Why Traveling Long-Term Isn't Running Away

No matter what mom says.

There's this idea that traveling long-term is running away. Talk to my mom over coffee and she'll dab her eyes with a napkin and agree. You would think that I packed my backpack in the middle of the night, choosing shirts and socks through the small sliver of light coming from the streetlamps outside. She'd love to tell you that I hitched my pack onto my shoulders and stopped every once in a while on the staircase, listening to see if my creaking footsteps woke anybody up.

As she'd take a prim sip from her cup, she'd tell you that I bought a one way ticket to Europe knowing I'd never come back home, and that I just didn't have the heart to tell her. And in a way, I guess she's right. I myself didn't know when I'd come home, mostly because I didn't know what I was trying to find — I just had this nagging sensation that it was no longer waiting for me in Chicago diners and museum gardens. Instead, it packed up its grandfather's suitcase and got its passport stamped to somewhere that has lemon trees lining sidewalks and century-old buildings that look like the inside of a bakery counter. And so I had to go chase it.

And to tell you the truth, I still don't know what I'm looking for, but I'll know what it is when I see it. It'll be a moment where I'll look up from my book at a cafe in Granada or pause on a corner in Galway waiting to cross the street, and there it will be, smiling and shaking its head at me.

But in the mean time, I'm content to just wander and to just...see, is the best way that I could describe it. To see what streets I've only seen in books are keeping for me, to see what new languages feel like in my mouth, to see what connections I can make with people I've met serendipitously...and I guess to that I'm "running away."

And I'm here to tell you, fine, okay, let's call it that. But instead of focusing what I'm running from, let's flip this conversation on its head and see what I'm running to. Because that was the whole point of me kissing my mom goodbye and telling my friends I'd send postcards - I needed to catch whatever it was that was calling me.

Why Traveling Long Term Isn't Running Away
Marlen Komar

So the things I'm running to? Sitting on top of green mountains with my legs dangling over the edge, up so high that the clouds are below me, one by one falling slowly out of the sky. Walking through glens so big that they look like if they opened their mouths they'd swallow me into the world, and feeling like everything I've ever worried about, everything I ever frowned over, didn't matter. 

I've run towards the group of men in my train cart in India, passing me bags of grapes and inviting me over to their homes so their wives could cook me tikka masala and their kids could teach me cricket. I've run towards the old man with the white beard and crinkly eyes that gave me water on a popsicle-melting day in Kochi, and where he held my hand and called me his child. I can't stop moving towards the stories I'll hear on worn-in couches and loud restaurants, can't be convinced to turn my back on people with curious eyes and an open heart, those that are looking for a connection just as much as they are for their next postcard.

I'm running towards understanding, a link, an idea that the world is a lot more beautiful and colorful than we let ourselves see. And I think that's just as worthy of a goal as anything else, don't you?

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