July 28 – I arrived at the airport, frantically removing items in my bag to fit the weight limit.
“Pack lightly” my mom had told me…
“I don’t know how!” I responded.
How do you pack for 3 months anyway?
I knew I would be leaving most of the material goods there after my 3-month-long voyage to the Douro Valley region of Portugal.
The butterflies were in full effect as I entered the plane…but I was ready.
There’s something to be said about traveling independently after a period in your life comes to a finish. For me it was college. I had graduated in May, moved out of my apartment in Austin, and back into mom and dads for the time being.
In college, you have this protection net around you. It’s comforting. You may have a job but you know it’s not your forever-job. You may have a boyfriend but if you break up there’s plenty more fish in the sea. You have a community. You have people you see every day, people you are familiar with and in return they understand you. You’re not expected to have it all figured out, and chances are you probably don’t. But it’s no big deal because you have your net – catching you when you take leaps of independence and keeping you secure even when you fall.
As my graduation got closer and closer I began to feel my net getting looser, holes started to develop, and the yarn that kept me with that constant feeling of security started to wither. Now don’t get me wrong, my parents weren’t cutting me off, I wasn’t an unemployed graduate yet, and I knew I would still have the support of my friends and family when this chapter of college closed – but the little voice of anxiety began growing loud and louder till it was just about all I could hear.
I’ve always had an intense independent nature about me. I have a difficult time asking or even accepting help from others. It’s one of my biggest obstacles. Despite my independence, there was a certain warmth in knowing I had the security blanket of community college provided me.
When I began to envision my graduation I pictured all the other people that encompassed the net I was secured by in college – my classmates, teachers, mentors, and friends. Slowly all of them began to disappear. One by one. Until the only one left was me and this disintegrating net.
Until one day, I walked across the stage at graduation to receive my diploma, and the big strong net that once held everything together had vanished.
Suddenly I was a college graduate – leaping into the deep dark blue with no net to save me.
Where are all my friends? Where will I live? How am I going to write 20 cover letters a day without simultaneously shoving Windex down my throat? Why isn’t waking up at 11 am on a Wednesday socially acceptable anymore? Car Insurance? Student Loans? More Student Loans? Everyone has a college degree now, what makes you so special? More Cover Letters?
Questions like these began to weigh heavy in my already over-occupied brain.
I came to realize this net we have in college (or in a job, a relationship, a sports team growing up, etc.) becomes a huge part of our identity and when we lose it – BOOM – it’s like a layer of you is gone and you find yourself quoting Sylvia Plath “I am still so naïve; I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am.”
And so, traveling independently, whether it be taking a couple days to road trip or a few months abroad after a door closes in your life when a security net disappears, is important because it forces you to begin the development of your own net.
This net is special. No, it doesn’t carry your friends and family, or your dog Piper. Every inch is constructed to support every leap, stride, obstacle, and tumble you face on the road to come.
When you have a familiar net that disappears, like mine after college, you are forced into a window of discomfort. When a piece of your identity is shed, an example in my circumstance of being a student, you have to be able to begin the process of rebuilding and rebranding a supported version of you.
I encourage independent travel because it provides a platform beyond our comfort zone. Travel allows us to react to the unknown. Doing it independently provides the studio to begin the shaping process – A net fine-tuned and fitted especially for you.
The beauty I have found in traveling independently was the comfort in losing expectations. Dependency leads to expectations. When you lose your net its hard to think about anything else but the expectations – finding a job immediately, moving out, paying off your student loans, or even just the expectation that you know who the f*** you are or what you want to do
I was forced to become comfortable in my own skin and confident with myself before I could do anything else. When you create a foundation of security within yourself everything else falls into place.
When I think about my experience traveling after graduation, and the stress I had around what “stuff” I was going to pack or what souvenirs I could bring home to my friends – No material thing played any role in the best thing I got from independent travel.
My own net.
I traveled to discover me.