There were so many things I freaked out over before Hans and I left for this trip. Where would we go? What would happen if there was an accident? Did we have everything we needed? I googled "what happens if you're traveling and nuclear war breaks out" far more times than I care to admit.
Now that we've been on this nomadic adventure for nearly 6 months (!!!), there are a few things I'd like to tell that frantic girl back in Kansas. If you're about to embark on your own adventure, whether it's across the country or across the continent, I hope this letter can encourage you, too.
Dear Wide-Eyed Traveler…
You, my dear, are about to embark on the loveliest adventure.
You do not know where the road will lead, and oh! how very exciting a place that is. You feel the tension though…the lightness and the freedom and excitement on the one hand, the dazzle of spontaneity, yet also the fear of the unknown and the fragility of your frame of reference.
You feel caught in the middle sometimes, don’t you? That’s quite all right. You don’t have to have it all figured out the moment your feet depart the shores of that country you’ve called home. If you had it all figured out, what would be the purpose of the journey?
I’m just going to get this one out of the way: you’re going to over pack. Just embrace it, accept it, and give yourself grace as you lug your godforsaken luggage across the surface of the globe, cursing that extra pair of shoes with every ounce of fury you can muster.
You’re likely going to over pack your expectations and goals and preconceived notions as well.
Again, give yourself some grace.
You didn’t know what you needed when you set out, because you’ve never had this adventure before. You had never walked these streets or hunched your shoulders against that sort of icy wind or needed to haul all your possessions up those many flights of stairs. You’ve likely never had your prejudices and precious biases so blatantly laid before your eyes, and that’s all right. You’ve likely never needed to distill what you own into just what you can carry across a train platform.
It’s okay to let some things go, my dear.
Send it home, toss it in the bin, give it to someone else or let the breeze gently pry it from your fingers atop the windblown moors of the Exmoor coast.
You didn’t know what you didn’t know, and that’s okay.
Now, what are you going to hold on to? What is worth the space in your suitcase and your soul? What do you need to let go of in order to travel more freely, more lightly?
You’ll be surprised what you can live without.
The countries you visit will surprise you, too. If they don’t, you may as well go home, for clearly your mind has more in common with a shriveled prune than a remarkable instrument of the human experience.
A waterfall of different languages and dialects will fall upon your ears, and your mind will grasp to comprehend meaning when the gap between what you hear and what you know stretches wide. Your mind will constantly be discovering…how the street signs look and what a zucchini is called and who’s who in the high places and the smell of the sea in that particular town.
Culture shock will chip away at you your darling norms and habits.
Your comfort zone has no border control.
It’s going to be FANTASTIC.
You’ll eat really well, too.
Oh, the food! Gird thy loins, oh traveler!
(And by that, of course, I mean make sure you pack a good pair of stretchy pants)
Eat macaroons in France and fish and chips in England and a bratwurst in a pretzel bun slathered with spicy mustard in Germany. You’ll eat a lot of rather normal food, too…not every meal will be totally remarkable…but the “normal” food of any given place can still be quite a feast if you turn down the lights and pour a couple glasses of ruby-red pinot and strike a match to set a candle or two aflame.
Flick on the radio and you may as well have lived here (or there) for twenty years.
More than almost anything, though? Stretch wide thine eyes.
May you get a crick in your neck from staring up at skyscrapers and cathedral ceilings and snow-dusted Alps. Dial open your pupils like a camera’s aperture and strive to let in all the light you can. Look closely. Notice the pattern of tiles and the grains of wood and the way the sun sparkles off the surface of this river vs. that one. Notice the fountains and the beggars and the stained glass and how they package apples at the grocery store. Pay attention to how your feet stumble on the cobblestones and can’t help but halt at the sight of glorious sunsets over a particular landmark.
And for goodness sakes, take lots of notes!
Feel the tension between all that you see and all that you want to see. Know thyself, my dear, and know when to nudge yourself along to the next thing and when to let the dust settle a bit. There will always be another thing on the list, one more place you could go or sight you could see. Don’t get so caught up in exploring that you trample over the beautiful experience right in front of your nose in an effort to fill you camera roll with one more set of snapshots.
(Drink plenty of water and get enough rest every night, too)
Remember, as Paul Theroux so wisely once said, "Travel is glamorous only in retrospect." When you’re slogging your way uphill in the rain because you miscalculated the bus timetable or trying to find cheese that doesn’t smell funny or attempting to work out the knots in your back that popped up after you spent 97 hours in the car, remember that not every day is going to look like it fell out of an bespoke travel magazine.
That’s perfectly fine. It’s what makes the gorgeous moments all the sweeter.
Finally, give yourself permission to travel imperfectly. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay. Above all else, be kind and respectful to yourself and the people you meet. If you do those two things, there’s not much else you can really mess up too badly.
Learn, and keep going.
See you out there!
A fellow nomad