Last month at the TBEX conference in Stockholm, Sweden, we had the profound privilege of hearing Lola Akinmade Åkerström give a closing keynote on a topic that hit close to home for many of us.
The message struck a chord in part because its inevitability is near-impossible to deny, and in part because most of us have not yet come to terms with this inevitability.
For most (and I only say ‘most’ for fear of ‘all’ sounding arrogant) long-term travelers, there comes a point when we must take on a new role in our lives: the role of the caretaker. This new role as caretaker often requires something more of us, something far more difficult to fathom–that we discontinue our travels, or at least slow our pace so drastically that the sudden immobility feels akin to wearing 30-lb ankle weights.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of slowly exploring the world, it’s that the desire to travel never, ever goes away. And it is all too common for travelers, myself included, to continue on this unending quest–for knowledge, for adrenaline, for things we can’t always explain–in the face of better judgment.
Sometimes it truly takes a profound, life-altering event–like falling into a caretaking role for a family member or a friend–for us to even begin to consider other ways of life.
Sometimes, the one who needs taking care of is us.
The ultimate takeaway from this speech that left so many of us in tears last month was that we’re doing ourselves no favors by resisting these changes. They are a natural part of our evolution as human beings, and they need not be feared.
Most importantly, these big, profound, often scary transitions don’t have to result in the loss of our identity as travelers; instead, they can be used as opportunities for new challenges, new growth, even new business ideas. Every change, every misstep, every transition is an opportunity, so long as we maintain the same curiosity we’ve always had as travelers, no matter where life’s road takes us.
Sometimes, that road leads back to our home countries. Sometimes it leads us out of relationships that no longer serve us. Sometimes it can lead us into yet undiscovered passions, talents, and dreams.
Almost always, it leads us to exactly where we are supposed to be.
But it is up to us to see the opportunities in these transitions, or to create them ourselves if they cannot easily be seen.
Uncertainty as an Opportunity
If at any point in the last three years you had asked me what I was doing in three months’ time, the answer would likely have been “I have no fucking idea.” Ask me today, and this is precisely what you’ll get.
The problem is, I am no longer satisfied with this answer.
There has been a lingering feeling inside of me for a year now, or maybe two, that something about my lifestyle needed to change. The uncertainty, while exhilarating, didn’t satisfy me anymore. To this day, though, not knowing where I’ll be, what I’ll be doing, or who I’ll be with remains a cornerstone of my life.
In the past year, I thought I was inching closer to something more. I had stability in a few important ways, but something still wasn’t quite right. And as I continued to travel in the face of all of this uncertainty, as I continued to travel even when my mind was disquieted by the idea, I dug deeper into myself, my sensibilities, and my hopes for the future.
And as I continued to push through the uncertainty and look for opportunities in this gift of travel I’d been given, I came to know myself better than ever before.
My travels have revealed to me that I am an introvert, a creative, and an HSP (highly sensitive person).
During my visit to San Francisco, I confronted a former version of myself that no longer served me and forcefully shut the door in her face.
On my solo travels in Mexico, one of the first times I have ever truly hated being alone, I connected with a spiritual side of myself that was begging to be awakened.
In France, I found the strength to speak my truth and to bear every emotion unapologetically.
On this rather unexpected trip to the Canary Islands, I’ve been afforded the time and space necessary to do some much-needed healing.
Even when my decisions don’t feel right or have no rational justification, good things come of them. When I feel as though my life has just been burned to the ground, something better always rises from the ashes.
And so, as I transition back to a life in the US later this summer with more uncertainty than ever and exactly zero travel plans on the horizon, I will keep my eyes and my heart open wide and my hands at the ready to build an opportunity if it cannot be seen.
Travel Versus Stability for Self-Improvement
Just a few nights ago, a fellow traveler asked me a simple but rather important question, and one I hadn’t considered in quite some time.
“What is your why,” she said?
What she meant by that oddly phrased question, of course, was Why do you travel?
In the past, I could have answered this question without skipping a beat. I had many whys when I first started traveling:
To educate myself about the world through first-hand experience. To better understand myself. To grow as a person, gain a global perspective.
I even wrote about the subtle yet powerful ways travel changes you in a post appropriately titled, “Why I Travel.”
But were these still my whys today? Sheepishly, I admitted I didn’t know.
Perhaps I’ve already reaped these benefits of travel–the education, the global perspective–at least in a capacity great enough to satisfy my initial need. Perhaps, for now, there is little more self-improvement to be gained from a life in constant motion. Perhaps the time has come to seek what I need from a life that allows for stability–routine, community, a home.
As has already been proven to me many times over this year, the lessons travel endows never cease; I know that if I continue this lifestyle, I will continue to learn and evolve. The next question I am forced to ask myself, then, is at what cost?
The only thing I know with any certainty at this moment is that the time to play caretaker is now. My heart needs looking after, and the only one responsible for that is me.
As I gain a deeper awareness of my emotional and physical well-being, I can see that stability is what allows me to thrive. But no matter what comes of this period of transition and uncertainty, there is an opportunity in there that I don’t plan to miss.
Self-improvement and growth require constant reflection, both at home and on the road. How do you deal with big life transitions? How do you know when it’s time to make a change?