The Haters, The What Ifs, And the Why Nots

When I graduated high school, I didn’t immediately head off into the Great Wild Wonder. I took a part-time job—or to be honest, a couple of them—so I could save money for traveling. It didn’t make me outrageously happy and it didn’t fulfill some dream I had of a great career; it was just a necessity, and I knew that I had to work hard to get where I was going.

So I did.

After I felt I had saved enough for the year of non-stop traveling that I had in mind, I quit. I made plans, I bought tickets, I whittled down my wardrobe to the essentials I knew I’d need. I began to say goodbye to my friends and family—which was the hard part.  And not because I wasn’t going to see them for a long time.

When you take off after your dream, there’s always a couple of loose nerves; the kind that run ragged without any help. They’re the ones that come sneaking in when your bus is late and you’re alone on a terminal in the dark, or when you’ve made a wrong turn and you can’t find your street on the map. In most circumstances, you’re fine. But occasionally, you find yourself doubting. And it’s all because of that one friend and their nagging words in the back of your mind.

“Claire, you’re not really doing this are you? I mean, I know you’ve been talking about it since we were kids. But don’t you want to get a good job and then travel for vacation? Have some security? I’m waiting until I can really afford it. Not what you’re doing. It’s just so…irresponsible.”

I had this one friend, right before I took a trip, whose advice I always respected; she was successful, content, and a really funny person with a great outlook on life. It’s why when I told her I was leaving and she told me I was being silly, I really took it to heart. It made me want to reconsider, change my plans. She’d been a great friend for as long as I could remember, and if she had doubts…did I?

I thought about not getting on the plane. I thought about cutting my trip short. I thought about throwing it all in the bin and just taking an extended vacation, and before heading off, sending my somewhat non-existent resume around. It did seem like a better plan.

But in the end I didn’t listen to her, or my loose nerves. I loaded my bags into the family Volvo on the day I had circled the calendar in a big, purple marker and I asked my mum drop me off at the airport early in morning. I didn’t say anything to my friend who had told me not to go; I didn’t want to give her another chance to tell me that I was making a mistake. And I didn’t want to give myself the chance to turn back and head home.

There’s always going to be that one person, or that one reason, holding you back, or making you second guess. There’s always going to be “not enough money” or “not enough time” or “not enough something.” It’s the nature of the world to leave something wanting.

But breaking away from what you know is never easy. And if you never do it, then you’ll never know exactly what you’re capable of. It’s not just about travelling, or going far away from home; it’s about challenging this life.

My first few days were nerve-racking, it’s true. I was on my own, I was young, and I was new to this. But as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and (unplanned) the months into years, I realized that not settling meant that I had fit into my days the life I had dreamed of since I could read National Geographic.

I’ve had days where I trimmed the finances to zilch, worn my jeans a few extra times than was normal between washings, and made my way to foreign police stations to report that my things had been stolen. But in the end, I wouldn’t have asked for a better life, a better experience, a better chance to chase after the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted.

I don’t talk to my friend anymore; I send her a postcard when I can, but we don’t Skype like we said we would when were seven and I was still pinning all of these destinations on the giant map on my wall. I wonder what she thinks when she gets them in the mail; thinks I’m gloating, or thinks about missing me, or wishes she’d given up her day job for something much less predictable, and a little less safe. I think about her a lot, and I think about what I would have been like if I had been as responsible as she; deep down, I always knew it wasn’t for me, but sometimes when the going gets rough, I still think about the “what if.”

It’s not the only “what if” I think about though, and it’s certainly not the most important. Now my what-ifs are out there in my next adventure, asking whether or not I have the guts to jump out of that plane in Prague or take that 13-hour hike in Belize or take a bite out of that dish I can’t pronounce in Bangladesh, because this world is full of incredible opportunities that are always disguised as what-if’s.

And if I’ve learned a single thing while I’ve been all over the world its that every once in a while, I’m going to ask myself, “What if they were right and I’ve made a huge mistake?” But instead of turning around and packing up, I just have to look up at the sunset, or the dawn, or whichever glittering view is right in front of my eyes and ask myself this instead: “But what if they were wrong?”

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