades.  I’ve always half-wished I could sew like my mother and weld like my father.  The quality time is an added bonus.  I’m thinking I may take it a step further and try my hand at embroidery or making things out of scrap metal, but we’ll see how much I like the basics first.
  • Cooking.  I keep telling myself I’ll work on this, but I never do.  Nothing like not having an oven or a private stove-top to make me appreciate what I have at home.  One of the hostels I stayed at had the rare luxury of an oven, and in three batches, I perfected the execution of a simple homemade biscuit recipe and taught some Australians why I’ll never consider certain kinds of cookies to be “biscuits.”   So the lesson to be learned from this is to work on one thing at a time, and build a personal cookbook from there.
  • Backpacking, hiking, and camping.  By far, the best moments I’ve had on this trip are the ones where I’ve strapped on my hiking boots or camped under the stars.  However, I don’t have the experience or equipment to strike out on my own, even though that’s what I’d ideally like to do.  I’ve been able to snatch precious few moments of solitude and silence, but always with the nagging feeling that someone is waiting for me.  There’s a lot to be said about hiking with companions, but I’d like the option to go solo.
  • Country dancing.  This one is more of a pastime that I miss.  But you know what they say, practice only makes you better–they never said you couldn’t enjoy the practicing.  So you’ll know where to find me on the weekends.

There are, of course, many other things I would like to learn, but these are the ones that pique my interest most right now.  I also have the resources to learn each of these back home, so they’re entirely feasible.  Many thanks to traveling for helping me to shake my complacency and open my eyes to the resources that were there all along.

In the future, when I’m home and I get the urge to hop on a bus and see something new, I’ll book a plane ticket without hesitation, because that inspiration and broadening of horizons is worth it to me.  But it will always be a round-trip ticket, because home is where the real magic happens.


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