Gaze down. There is nothing but a hundred-foot drop and waves crashing against rocks.
Gaze out. There is nothing but weeks and weeks at sea until you finally reach the outstretched arm of America. You are at the brink, baby.
Cabo da Roca, Portugal is the Western-most tip of Europe. It is the teetering edge of land before endless miles of ocean.
As I stood there in the whipping wind with my brother, I realized: I was at the brink, myself!
Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I was a wreck after flying out of West Africa on March thirty-first, 2010. At that moment, I went from three months in the cozy, tight embrace of the Youth Creating Change of Ghana family to… untethered, uncentered hostel life in expensive, chilly Europe. Everything around was gorgeous! But I felt like trash.
My entire body pulsed with aches, and my head was in a permanent fog. “I feel like I could sleep all day and all night and still be exhausted,” I croaked to my brother as we boarded the flight from Madrid to Portugal.
“We’ll need to do some serious self-care and life analysis this week in Portugal,” my brother soothed me. He was exhausted, too. Being a teacher in California is hectic, and he needed this vacation!
I tried to calm down, relax, and enjoy the moment, but a bubbling crisis started to race through my veins: What the heck was I doing with my life? What was the point of all this? Eight months, now, bouncing hither and thither! Eight months and one month still left to go?! Where was this all headed?
I became seized with a days-long bout of homesickness as I realized: nearly all the goals I set for this year of travel could be accomplished… right back at home. Here, look:
Liberty: Is travel really making me more free? In fact, as a woman traveling alone, it turns out I now have far LESS freedom than I did before. In Boston, I know all the paths, all the police stations, and all the secrets. I can walk alone at night, bop from place to place, and say and wear what I please.
But can I do this in a beach alone in Thailand? In a small town in Africa? In a European city where I don’t know a soul? Not so much. I was freer than I likely will ever be in my life, right back home in Boston.
Love: To be real, a major reason I flew out of my old life was to open my heart. When you force yourself beyond your comfort zone and make yourself vulnerable, you can connect with new people on a new, incredibly profound level. Let’s face it: I’m twenty-eight and, well, you know the rest. But on a certain level, what was I thinking?! How can you fall in long-term, fabulous love if you’re always moving?
As for my overarching goal to embrace love of world humanity, yes, that has been DEEPLY fulfilled by these travels. But that said, this moving away every few weeks things is heartbreaking no matter how you slice it. In our first few days in Portugal, I felt myself closing up, closing up, closing up as protection. Those first two nights, my brother was a social powerhouse, meeting new folks and scoping out the glittering new towns…. while I just slept and slept– and still felt tired! Oh my. Something had gone wrong.
Laughter: There were two facts I failed to take into account in making belly laughs a goal of this journey. One: senses of humor are extremely different in different geographical areas, meaning you spend a lot of time, when traveling in other countries, watching others guffaw uproariously, while you have no idea why, desperately wish you had the understanding to join in.
Two: when you laugh, you are soft and vulnerable, and when you’re a woman traveling alone, being soft and vulnerable is often inadvisable. For these reasons, I realized suddenly that there have been entire swaths of this journey in which I haven’t laughed at all. I’ve tried, but it hasn’t been a deep, belly laugh. Scientifically, this has officially been proven extremely unhealthy! People need to laugh to grow and heal! I ached remembering how much I laughed back in Boston.
Learning: It was at this point in the consideration of my original goals that it all came into place. In terms of learning, this year abroad has been deeper and richer than all my past three years put together.
Indeed, my first and second years of teaching English in Boston would tie for it, but this year of traveling around the world, I have learned so freaking much I can’t even begin to describe. Oh wait: I CAN begin to describe the learning… and it is pasted in the nearly three hundred articles of this blog!
Okay — phew — this whole traveling around the world thing HAS been worthwhile after all!
Maybe you won’t believe me because it is so damn literary and I am an English teacher who’s a sucker for symbolism, but I swear to you that it was on that cliff at the brink of Europe that I actually started to step back from the brink of despondency and renew my passion for this world journey. Oh my dear brother, thank you for helping me think it all through!
Why am I sharing these soul-searching, overly naked words with you? Because I spend a lot of time on this blog blabbing about how great travel is, and how easy and perfect it can be, but the reality is that you have to constantly be reflecting, reassessing, and readjusting to keep it worthwhile and happy!
And despite my renewed happiness about this trip, the reality remains: there was so much I had back at home– liberty, love, laughter, and learning– that I didn’t realize.
So if you’re home right now, look around and appreciate it… because I don’t think I adequately did!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!