I can’t believe it’s been a month since the last time I blogged! I’ve thought about it. Tried to write. But since halfway through May, I’ve been incredibly busy. I visited my best friend in Ottawa, attended my cousin’s wedding in Cabo, my boyfriend visited from Edinburgh, my brother graduated high school, and to top it all off, I turned 23. It’s been eventful.
More stories to come!
But I’ve also been overwhelmed by writer’s block.
Whenever I write here on my blog, I try to be honest, and to do so requires a certain element of self reflection I simply haven’t been prepared to do these past few weeks.
Come September, my entire life will change, as I’ll be moving to London for a Masters program in creative non-fiction writing.
Four years ago, I lived in London for a summer school program. As a fledgling nerd and travel addict, I toured the city in hopes of discovering the city’s ghosts lurking beneath Gothic spirals, or perhaps in the morning mists along the Thames. Over the centuries, the city has become an alluring amalgamation of countless cultures and time periods, so that Roman ruins, WWII bomb shelters, and bustling Indian restaurants, all coexist on one block. It was that summer, falling in love with my life, picnicking in Kensington Gardens, curling up in crammed, overflowing bookstores, and exploring the English countryside, when I first hatched the plan to study in London more permanently.
Over the years, I’ve always returned to the idea, yet never with enough conviction to actualize it. Only once leaving Paris, and eventually finding myself in the hospital over Christmas, did I move towards this dream I’ve held close to my heart for far too long.
And so, I will be making the – ahem – practical decision to spend a frightful amount of money on a writing degree. And I couldn’t be happier. It’s quite literally a dream on the verge of materializing.
But of course, it can’t be perfect.
I’ll say goodbye to my parents and brother. My friends. And I’ll sell my car – the one tangible piece of my American life I’ve clung onto throughout all of my expat adventures. The life I’ve created here will cease to exist. My parents are even selling the house, so every last trace of my childhood will drift into obscurity. It’s okay. I’m 23. I should be ready for that step. You’d think, right?
Turns out, I’m not as prepared as I like to pretend.
I’ve always left home knowing I’d be back within six months. It’s never been permanent. Now, the departure is tinted with an unprecedented finality.
I’m ready, excited, anxious, and a million other emotions I can’t articulate yet.
Curiously, this unsettling fluttering in my stomach reminds me of the days preceding my flight to Edinburgh – a ball of emotions I’m finally able to understand. In hopes of quelling my current fears, I’ve been reflecting back on those frigid February days.
In short, I was terrified.
I don’t think about fear very often. It’s such a common part of our lives, almost too common to give it much thought – fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of finding creepy centipedes in my bath towel (honestly though – it’s happened multiples times and is scarring). These emotions can dictate the course of our lives, both in small and enormous ways. For example, I don’t even notice when I shake out my bath towel every morning, ensuring centipedes aren’t lurking in the cotton folds. It’s a small daily habit that takes an extra second out of my day, nearly every day.
See, my fears generally make sense. Centipedes are gross, rejection hurts, and failure can gnaw at your mind if you let it.
But what about being afraid to travel?
Mere nights before my flight to Edinburgh, I curled up in a ball, alone in my room, staring blankly at the piles of clothes surrounding me, fighting the oncoming panic.
My meticulously crafted packing list lay forgotten, crumpled beneath an empty suitcase. This brazen plan of mine to leave for Scotland seemed to move forward without me; each day should have been filled with more and more excitement.
I couldn’t make sense of it. I wanted to leave. I needed to leave Wisconsin.
And yet there I was, sitting on my floor, nearly hyperventilating over the prospect of re-packing all my belongings. Again.
I remember being excited when I originally made the plan to leave. It had seemed like a great idea. Sure Alex! I told myself. Buy a one-way ticket to Edinburgh! Don’t worry about finding accommodation or anything. Everything will be fiiiine!
Sometimes I think I’m only still alive due to sheer force of will.
Yet even on the verge of panic, I could barely acknowledge the overwhelming fear beneath my determined veneer.
I would go to Edinburgh, and everything would turn out fine. I repeated this to myself over and over, half-convinced that my half-baked plan was #flawless, and half-convinced I needed serious counseling.
It was as if the sooner I landed in Edinburgh, the sooner I could restart my life and enjoy myself. On some subconscious level, traveling meant living, and staying at home meant waiting – just a long stretch of watching life happen until my life picked up again.
Many people have never flown overseas before – never explored new cities, or vast, ancient forests where the treetops dance in the cloud cover. And many more have never traveled alone. For some, it’s fear disguised as apathy. For many others, financial situations simply don’t allow for much travel.
I’m aware of how fortunate I am – and how hard I’ve worked – to travel, to explore, both by myself and with others. Packing up my life’s belongings and waving goodbye to Milwaukee has become an ingrained practice throughout the course of my life. I know travel. I love travel.
So honestly, this bizarre fear of temporarily moving to Edinburgh didn’t make sense for a long time. It wasn’t until the day I left Scotland that I finally understood where it originated.
As with most people, I have my own little selection of scars and holes, some obscured by smiles, some hidden beneath pretty, delicate dresses, and many of these scars intertwine with France in an intimate, unavoidable closeness. Paris and I parted ways June 6, 2014, and it took a long time for me to regain my sense of self, which I wrote about last November.
Moving abroad again – uprooting my life – paralyzed me. I couldn’t even enjoy the departure, so focused was I on the ending. What if I returned home feeling broken again? What if my plans to move to London somehow fell apart? What if I drained my bank account again? (Don’t worry, I do think I learned from that mistake). But really, what if?
I could barely breathe thinking about it.
After all this time, I still felt as if I had something to prove. I needed to move abroad once more, and this time, I would do it “right,” as if there’s any correct way to live in a foreign country.
When I moved to Edinburgh, I fell in love with the aging, beautiful city, as I knew I would, and my absurd fears simply floated away. The day I finally boarded my flight home felt like a resolution of sorts. I had gone to live in Edinburgh, I had fallen in love with Edinburgh, and left happily. I had accomplished something. I hadn’t collapsed into myself, and I could breathe again.
Whether you’ve never traveled alone or you consider yourself a seasoned travel veteran, I hope you feel okay being afraid to travel. Your fears are always valid. But they’re generally unfounded.
Not everything works out perfectly. I understand that. I’ve had my share of travel tribulations, have found and lost people I love, and have had more, “What the hell am I doing here?” moments than I could possibly count.
But the fear is always in the preparation. It’s in the waiting. Then suddenly we’re slammed into a departure date, and there’s no time for fear. We’re moving too quickly, making too many decisions.
It doesn’t always work out as we may have hoped. But sometimes it does. And being afraid won’t get us there any faster.