The Point In Traveling
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
Let me paint the scene: I’m sitting with friends at a café terrace, in the old town of Bucharest, enjoying their company and a nice Prosecco. Hot topic of the evening: My latest trips. Alright, maybe not so much, I’ll admit to bragging a little… anyway. One of my friends interrupted one of my stories and asked, derisively might I add: “Why the need to travel so much? What’s the point?!” Although I avoided the question and quickly brushed it off at first, it really hit a nerve. I was caught off guard and didn’t know how to respond. I could sense a mix of envy and frustration coming from the inquirer, but I had never expected that someone would ask me such a question. In my mind, it was clear: How could anyone not understand the meaning of traveling and all that it represents?
Following this abrupt conversion, I began questioning my need for, and attraction to, traveling altogether. I began to allow myself to acknowledge the fact that travelling simply may not be everyone’s cup of tea. At the same time, I realised that doing so also evoked memories of how a few of my relatives had criticised my wanderlust in the past.
Me being me, ever since, I’ve felt the need to “clear the air” if you will, or at least provide a straight-up answer. If I could go back to that conversation, here’s how I’d reply:
I was raised in a multicultural family and my parents moved around the world a lot. My French father and Haitian mother were both serial international entrepreneurs, and I was on my first flight just one or two months after my birth. That moment pretty much set the tone for the rest of my life and I like to say that I simply inherited the traveling chromosome.
But it’s more than that.
You see, I also grew up in a dysfunctional family. As a child and teenager, I was very much neglected, abused both emotionally and physically. My father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my teens, and had to be sent away to a psychiatric hospital. To top it all off, I was relentlessly bullied at school. My “perfect little princess’ upbringing-bubble,” as referred to by my parents, was violently burst in my teen years. As I painfully watched my father self-destruct and sabotage his life to death, I also lived through my mother’s absolute denial of it all. I knew I had to get out, and I chose to do what I knew best: Travel. Admittedly, on the verge of my eighteenth birthday and just after my high school graduation, I ran away from home, to another country. Traveling had become my escape plan.
With no money nor support, I was forced to change my mindset and fend for myself. Up until then, I had been groomed by a prestigious French Lycée and was destined to enrol in an elitist university - just like most of my peers. But my cards had been dealt differently. What caused me shame for many years slowly became my strength and pride. I came to realise that I had nothing to envy of anyone, and that my lack of formal higher education (which I perceived as my biggest complex) was in fact shadowing all the incredible things I truly had to offer. At the age of eighteen, I was a polyglot: at the time, I was already fluently using four languages, I had top-notch communication skills, great adaptation capabilities, as well as a broad experience of the world, it’s geography and its many different cultures. What I used to consider “excessive traveling,” gave me the ability to thrive in complex and challenging situations which, in turn, equally served me quite well at work. This whole time, the world had been my playground, and travelling a school of life.
With the primary objective of becoming financially independent, I quickly accepted my first job opportunity: flight attendant. That’s right! I kind of just came across this job, trained for the position and funny enough, traveling had suddenly become a form of work.
Unfortunately, the airline I was working for at the time went bankrupt two years later, and I was let off along with the other employees. Needless to say, my added experience allowed me to easily land a second job as a multilingual assistant for a few executives in the telecommunications industry. Little did I know, but this second employment was the stepping stone to my fifteen-years telecom career. I gradually climbed the corporate world’s ladder and went on to holding management, locking in both senior and executive positions on all five continents. I hired and mentored hundreds of people, rolled out numerous challenging projects for multinationals and became a relatively successful international business executive. Above it all though, I was very lucky to meet my husband on one of my very first assignments. Traveling brought me love.
We got married, and over the years, we continued working and relocating around the world together. And we lived this way for several years, until we decided to settle down for a little while and have a baby. It had taken me many years to get to where I was, to work through, recall and accept my past traumas, process them and attempt to rebuild myself as an adult. As if my youth hadn’t been traumatic enough, my motherhood was marked by not one but three consecutive miscarriages, followed by a stillbirth. This last event was devastating for me and I won’t hide the fact that I almost lost my mind. Losing an unborn child unexpectedly so late in pregnancy almost killed me. I felt I had been so strong until then, so determined to thrive and accomplish something with my life, right up until that very moment. That time… It hit too hard, it hurt too much, my world was crashing down around me and I just couldn’t take it. I wanted to die… and a part of me did. And as I laid in my hospital bed, completely numb from the physical and emotional pain, all I can remember is closing my eyes and eluding to the thought of sailing away with my husband. Far away. Where nothing and no one else existed, because nothing really mattered to me anymore. The very last shred of hope I could hold on to was traveling.
Being the romantic and idealist that I am, that fourth loss sunk me deep into depression. I underwent a long psychotherapy battling anxiety, guilt and fear, ultimately managing to fight through a fifth pregnancy. No medical causes to my miscarriages were ever found despite all the research undergone. I thus spent nine months in bed, absolutely hands down terrified, under four different doctors’ supervision and twelve preventive treatments. I finally gave birth to a beautiful healthy baby boy in the Spring of 2017. Still blinded by trauma, I couldn’t believe I was actually having a baby until I brought him back home. It took me a good year after his birth before I could even let my guard down somewhat and accept the possibility that nothing else would go wrong. During this bitter-sweet period, the only true moments where I was capable of sitting back and letting go of my fears was during the vacation trips we took once our baby was born. When traveling, my anxiety and fears concerning my son completely vanish. I have no other way to describe it. It was then that I felt safe. Traveling was my refuge, my cure, my release and therapy.
My son’s birth empowered me. It helped me move on from my somewhat tumultuous past, to assessing the present and questioning my overall purpose in life. If I was going to bring up a child in this world, then I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and get my shit together. I had no intention of taking part in the “vicious cycle” either, I didn’t want to repeat damaging patterns from my own childhood, of course, and I realised that I had to change my ways and learn how to be a parent, basically from scratch. Career-wise, doing business in the corporate world had never really been my passion, it was more of what my parents had wanted for themselves, as well as a breadwinning activity for me. True, I did well in the field, but I wanted my life to be more meaningful and representative of myself. Over the course of three years, I experimented with a few entrepreneurial projects which led me to pinpoint even more specifically what I wanted as a profession. I now knew I wanted my career path to revolve solely around traveling. It was the core of my very existence. And I wanted it to become my life’s purpose, too.
After moving between countries thirteen times, and visiting over forty countries for work, leisure and living, it’s safe to say that traveling is well within my comfort zone. But I wasn’t always at ease with the idea and I often questioned the reasons behind my lust for the world. With time, I came to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with being a nomad. I’ve been called a foreigner, a traveler, an explorer, a migrant, an adventurer, an expatriate, a resident, a tourist, a gypsy and an alien; and you know what? I don’t mind. If having a baby helped me accept and embrace who I am, then finding my true self came from traveling.
I may not be religious, but traveling was my redemption. I have no vices, and traveling gave me a sense of dignity. Today, I thank my parents for passing on this insatiable sense of curiosity for the world to me, as well as for all the positive effects traveling has had on my life. In many ways, traveling has saved me. I held on to travelling, or the next coming opportunity for such, as if it were a life raft and it’s the only thing I’ve ever done completely naturally, passionately and with absolute certainty. Traveling has widened my lens; I had to listen, learn, grow and change. It has taught me how to reach beyond my limiting beliefs and has given me a sense of identity. Traveling is my freedom, and I am entirely at peace when facing the unknown.
This is my very own raw truth and sharing it with you my catharsis. I am and exist where wander and discovery thrive.
To my friend who originally asked why I felt the need to travel: I hope this answers the question.
Sarah The Digital GypSea
Romania, July 2019