part of the BootsnAll Indie Travel Challenge Project
How has travel changed your life? Can you pinpoint a single moment – a day, an hour, a split second – when you knew that things had changed? How did that change impact your life, both on your travels and at home?
of all things, a bus ride was my transformative moment, though i don’t think i recognized it at the time. i’ve been contemplating this blog post over the past couple days, and i can safely put my finger on the ride back from český krumlov to prague as the point at which i opened a new chapter in my life.
on the surface, yes, it was the end of a week-long trip, but beyond that, it was the culmination of a handful of disparate, yet intertwined inner changes that started nearly a decade prior.
first, some background (tl;dr: i used to be shy and had low self-esteem)
growing up, i was an introvert; in hindsight i was really insecure and overly self-conscious. that was evident in how i hated going into stores if i was the only customer there (thinking all the salespeople would be staring at me) or eating alone or, well, any sort of activity where i could be judged without the comfort and safety net of being in a group of friends.
i went out of state for college (1995) and, for the first time, starting feeling truly alive. it was there that i started emerging from my metaphorical shell. slowly but surely, i started coming into my own and being comfortable with myself. i was free from the confines of my overprotective parents (excellent parents who first introduced me to travel, but think tiger mom but with church thrown in as well) and high school (where i had a blast, but i was sheltered and pigeonholed in the nerd clique). i finished college with expanded horizons and dwindling insecurities.
over the next couple of years i flourished (heh), to the point of being probably unrecognizable (and unfathomable) to the me of a decade earlier. i learned to be myself, with no apologies.
fast foward to january of 2005
i’m not quite sure what all possessed me to go alone, backpacking and hosteling, at the ripe old age of 27. i think a lot had to do with the way i was feeling (and somewhat still do), that i had to reclaim a lost youth. sure, i enjoyed travel and had been to europe and india and hong kong before, but that was with family or friends, and there was still that whole college backpack around thing that eluded me. i figured a week in the czech would be a fine start. it only made sense to try a solo trip: it was what everything was building up to.
i bought a plane ticket, booked some hostels, bought a backpack, and off i went! who knew it would bloom into a passion for travel and the dawning of a new age! (ok, perhaps that’s a bit grandiose, but really, for me, it was.)
yes. the bus ride. it was on that ride, in hindsight, since i can now connect the dots, that i proved to myself that i was my own man. i was no longer the guy who would get flushed and sweaty with just the thought of buying clothes at the gap. i triumphed, empowered and emboldened from a week alone in a foreign country, where i made friends with people i never thought i would or could be friends with, where i explored an entire city with no support system save a printout of sightseeing hotspots and a camera. from then on, i knew this was something i had to keep doing.
my seatmate on that three-hour bus ride was the girl who shared the hostel room in český krumlov with me. we talked and listened to each other’s music and laughed and it was just so different, so something i would never have done before. i was a new man.
and i discovered that the new me feeds on travel and encountering the world.
i do not lament the fact that it took me so long to begin to feel comfortable in my own skin, and i love that this continuing transformation is so tightly coupled with getting on a jet plane and discovering humanity (including my own!). the ultimate effect is that with each trip i not only learn more about the human experience, but i prove to myself that i am continually becoming a better person. both of these facets are incredibly alluring for me: there is not one day that passes where i don’t daydream about going somewhere. some might call it unhealthy, but it’s what keeps me sane.
random side note: i still remember passing by this nuclear power plant on that bus, thinking how i’ve never been so close to one before.