Allie’s (Somewhat) Complete Guide to Getting Lost

DSC_0324I have a love/hate relationship with getting lost. In theory, I like it. After I’m done being lost, I like crafting my episodes of lostness into humorous and/or eloquent tales to share with others. Even leading up to moments of feeling lost, I am reveling in the adventure of it all. I want to be the kind of person that jettisons the GPS and who embraces the moments of not knowing quite where I am.

But when I’m actually in that moment, of realizing that I don’t know where I am, and having to declare myself as officially “lost”, there is a rising panic and a discomfort that leaves me feeling spastic at best and spiraling into Identity-Crisis Level of Despair at worst. If I’m really honest, I prefer the comfort of certainty, having a plan, and knowing exactly where I am, where I’ve come from, where I’m headed and exactly how long it will take me to get there.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I think ahead to my Grand Adventure that is starting to take shape, my plan to travel solo down the West Coast this fall. For the most part, I feel a deep excitement and peace about this plan, even while acknowledging that parts of this trip will indeed be challenging, but “capital ‘G’ Good” as I like to say.

I was lying in my bed a few weeks ago, thinking about the spring break trip I was about to take with my friend and roommate, Clair. Part of us being able to afford this tropical getaway meant having an overnight, 12-hour layover in Dallas as well as sleeping in hostels while in Puerto Rico. I was thinking about the reality of what these accommodations would mean. Laying in my soft, decadently blanketed bed, I started dreading the discomfort that I was choosing to step into over the next week: slumped over in uncomfortable airport chairs, bunk-bedded sleeping in close quarters with strangers, living out of a backpack… Then it hit me—in a few short months, I am willingly signing up for this lifestyle, only more intense! I’m going to be essentially homeless! For months on end! I am choosing to say goodbye to this bed, this bedroom, this city I’ve become familiar with, this comfortable and predictable rhythm I’d been fostering over the last few years! What am I thinking?!?

My minor freakout didn’t last very long. The next morning, as I was writing some of these trepidations out, I recognized the voice of fear so easily. (Isn’t that often the case? Just like our four-year-old selves, the bogies of night time are much less scary after a solid night of sleep. They are easily diminished in the light of day. Please keep reminding me that I shouldn’t always take myself so seriously.) “Oh, hello Fear. I haven’t heard from you in awhile,” I wrote back with a knowing grin. “Yeah, I know adventure is uncomfortable. Certainty and Comfort seem like much safer companions than Mystery and Creativity. I see your point, but I don’t want to be tethered only to what feels easy. And if memory serves me well, I have never regretted stepping out into an adventure I feel invited to. The discomforts are indeed there, but they are overshadowed by Abundant Life. And I simply cannot, will not say no to that. While your thoughts are valid, they will not be determining my course of action.”

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I was reminded of the inevitability of uncertainty, difficulty, and getting lost in Adventure while I was in Puerto Rico. Getting from one place to another is just challenging when there is a language barrier and you have to rely on unreliable public transportation. Like I said, before the moments of getting lost I was all optimism and confidence, my dad’s mantra “It’ll all work out!” playing in my head. And it did in fact always “work out,” Clair and I feeling like such badasses for navigating our way, (in broken Spanish) figuring out all on our own how to get to where we were going. But, I’ll admit in the moments where the bus didn’t come, or I couldn’t find the car rental place and the ferry was leaving in twenty minutes, I wasn’t feeling quite as empowered. I wanted certainty and assurances like my nephew wants his blankie when he gets hurt. I wanted someone else to please take control and fix things for me. I tried to shove down my inner Spastic self that comes to the surface in these moments, tried to keep the “It’ll all work out” mantra playing, but my mind would be overtaken by worst case scenario what ifs, like an emergency broadcast alarm taking over my “regularly scheduled program” of calm, cool, and collected thoughts. I’m sure the edge in my voice was noticeable to those around me, even while I tried to feign an air of badassery. After several rounds of this nearly-missing-the-boat-but-it-actually-worked-out-perfectly, I came to this conclusion: in life (or at least in traveling) I need to expect that it’s going to be difficult, that roadblocks will come up, but also I need to trust that it will all work out in the end. Maybe if I start to expect it, then it will stop throwing me off as much in the moment. (Hopefully this isn’t me becoming jaded, just a move towards a less naïve optimism?)

The thing is, the disorientation of getting lost will probably never stop being not fun. But I do think it is a necessary part of journeys. And there is a cost to living in a world where there is only ever constant certainty.  We’ve gotten so used to instant precision and the comfort of verification through technology. Pull up the map app and see the blinking blue dot: You Are Here. Tip, type, tap, and the trip starts. Never any moments of not knowing the answer. Always on the most efficient route, with a reassuring voice, telling you how many miles till your next turn.cell phone

One of the effects of having a smartphone when I’m traveling is that I end up looking more at the little screen of my phone rather than the Here I am in. While I am grateful for Siri, and rely on her often, it was nice to not have the option of her in Puerto Rico. There’s even been times over the last year where I’ve chosen to venture out without my trusty sidekick of Google Maps. Sure, it is a little bit riskier, and granted, a few times I have taken a “wrong turn,” but you know what?  It always turned out as more than ok.

What would happen if we let go of constantly needing to know where we are and where we are going and exactly how long it will take to get there? What if the “wrong turns” just take us to new vistas and moments we needed to be in?

The irony of writing about being lost is not lost on me. Truth is, I’m a few months away from stepping away from everything predictable and safe and known. I’m having lots of those moments of “wait–am I lost?” conversations with myself, the vulnerability that toes the line between change and identity crisis. Getting lost in Puerto Rico was like living a metaphor for my season of life right now. I think I have a lot left to learn about getting lost in the months ahead. So I suppose my title is a bit of a misnomer. Well, here’s the thing–I titled this post before writing it, and formed it from a list of “72 Effective Blog Post Titles,” so I am stubbornly keeping it and just adding the “somewhat” for a touch of honesty. Also, parts of this post are from something I wrote almost a year ago. My voice was a lot more certain then, a lot more confident about how great it is to Be Lost. In reworking it to post this today, I am more deeply aware of how important it is to have a willingness to “lose sight of shore” but also a more humble self-awareness of what that entails, and a feeling that there is more to come, more to understand in a visceral, deep down in my core sort of way. Maybe this is the first post to come in a series, as I step into the unknown of this next season. But here’s to learning how to take Getting Lost to an art form.

open road sebastien marchano

5 thoughts on “Allie’s (Somewhat) Complete Guide to Getting Lost

  1. I joke about this all the time. At home, spoiled and comfortable as can be. Yet, we still sign up to live uncomfortably. I often wonder, reflecting back in my own writings, if I’m ever really alive besides in those times of uncomfortably? I agree with your take – “there is a cost to pay…”

    Well done!

    • Yeah! I am currently rereading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and she compares traveling to an infant– “I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky restless newborn baby–I just didn’t care what it puts me through. Because I adore it.” That rang true for me too! Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: Fort Bragg and the Art of Reinvention | allieilluminated

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