It was 2015, and I was in the Chicago airport. On my way to Northern Ireland, the thrilling hum of upcoming adventure hovered just below the surface. It spilled over into conversations with strangers, impatient for them to ask me where I was headed.
A middle-aged lady sat next to me at the charging station, and a question about whether she could plug in her phone led to an easy dialog of conversation. When I mentioned my upcoming international adventure, she lit up, recognizing a kindred spirit. Over the shuffle of passengers and flight announcements, she shared stories of her international travels. Of how she’d spent a majority of her twenties traversing the globe, working odd jobs to fund her wanderlust along the way.
“I think everyone should take some time to travel!” she said, eyes fervent. “I’m so glad I did. It made me who I am today. It made me a better wife, a better mother, a more happy person.”
Her reasons resonated, but I was intrigued. “Tell me more about that. What do you mean?”
She considered for a second, then said “I mean that it shaped the way I see the world in only a way that immersing yourself in somewhere completely different than everything familiar can. I had a longing for adventure, to see the world, and it was important enough to me to honor that longing. So when I did meet my now husband, I was ready to start the adventure of being married to him. I’ve never had to live with the regret of wondering ‘what if’ as I raised my children. The way I live in the world, the way I engage in my community, the choices I make are deeply shaped by that time I took to travel.”
This is why I love talking to strangers. I soaked her words up in that airport terminal, reveling in her story. Acknowledging that her story won’t be mine, but noticing the way my heart was resonating, connecting with the desires she was articulating.
I thought about her words as I laid in my tent last week, on the last night of my solo trip. Listening to the night sounds of this small town in central Colorado, her words echoed with the hindsight revelation of foreshadowing. My heart felt the truth of her observations as I tried to wrap my mind around the west-coast solo-adventure that was now coming to a close.
I don’t quite know in what ways, but I know I’m returning changed. I’m braver—more comfortable in my own skin. From near constant necessity, I’m more able to step out into the unknown. More willing to be surprised. I have felt an expanding, a blossoming of my soul in openness to others and a gentleness towards myself. I the outer edges of my solitude, I became more fully me.
I could measure it by the 241 days I was gone or the 13,471 miles I drove. But quantifying these last 8 months feels inadequate. Even after a week of being back at my parent’s house, around the now novel familiarity, I get the sense I haven’t even scratched the surface of processing the impacts of this journey. I will be marveling at the weight of this thing that just happened to me for awhile.
In my tent, alone for one more night, I clicked on my headlamp and looked back at the journal I’d been writing in throughout this trip. I smiled and shook my head at my raw unfiltered thoughts scrawled out in early mornings with a cup of coffee. The scrappy plans and lists of places to see.
A single tear slid down my temple as I reread the mini-epiphanies and articulated tensions, remembering the mystery and the ache and the contented joy that blossomed out there on the Pacific coast.