The Great Affair: A Decade of Travel (2010-2019)

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” 

– Robert Louis Stevenson

I’ve been thinking quite a bit over the past few months about what I would write about in a “Reflections on the Decade” post, as so many others have been publishing as the 2010s draw to a close and the 2020s begin. It goes without saying that I love a good chance to reflect. Truly, never pass one up. But reflecting on an entire ten years of my life, my first ten years of adulthood, seemed a bit too overwhelming, even for me.

But when I was pondering, and trying to put into words, what the 2010s have meant for me, and how I could possibly begin to express that, what thread I could use to connect who I was at the very beginning of the decade to the person I had become by the very end, the answer seemed almost too obvious: travel.

Ten years ago, I rang in the new decade on a flight to Paris. I was eighteen years old, a freshman in college, and on my way to spend a semester abroad in France, which I’d always dreamed of doing. But the opportunity came earlier than I’d expected it do, and I didn’t feel ready to go. I’d never been out of the country before, I’d never been anywhere before, really. A brief trip to San Diego six months before and a scholarship trip to Washington D.C. the summer after my Junior year of high school had been my only sojourns out of the South. And I was scared.

And though there were some bumps along the way, that semester in France changed my life in a way nothing else ever has. It gave me the freedom and the space I needed to embrace who I was, and the nerve and self-confidence I needed to begin believing that I could be who I wanted in life, and to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. It inspired me to dream bigger than I ever had before, and opened my eyes to reality that the world is wide, wider than you can possibly imagine growing up in a small town in Louisiana, and vast, and that it will open itself up to you if you open yourself up to it. That’s what travel does. It expands your worldview. It makes you smarter, and stronger, and better, and more resilient. It teaches you who you are, and shows you who you can be. And it makes you see everything in new light.

Those first five months in France set me on a course which, over the next ten years, led me to some of the wildest, most beautiful places in the world, and some of the very best, most memorable experiences of my life. It had always been my dream, for as long as I could remember, to see the world, but unfortunately seeing the world costs money. A lot of it. But growing up, I had no money. I was only able to go to France in the first place because I had won a scholarship, and while I was there, I wasn’t able to travel around like the rest of my study abroad friends because I couldn’t afford to. So when the semester ended and I returned home, I worked hard and made sacrifices because I knew I wanted to make travel a priority in my life. I worked three jobs to put myself through college and then made choices that I knew would allow me to earn a living that would make the kind of travel I wanted to do possible. And it has.

In graduate school, I spent another six months in Europe, living in Italy but traveling almost all of the time, and seeing just about every part of the continent that had been on my list. When I finished graduate school, I skipped the graduation ceremony and celebrated with a three-week trip to Australia. The following Christmas, I took my brother on a safari to Kenya and Tanzania. Seven months later, between quitting one job and beginning a new (my current) job, I spent a week in Peru. Over Christmas/New Years that year, I took my other brother on a two-week journey through China. In 2019, I spent a week in Egypt for my birthday, and rang in 2020 in the middle of tour around the golden triangle of India. Between 2016 and 2019 I also took multiple trips to each of Canada, Mexico and the U.K., and well as a number of places in the U.S.

Some trips have been better than others, to be sure, but all of it has been magnificent. I’ve never regretted a single second. Traveling, for me, is when I feel most alive, and most fulfilled. It’s almost always stressful, and it’s usually expensive and exhausting, but I LOVE it. It makes me feel like I am doing something special, something important, something worthwhile with my life, not just withering it away, which (as I’ve written about ad nauseous here) has always been my greatest fear. And on a simpler level it just makes me happy. Other than film/art, it has been the great love of my life, and it’s what has, by and large, defined the 2010s for me. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

As I wrote earlier, this decade was the beginning of adulthood for me, of becoming the person I am now. On New Year’s Day 2010, I was 18 years old. On New Year’s Day of this year, I was 28. The time between those two days was a time of great change for me, of great learning and growth. Of figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be, and beginning the process of creating the life I want for myself. And travel has been such a massive part of that process for me. It’s guided me and inspired me and informed me. It’s been the single most important aspect of the decade-long “Eat Pray Love” journey I feel I’ve been on over the last ten years.

And as I’m reflecting on those years now, I realize that perhaps it’s not so much the places I’ve traveled to that have been so important to me, but the travel itself. The going. The moving. The being afraid and not letting it stop me. The chasing, of dreams, of adventure, of experiences or passport stamps, whatever. The seeking. The striving for more, for different, for a better understanding of the world and of myself. Because that is me. That’s who I am. Those are the things that define me. And travel has taught me that. It’s shown me who I am, while also showing me how to be who I am, and allowing me to be it. And that’s pretty fucking cool.

So, where next? Well, Thailand, Cambodia, Brazil, Argentina and Hawaii this year, hopefully. Next year, Israel and Jordan for sure, and then Russia or Morocco maybe, or Iceland or Japan or South Africa. Who knows. But I’m not slowing down anytime soon. The decade may be over but I’m just getting started. I want to have seen the seven wonders of the modern world by the time I’m 30, and to have been to all seven continents, so I suppose I had better make like Cate Blanchett and start planning a trip to Antarctica soon.

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After all, like Bernadette Fox, we’ve all only got this one shot (at life). And I intend, in the years to come, to build on the previous decade continue making the most of mine.