Finding a Reason to Travel

When I told my sister about my trip to Central America, she commented that it’s funny how we prepare for our trips with the same amount of time as we are going to be traveling.  If we are leaving for a weekend, we take two days to prepare, and if we are leaving for a month, then we take a month to get ready. What about a trip that you feel like you’ve been preparing for your whole life?

When we were five and Mama took us those once-every-four-year-trips to the US to visit her (our) American relatives, I remember getting excited and wanting to go and explore around the airport. My dad sternly told me that it was not even an option and to not forget where I was- some place where kids like me should be scared of being so bold? So this adventurous spirit has been welling up in me for a while. Even though I have been lucky to make multiple trips, including moving to the US for a college degree, it’s been through a program of some sort navigating my path in travel. Finally, I get to be my own damn study abroad program.

Two days until I leave for Mexico City and in the same way that dreams still feel like dreams even when they physically or materially manifest themselves, it only hit me that I was actually finally going on a solo trip through Central America when I had to actually let people know I was going to be gone for the month of July. Oddly enough I began to feel frivolous. My flight to Mexico City felt like arranging to meet someone you’ve only spoken to on OKCupid. Leaving for five weeks became a long expanse of time for “vacation” (even though I originally wanted to go for longer). How do I have all that time for a vacation I imagine some people wondered (especially my various employers). Then most of all there is the business of not having some sort of program or project to serve as the reason behind my travel. I began to ask myself a question I’d never thought of before, why am I traveling? But I also did not remember needing to ask this question when traveling solo was still a dream of mine. Why was I asking it now?

While I kept preparing for my trip, I had to make more concrete decisions about how I was going to get around, how I was going to sleep, or eat, and what I was going to do. The question of why kept popping up, hanging out in the back of my mind, like all worms of self-doubt do. I felt like I was doing something more frivolous than real.

Why did I choose Central America and Mexico specifically? I have always had a close or best friend who was Mexican. In Morocco, as a child, I had two good friends who were siblings who were half Mexican and in college my best friend was Mexican and Salvadorean. The similarities and connections between Moroccan and Mexican culture that we discovered with these friends are so strong to me that I have always felt a pull to visit Mexico, as well as Central America. Still this did not seem to be a satisfactory answer to me about why exactly I have to travel and why now.

Mostly the self-doubt came from my five year old self who was chastised for having such silly and dangerous ideas of adventure and exploration. As I was sitting on MARTA on my way home, I thought about the great feeling of transience I get from being on the move. I realized traveling is the reason to travel. Like jazz, it’s not about the perfect melody or end goal but the improvisation of the moment that is so obvious when traveling.

Traveling is a form of meditation. A meditation of knowing only where you are now because you are moving and you can’t be attached to where you were or where you’re going to be. Traveling is not just vacation. I’ll admit I crave the transience like a drug, and find that everything is more beautiful even in my day to day life when I am about to travel. There is movement in travel that brings me a sense of calm I am never able to grasp in the day-to-day routine of living and working. So traveling has always had the beauty of being the process and the end goal. I don’t need a reason or a purpose when traveling, I’m not living up to a standard (except the one  to decolonize travel which I will be writing about next). When I am on the journey, I am exactly where I need to be.

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