Last October, I traveled from Marrakech to Essaouira Morocco with a delightful Aussie backpacker named Erin.
As the bleak West African semi-desert gave way to increasingly lush vineyards — and the stench in the non-airconditioned bus ripened – our conversation moved from from hitchhiking, to semi-public sex and, finally, to travel. Erin had been traveling for more than six months, and had no definite plans of heading home.
“But I will eventually go back — I have to!” she concluded. “I mean, if you travel for too long, you become a lost soul. You know the type?”
I nodded. “White, usually male, always single. Has usually been to more countries than you have; Typically travels alone and constantly.” Weathered faces, many of them belonging to infamous travel bloggers, flashed through my mind. “But I’ll never succumb to that fate.
“Say, tell me about the guy you fucked in the back of some Spanish stranger’s car again?”
I changed topics jovially, but inside I was panicking — I was a white, male, single, solo-traveling country-counter who couldn’t stay in the same place for more than a month!
I fixated on the topic for much of the rest of that particular trip and, after about two weeks of intense deliberation with myself, reached a three-pronged conclusion: (1) Not all who wander are lost, but I likely was (2) The only way to become un-lost is to stop wandering and (3) The only way to stop wandering is to find a reason to stay.
I search voraciously for my “reason to stay” during the weeks and months that transpired, usually in the form of a boyfriend. Every time a stateside prospect would fade — and they always did — I embarked on my next trip with a vow to find a foreign boyfriend.
I never did.
Until, that is, I met a Brazilian named Henrique in Berlin. I’d never intended our meeting to be anything more than a fling, but sex quickly led to dinner, which led to a second date, which led me to the conclusion that I was wasting money even having a hostel, which led to things getting very, very complicated very, very fast.
Within a week, we were living together. Within two weeks, we made our relationship Facebook-official. Within three weeks, we had made plans to move to Bangkok together. Actually, that last bit’s not true.
I had made plans, before I even met the man, to flee Europe for Southeast Asia. Henrique, smitten with me as he was, asked if he could come along. I was smitten too, but even more than that, I was scared: I did not, in fact, have a reason to stay — I was fucking leaving!
But I couldn’t bring myself to tell Henrique the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so, help me God, I said “Sure, why not?”, and we were off.
In theory, I would just bite my tongue, smile and hope to start loving him as much as he apparently loved me. But in practice, it went the other way.
The huge, city-view apartment I’d chosen for us? Not huge enough, nor boasting an adequately panoramic view. The quaint, riverside café I took him for his welcome dinner? Too quaint.
Worst of all, he pulled out of our planned trip to Sri Lanka in the 11th hour, over a ridiculous fear of snakes no less. But instead of calling him out on his diva behavior — or, more accurately, myself for putting up with it — I came up with a compromise: A most-expenses-paid trip to Bali.
He was reluctant. But eventually, he agreed to come along.
He was reluctant! I dwelled on this fact as I sat beside the sleeping giant on the plane a few days later. You offered this man a practically free vacation to paradise, and he was reluctant. Do you know what that means?
I was real close to the answer, but then I noticed an older, presumably gay man behind us. His worn appearance suggested he was an accomplished wanderer, but his desperate gaze suggested he was probably a lost one — a ghost of travel future.
No, I answered myself. I do not know what that means.
But when Henrique announced, after just a few hours, that he “hated” Bali, the writing was on the wall. I awoke the next morning to the sound of a slamming door.
As I came to terms with it all over the next several days — and as tourist infested Bali sucked my soul, I revised the conclusion I had reached in the aftermath of my conversation with Erin.
Wandering hadn’t made me lose myself; it had given me the chance to find myself that “real life” never did. By searching for a reason to stay and, subsequently, staying, I had not prevented my fears from coming to fruition.
I had manifested them into reality.
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