Today is the quintessential day of thanks. I woke up this morning and tried to think of all the things I’m thankful for. Of course there are the obvious–family, health, shelter, food, etc. But there is something that I particularly want to mention my gratitude for and that is the lifestyle I’ve led allowing me to be fortunate enough to see the world one country at a time.
It’s true that often what a person is thankful for is something they have set up for themselves and not purely a result of good luck, but we should be appreciative nonetheless. I’ve set myself up to live a life I love since high school, vowing never to pursue something solely for monetary gain but rather to find what I’m passionate about and go with it, regardless of it’s perceived potential to bring in money.
What I’ve found (and you’ve probably heard me preach this in the past), is that it doesn’t matter what you do–if you have a passion for it, that spark will shine through in your work and cause you to be successful. You could aspire to be a knitter of dog slippers for all I care–if it’s something you love and you stick with it, my prediction is that you’ll first become a YouTube sensation making tutorials and from that a successful doggy outerwear business will sprout!
My point is, I am thankful to have come to the point in my life where I get to see the fruits of my hard work and aspirations come to life. In 2016 alone, I have traveled to New Orleans, St. Lucia, South Africa, Traverse City, Peru, hiked the Manistee River Trail, and been on an inaugural cruise out of Florida on a ship that holds 6000 passengers. Not until now, listing all of these experiences, did I quite realize how fortunate I really am.
I’m also extremely thankful for the strength my relationships have gained through travel. Most notably with my fiance. Early on in or relationship, it was somewhat of a strain for me to be traveling as much as I was, but our relationship has grown beyond that and now it is commonplace. The mutual trust between us overcomes any worry and the time we each spend doing what is individually important to us has honestly made us stronger. My only hope is that one day he’ll be able to join me on a few more of my adventures! Until then, though, we are both content and me going away periodically is no longer a subject of contention. A relationship that has overcome some of the obstacles ours has can be nothing but the strongest.
Not only has travel strengthened my existing relationships but it has allowed me to create countless new ones. I’ve met people on the road who will now be lifelong friends. I can’t even count how many times a travel companion has graciously offered me a bed should I ever need one in San Diego, Winnipeg, Toronto, Panama City, and many other cities around the world. I’m extremely excited to have friends all over the world and to keep in touch with them over the years–and who knows, maybe even travel together again in the future!
Another thing that travel has given me is assurance in myself and my ability to make sound decisions. I remember my first solo trip–I sure didn’t choose a place close to home but rather ventured off to Indonesia, a destination like nowhere else I’d ever been before. Prior to that trip, a multitude of doubts passed through my mind–why am I doing this? This is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I’m going to get abducted or lost or worse. I even wrote a blog post about my feelings of nervousness and lack of confidence before embarking on a big trip.
As I was exploring around Bali and Lombok all on my own–trekking, arranging, communicating with locals and other travelers, I could feel my confidence growing. “I’m actually doing this,” I thought. When I returned home I remember thinking that all of the things I was nervous about were for naught. I survived! Since that first hurtle of a trip, I’ve already taken three more solo trips and now I don’t even think twice. I used to let not having a travel partner limit me. I booked flights to Iceland about 3 months ago and have yet to find a concrete travel buddy or even accommodation! Something about this feeling of independence is liberating and I’m so grateful to be able to move forward achieving my travel goals regardless of what anybody else is doing. Because I trust myself.
And the last (but not least) thing that I’ve gained through my life of travel is an appreciation for home that I never had before. Solo travel has made me more independent but it has also done a bit of the opposite. It has made me appreciate the comfort that home provides me with. When I leave on my own, I gain experiences that I will remember forever and wouldn’t trade for anything, but I also feel a sense of relief every time I embark on that flight home.
I have the privilege of saying that I have a warm and comfortable home near to my family in the suburbs of Michigan and I couldn’t love it any more than I do. I have a dog that jumps with joy when she sees me again after a long trip. I have the ability to go to dinner with my parents, go shopping with my sister, play cards with my brother, and sleep in my own bed. These joys are what have convinced me that a life of perpetual travel is not for me.
I think I used to see these things as a hindrance–holding me back from a life of constant wandering to the edges of the world. I thought that was the life I wanted but over the last few years I’ve seen that what I have is far better than that. I have the best of both worlds, I get the comforts of home and the exploration of travel all in one wonderful package. I’ve realized on some of my longer trips that the loneliness of long term travel isn’t for me. I’m too much a creature of routine to do well living out of a suitcase.
Traveling around the world to exotic destinations has also made me see that I don’t ever want to be a resident of any country other than the U.S. Back when my travel urge was just beginning and I was feeling a bit overzealous, I thought I wanted to live in a treehouse in the rain forest somewhere in Central America or the Caribbean. I have since realized that I love to visit those backdrops, but I also love the safety, security, and organization of everyday life in the United States, and perhaps I love it too much to give up. We in the U.S. are often more fortunate than we’re willing to admit when we really think about our standard of living as compared to that in many other countries.
So with that I will wrap this up by saying that I am most thankful for having come to these conclusions, because so often people take things for granted or constantly wish for more than they have (or what they think will be more), but never find that satisfaction with where they are in that moment. I can honestly say that right now I’m content right where I’m at. Sure, there are things I could improve on and goals I may reach for in the future, but for today, our yearly day dedicated to thanks, I’m simply appreciative for who and what I have in this moment and for travel allowing me to appreciate more deeply these aspects of life every other day of the year.
CAITLYN WITHOUT A COMPASS