Onwards, onwards: Notes on five years of travel.
“And so, onwards… You have it in your power to merge everything you have lived through – false starts, errors, delusions, passions, your loves and your hopes – into your goal, with nothing left over.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche
This week five years ago, I stepped on a plane bound for London.
I was fresh out of college and, like all good English majors, clueless as to what I wanted to with my life. I’d spent the last year ping-ponging around job options, considering many and deciding on none – au pair in Paris, marketing assistant at a publishing company in New York, teacher at a boarding school in the UK.
Not only did I have no idea what I wanted to do, but I had no idea where I wanted to be. All I had was a vague belief that if I didn’t get out and see the world, I’d regret not doing so later.
* * *
A month before my college graduation in 2008, I attended an end-of-the-year banquet. Two of the first people I saw that night were my friends Kim and Emily. We had known each other from the time we were freshmen, but not hung out much during our last year.
Even still, the first thing Kim said to me when I walked up to her was, “Candace, come to London with us!”
I’ll always wonder what prompted her to say that. I’d known Kim and Emily were planning to move there together after graduation, on a six-month working visa through a company called BUNAC. But as jealous as I’d been of their plan, I also felt I couldn’t just invite myself along.
Their invitation was serendipitous, and three months after graduation, we set off for the UK. Once in London, we all found jobs and a one-bedroom flat in Chelsea, whose biggest perk was arguably an elevator – I mean lift – whose walls were lined with mirrors.
It became something of a tradition for us that at the end of a night out, we would take a self-portrait (or what’s now known as a “selfie”) in the mirror as the elevator carried us back up to our third-floor flat.
I think it was our attempt at documenting how it felt to be young and at large in the world – a freedom I’d never known was possible.
* * *
In the five years since our fateful move to Europe, life has never ceased to amaze me. I’ve found myself on a black pearl farm in French Polynesia, swimming in a rooftop pool at 4am on Sumatra, racing through India on a rickshaw, and watching the sun rise over New Zealand while horseback.
And yet, as strange as it is to believe, it’s never really been about travel for me. Travel – especially long-term travel – isn’t the answer for everyone, but I’ve come to believe that being open to possibility is. For me, travel has been my way of learning to live out this openness.
It is this twinning of journeys that keeps me moving forward. At the end of every year, I had a sense that the work wasn’t through – that the changes taking place in me in London, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, etc., needed more of the time and space that travel affords.
If there’s anything these last five years on the road have taught me, it’s this: Life takes time to figure out. The path we’re meant to follow isn’t always clear, and it’s important not to rush the process of discovering the right path.
Travel has been a conduit for me to learn this, teaching me to love the journey – and its detours – as much as the destination.
* * *
Earlier this summer, I went back to my university for my fifth year reunion, and the two people I was most excited to see were Kim and Emily. I saw Emily first, on the steps of the Rotunda around which our school has always revolved, while Kim and I reunited later in front of Alderman Library.
The weekend was filled with reminiscing, much of it about our experiences while we were in college – late night cram sessions, bagel runs to Bodo’s, football games. And given the point of the weekend, it would certainly make a lot of sense for us to recall those years.
But even still, my mind was somewhere else: in London, at the beginning of the journey these last five years have seen me on.
All I could think about was how lost and direction-less I was when Kim and Emily invited me to join them on their adventure, and about where life has led me since. I wanted to return for our reunion as a way of coming full circle – returning to a place I had left in confusion and marking where I am now.
At the end of our big reunion dinner on Saturday night, we made our way back to a parking garage on campus. Emily had left her car on the fourth floor and, feeling lazy, we opted to take the elevator.
The steel doors soon opened and in we piled, but it wasn’t until we’d reached the second floor that it hit me:
“Girls, we’re in an elevator.”
As soon as the significance of the moment had sunk in, we were all reaching for our cameras. Even if there wasn’t a mirror, we would make the photo happen – it was the only way to honor the final full-circle moment of the weekend.
Requisite selfie taken, we began parting ways, and the last thing Emily said to me was, “Onwards, onwards.”
Her words stayed with me for long after we said goodbye – for it’s this very sense of possibility and forward motion that keeps me moving through the world, as well as through life.
* * *
I’m thinking of Emily’s poetic words even now, as I spend a final few hours in Seattle before heading south again to San Francisco. It isn’t that I want to leave, but as always, there are things urging me onwards to the next adventure.
Anniversaries – whether they be for a relationship or just a major decision – are a way of marking our journey through this crazy thing called life, and as I celebrate five years of making my home in the world, I’m filled with gratitude and wonder at the doors which travel has opened for me, and for the lessons it has taught me.
It’s something I always try to come back to here on the blog – that travel can be about so much more than a physical trip. It’s a chance to explore new territory, both in the world and inside ourselves.
It’s a chance to give our questions the time and space they need to reach their answers.
It’s a chance to figure out the path we’re meant to lead.
Emily said it best – Onwards, onwards, my friends.
Thank you as always for following along my journey – here’s to the next five years!