“Africa will change you,” people said to me, “There’s something about it that affects us all.”
Well, Africa didn’t change me. I’m still the same old me, but that doesn‘t mean Africa didn‘t teach me something, or, should I say, reaffirmed a long-felt feeling. If 2012 was defined by anything, it was my personal struggle over coming to terms with settling down. 2012 was an internal struggle between knowing I was ready to settle in one place and my desire to hold on to my backpacker lifestyle.
And as I sat there one night in Namibia, staring out at one of the most perfect sunsets I’d seen in a while, I realized why I never wanted to visit Africa alone. Sometimes the beauty of travel is not as beautiful when you don’t have someone to share it with. And there I was, staring out at this gorgeous sunset, and I was alone. I had no one to share that moment.
Sure, there was my tour group, but it’s not the same. Sharing a moment with people you have a bond with is much different than sharing it with strangers. Days later, I kept coming back to the sadness I felt at that moment. There was nothing wrong with anyone on my tour — they were all nice, polite, and talkative, and we got along fine. But tours are hit-and-miss, and sometimes you closely bond with people (eight years later, I’m still close with my roommate from my Costa Rica tour) and sometimes you don’t.
Here, I didn‘t.
And as I sat there looking at this beautiful sunset while zebra drank from the nearby watering hole, a truth hit me like never before: I am alone. And I am tired of it. While I’m an introvert and I like my “me” time, after 6.5 years, solo travel isn’t for me any longer. I no longer desire to wander cities or gaze upon African sunsets alone. I want to travel with people I know. I want familiar faces. I want to share moments. I make plenty of friends on the road, but I’m tired of having to start over in each new city. My heart isn’t in jet-setting somewhere new alone anymore.
I think everyone should travel alone at some point in their life; you learn a lot about yourself doing so. I never regret the solo travel I’ve done in the past and never felt alone or bored during those years, but Africa made it clear that it’s time to move on to a new chapter of my life. I couldn’t hold onto the past any longer. What I want from my life now doesn’t involve any more late nights on the backpacker trail.
After a number of false starts, right before the new year I finally moved to New York City. I’m living with a friend at the moment while I search for my own apartment. I’ve stocked the fridge with groceries. I’m cooking again. I’ve joined a gym. I’m seeing friends. I’m happy. I’m ready to be only semi-nomadic.
While I have conferences, festivals (see you at SXSW!), and a book tour that will send me periodically out of NYC over the next few months, my next adventure isn’t until May when I go to Europe (with a friend) for two weeks. That’s five months away. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m happy I’m not going anywhere soon.
I’ve always defined travel as an adventure, exploring the unknown and breaking out of your comfort zone. I don’t look at this new move as giving up on travel. Travel is my life. I don’t want to stop, just find a better balance between a home life and a road-warrior life. New York is my new adventure. There’s plenty to uncover in New York City, plenty of secrets to find, food to try, and things to learn.
It’s a new start in a new year. It’s time to explore a new city, a new way of living, and new parts of myself. Going from a nomad to someone with a fixed address will be as much of a life-changing adventure as going from cubicle worker to nomad all those years ago.
I don’t know if this feeling will last forever. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to slow down. But I’m ready for this new adventure. It’s been a long time coming.
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