Things I Learned from Traveling in 2013

January 15, 2014

This past year has taken me across the globe, off the map, and back home again. From a stressful beginning in San Francisco to a whirlwind tour of Peru, I’ve had opportunities for adventure that I try to appreciate with every in breath and out breath.

When I started 2013, I was beyond burnt out. I had been working 10-12 hour days 6-7 days/week for a few months during the holiday season, and some of my coworkers were not helping to alleviate that stress. Honestly, that position in San Francisco, though high paying, was one of the most intense and stressful I’ve ever experienced. It took me months to physically calm down, and even longer to relearn how to relax.

I set out to make this past year one of discovery. Now that I was more financially stable, I wanted to devote my time into setting the groundwork for my passion, whatever that may be. Though in years past I’ve tried to simply be comfortable and just hope in my other pursuits something would come along that would spark, I wanted to use my savings to be more proactive in this search. I certainly had my share of despair, represented in blogs covering possibilities and on Facebook. I think my most astute observations came from this entry on the traveler’s experience:

I thought I’d find fulfillment in waking up on a different continent each day of the week (hyperbole, of course), that travel would help me find where I belong, something I could be happy doing for a long time. I thought travel might have been the solution. Then I noticed I was rather lonely, and didn’t want to walk that road alone. The travel experience, even when I was landing in new countries with completely foreign cultures, wasn’t as exciting to me anymore. Maybe this was due to dealing with young ignorant backpackers in the same hostel scenes. Or merchants eager to practice the same broken English on me. Or realizing I’ve had the same shallow conversations with others – even when discussing politics and culture – and never getting to a level of familiarity (due to time constraints or incompatibility) in which we could share feelings, deep desires, existential ideas.

Through all of this, I noticed my friends and family becoming increasingly concerned for my welfare. Though I certainly don’t make light of people suffering from depression and don’t consider myself immune from such thoughts, the idea that others I knew well thought my being angry at life and questioning where I would end up could be depression was insulting and just shallow. I was willing to put my thoughts to paper (computer, anyway), not to represent an unstable mental state, but to voice my concern about where I was going and how I would get there. Though I can’t fault friends for looking out for me, having only the window I provided them as guidance, I found their concerns condescending and indicative of just how not deep they were looking at my issue. In the case of non-travelers, I simply brushed them off as ignorant.

As an experienced traveler, I had to question what part of travel would make me excited again. I had already hopped on a plane for places unknown and learned to find comfort in what many of my countrymen would have considered uncomfortable circumstances.

…the level of comfort available in Europe, though it does allow for unique experiences, isn’t what I’m looking for in travel at the moment. I need danger. I need dirt, grime, poverty. I need a bus that has a chance of breaking down in the middle of the mountains or desert. I want extreme temperatures from the equator to within view of the Northern Lights.

I left San Francisco and stayed with my parents in April. I wasn’t exactly giving up, but I didn’t know where to go from there. Opportunities were passing me by left and right in California, and with everything that had happened over the holidays, I just lacked serious motivation to do anything but sit in front of the computer and research jobs. My brother was going to be married in June, I was having another birthday, and I knew I’d soon be surrounded by family questioning my path, and me not having a good answer (for them and for me).

By some stroke of luck I came across two good opportunities, and one backup: marketing organic food around southern California in the summertime, working as a traveling recruiting for a volunteer organization, and teaching for a few months in Arequipa, Peru. I left Texas to visit friends in Vancouver and Portland before the wedding, and found myself as a traveler again. I had never been to the American northwest, and had heard Vancouver was the most beautiful city in Canada. It truly was.

In the meantime, steady work from the marketing position, though a bit superficial, allowed me to save money Couchsurfing and explore San Diego and Los Angeles neighborhoods. I was starting to be capable of relaxing, feeling happy again.

Still, I knew nothing I was doing was ultimately what I was meant to do, what challenged me mentally, physically, and spiritually. The volunteer recruiting position took me to Charlotte, where I was to train with a group of twenty-odd people from around the world. I wish I could accurately describe what it meant to feel so out of place there. Here I was, in the countryside, in the summertime, surrounded by people whose goals were to travel and get others to do so. Not just for themselves, but to help in projects benefitting so many people. And yet I still felt no spark. I didn’t belong. I was the lone 31-year-old in a group of 20-somethings who honestly just seemed so unconcerned with whether this was “it”. I wanted this job to be it, but my feelings betrayed me.

So, what does one do when he quits a job and finds himself with a wad of cash and bags packed? Hop a plane. I called in my backup, teaching in Peru, as quickly as I could, making a quick stopover in Costa Rica to see a friend and staying in Lima with my SPG points before flying into Arequipa.

I wish I could say that my story ends here, that I fell so in love with Peruvian culture that I simply had to continue on in such a great land. Well… not so much. I did have quite the adventure, and would easily return. But, Peru is not where my passion lies; I was sick three out of the six weeks of my trip, was paid criminally low wages for teaching, and just didn’t connect with anyone in the expat community. It was an experience like that that made me realize just how lucky I was to have such good friends during my year in South Korea. Regardless, I did get to soak in aguas calientes, see the Nazca Lines from above, and take overnight buses without being held up at gunpoint.

Then, to finish up the year, I flew home for the holidays.

What have I learned? And relearned?

1. I have no intention of stepping into another job that makes me that stressed unless, while my body is gradually stripped away, my soul is rejuvenated; in other words, if it’s work that I’m truly passionate about.

2. I can’t relate to any of my family members anymore, nor do I even remember how. When I’m back, I’m simply a guest who’s trying to stay out of their way, and I think they realize this.

3. Finding my passion will take more than work; it will take greater discomfort, and association with people I may not yet know. Finding them, finding it, is my first priority… maybe second to chocolate.

4. I’m happier when I’m around friends, but I don’t do very well with people whose values and priorities are out of sync with mine, or simply disgust me, i.e. racists, sexists, immature louts, a-holes.

I’m writing from Korea once more, in the same town I was based my first year here. I know my passion doesn’t lie here, nor am I likely to meet that special someone while I believe my place lies elsewhere. Travel will continue to be part of my life in 2014, but from hereon out, my efforts, though still lacking direction, are at least a bit more focused. That focus will be on what I do best, what makes me happiest, and with whom I share my skills and happiness.

One Response to Things I Learned from Traveling in 2013

  1. Earl Goodson on January 16, 2014 at 2:05 am

    Oooh, great read Turner! Nothing really to say, just enjoyed reading as you sort out your Happiness. And thanks for sharing that video. Eternal Traveller Syndrome…Hum.

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