Adventure, Ask Me Anything, Personal Development, The Great Adventure

Why Didn’t You Lose Your Mind and Go Nuts Being Alone?

Photo by Evan Mitchell

I just received another great question from Pixi. She asks:

“You have mentioned in blog posts about how being a fellowship of one wasn’t super awful, you met a ton of cool people along the way, and how you found friends and supporters all along the route. But I am interested to hear more of your internal process on that front. If you want to share… What was it like doing it on your own when you had planned to have people?”

I think loneliness is normal when wandering. For those of us who have never fit in it’s even more pronounced—even among our friends or loved ones we feel alone. So the journey can be intensely lonely at times, but it will eventually show you your role in life. Your purpose.

That sense of purpose is a big part of why I didn’t feel so alone on this trip. I will admit that when I first found out it was just me, in Saltillo, I was worried. I had been pretty miserable bicycling Texas on my own. I expected it to be a repeat of that, hard days and lonely nights. But a lot had changed since Texas.

For one thing, by the time I started the Mexico leg I had a very clear idea of my job in life: I’m a writer. When you know your purpose it’s easy to feel like you have a place in the world, even if you’re alone or don’t fit in. And writing gave me a lot to keep me busy. Nights that might have been “lonely” for others often involved drafting road logs or outlining short stories. If anything, I felt like I didn’t have enough writing time.

The surroundings were also different. Texas is boring. It’s essentially one endless plain of cookie cutter towns. But Mexico is beautiful. Every town in Mexico has its own unique character that’s different from the next place down the road. I had a sense of discovery every day. It’s not that there were no repetitive or difficult parts, but I could always look forward to something new up ahead.

(It helped that I was a successful freelancer now, and stayed in cheap hotels every night. Basic comfort makes other hardships easier to endure.)

Last, I just had more confidence. Early in my trip I struggled to know that what I was doing was important. I looked outward for affirmation from other people, as if people joining me would mean the trip was worthwhile. But that’s not really where meaning comes from. Before the Mexico trip, I proved that I could attract lots of interest and excitement—14 fascinating people wanted to come along, and countless others helped support it. But by then I didn’t really even need anyone else’s affirmation. It’s my journey and I’m doing it for my own reasons. Whether others join doesn’t change that.

Within about a week after Saltillo I was having fun and knew this was going to be a good trip. I never seriously questioned it after that. I knew my purpose, and with a purpose nothing feels overly hard.

At least, that’s my experience.

Have a question? Ask me anything. 

Spotlight, The Heroic Life, Travel

I told a friend I would never be happy

Used without permission from Jodi Ettenberg.

This is an excerpt from an essay by Jodi Ettenberg.

A long time ago, I told a friend that I would never be happy in life. That my brain was too whirry and too busy thinking of all the things I could/should/will be doing and never able to focus on the present. How can someone be happy if they’re thinking of something else all the time? In the last few years, however, I came to accept the fact that this overarching, fuzzy idea of happiness couldn’t be my goal. It was unrealistic, and I felt that I was failing  – people were writing to say “oh, you’re living the dream!” — but internally I was struggling with what I was doing and why I was doing it.

What I was feeling made sense given that I got here by accident (as in, I didn’t quit my job to be a travel writer or seek happiness), but I still needed to parse through my thoughts and also take stock of who I had become after many years of travel.

* * *

I use the term “building a life” a lot lately. It’s become my preferred expression to discuss my choices because there is such weighted agency in it – I, Jodi Ettenberg, chose this path. It has been a fallback to say I got here by accident — factually accurate, no less — but relying on kismet or coincidence also lets me off the hook for the hard and very damaging decisions I made in leaving New York. I left a place and people I loved, and a career that was going well for me.  It’s true that I didn’t do this to “be” happy or because I was burned out. But regardless, I did it because I wanted to see the world, and the pull of that otherness – not just to see it on a short vacation, but to live it and get my hands dirty – it drew me in. It became bigger than me, a restlessness that corroded. It grew and it grew until I had to act on it; ignoring it was just hurting people around me and myself.

When I left for what I thought would be a year, I found that the restlessness dissipated. I wasn’t looking to travel around the world indefinitely. That’s never been an aim. However, the restlessness was replaced by an extraordinary curiosity for just about everything I saw. I wanted to build a life around that curiosity. All of the work I do – the consulting, the food writing, the blog – is to facilitate that, and to enable me to see and experience more of the little things in life. In acknowledging this shift away from restlessness and toward learning, I came a long way to accepting more of where I am today. I’m making choices only for me, which is not something everyone has available to them.

Jodi is different than other travel bloggers. She speaks about her own experience and doesn’t try to sell you on anything. Here, she really inspires me by showing that travel really does work as a practice—one that helps you find your purpose and live by your values. And that means it also works as a lifestyle. 

This is one of my favorite articles about travel. I hope you will read the rest and share your thoughts. 

In the last year you have helped me launch an adventure, complete a novella (currently in editing) and fund a community atelier of magic. You are the best readers in the world. Thank you. 

Adventure, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

To Wander Is the Purpose

Photo by Matso

I’m in a house. One place for six months, but I’m not settled down. My house feels strange, alien, sometimes uncomfortable. Why have I signed a contract that says I must be in one place? Why have I stopped for six months, when the windy road in the morning is all that calls to me?

Renunciation. I never loved that word, not as such, but I gave up my home, my belongings, and my job. I even gave up my temple. A higher path called to me, and these things are no ladder to reach it. As any backpacker knows, the first thing you do is chuck stuff. You packed too much, the bag’s too heavy. A journey of the spirit begins the same way.

But I saw this chucking as pragmatic. It’s not that I didn’t want a house; I just couldn’t afford to keep one and travel. The road says otherwise. It turns out, New Orleans teaches me, I don’t want a house at all.

Religion, too, I’ve renounced. Not denied—I will always abide my vows. But the path of the repeat customer, the path of the teacher-and-student, the path of community celebration, these are not going to take me up the river. I adore them; they are fine tools. I do not, will not mock religion. But when I see the man who still uses these tools, I see a man with a different face, on a different road with unsimilar hopes.

Some days I don’t seek the divine at all, but I won’t pretend I found it.

In the morning my creed catches in my throat. I make sacrifice, I sit before my god—what do I say? What is the oath, the mission I will swear today?

I am on a mission, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know the purpose of my journey, or why I move on. So I’m a wanderer. A dirty, aimless wanderer.

On Esplanade there are kids in brown pants and dirty coats. They’re travelers. Not one of them states a purpose. They tell jokes and ask for money. People spit on them.

So spit on me.

I wear a nice shirt, I wear a designer wool jacket. These kids ask me for money. I’m not their colleague. But I am the outsider just like them. My feet need sand, just like them.

Is it wrong to wander without purpose? Of course: it means you do nothing for Society, and that makes society frown. If you’re not trying to get somewhere, you might not work too hard to get there. A wanderer is next to a freeloader. That’s a sin.

No one loves a sinner except rock songs and reverends. So when I declared my journey I declared a purpose. Purpose is poetry, purpose is soul. I said: meet the gods. 

I hope to. But this is not something you plan. There are no steps to take toward it. When you get up in the morning and make a little list, what do you write: meet the gods? Go the gods’ house? Set up a god call?

There is no bridge to where I’m going. I can’t have faith in any path. So my faith is in the journey.

The most selfish journey leads to enlightenment.

To wander is to see the invisible. It is to place yourself instantly out of the social order, out of normal life. The tourist, at least, fills a recognizable role; but the perpetual traveler departs the prescription of security and stability that society preaches.

From this vantage, the pain and the joy of human life come into tremendous focus. We value kindness more, and become kinder ourselves; we lose more, and learn to live with loss. If I had to design a seminary, I would say it’s this: travel. If I had to design an art school, I would say it’s this: travel.

How do you find the gods? You find yourself.

How do you find yourself? Run.

Adventure, Heroism, The Heroic Life

At the Edge of Something Greater

Sometimes, you have to want it.

I’ve never been a hero. Never. And I might spend a whole life adventuring and never reach that state. I don’t really care.

What matters to me is the power that heroism has over my own heart. If it wasn’t for the stories of great heroes I heard growing up, I wouldn’t be out here adventuring today.

And that’s the beauty: I may not be a hero, but I’m definitely an adventurer. The thrill of exploration is a song I hear on the wind.

Some smart people have told me that the ancient myths were not real value systems, because the average warrior can’t be Achilles. To me that’s missing the point. The myths are powerful proscriptions because the average warrior can love Achilles. They can yearn to be like him, and while only a few succeed, tens of thousands improve the world (and their happiness) by trying.

A heroic faith then has very little to do with becoming a hero, and everything to do with the inspiration that heroes give us. For me that inspiration is so powerful that it’s brought me to the edge of everything I love. I have given it all up to be here. I own a knife, a hatchet, and a pack full of tools: I surrendered everything.

And I never second guessed it, because for the first time in my life things felt right.

It can make you believe in fate, this feeling. What else can it be, when everything in your soul is yearning toward one end?

It’s a journeyman’s quest. It’s the love of my art that pulls me forward. I’m not even sure I can name what that art is, though to say writing would come close. I just know here is a tremendous spirit inside of me that’s waiting to be let out, a story that I’m supposed to tell. I don’t know what the story is yet, but it’s waiting to be told and I am the one to tell it.

There’s beauty in chasing your purpose. Like an illusionist, it has you cheering for something you don’t understand. But like a lover from the other world it has a plan for you and you’re eager to be complicit.

Life is precious, my friends. Minutes are expensive. Please, put them toward the things you truly love.