I’d imagined this day for years, and now I’m sitting on an EVA Airways flight 34,000 feet somewhere over Alaska with almost 20 hours of air travel ahead of me. Seat 52 H. Final destination: Bangkok.
A bit of turbulence has the cabin floodlit with seatbelt signs, so I’m awake now. I’ve a proclivity for falling asleep before the cabin crew even goes over their safety precautions—I’d learned the last time I journeyed from John F. Kennedy airport in Queens, New York to Taipei, Taiwan on a 17-hour flight to pull an all-nighter the evening before and throw back two glasses of red wine in a dimly lit airport bar approximately one hour prior to departure. That, coupled will the guttural hum of the airplane engines, is a foolproof sleep-inducing amalgamation.
But it didn’t work this time. My nerves have consumed me, probably because there’s a lot of firsts with this flight: It’s the first time I’ve ever had to check my backpack that’s containing my entire life for the next at least six months (Fortunately, Genuine & Ginger hooked me up with a keychain with the Statue of Liberty’s coordinates to always remind me of home and help me locate my bag.), it’s the first time I’ve ever boarded a flight so delayed that the probability of me making my connection is about slim to none (later note: miracles do come true), it’s the first time I’ve ever thrown up on a plane, and it’s the first time I’m flying on a one-way ticket with absolutely no fixed plans. If the start to this is any indication as to how this trip will pan out, I’d say it’s certainly going to be quite the adventure.
I must have eventually fallen asleep to Bridget Jones’s Diary, a 2001 British romance about a journalist’s pursuit of an ever-elusive love, “something extraordinary.” My life feels quite similar to that of Bridget Jones; I’m a journalist chasing something more, it’s just that, unlike Bridget Jones who (spoiler alert) falls unexpectedly in love, I’m unsure how my story ends. If there’s one thing I do know, however, it’s that I’m holding the pen; I’m writing my own story, and I vow to write an extraordinary one.
I’ve actually been writing my own story. Under the pillows in the bed of my childhood room I kept a box, and in that box was everything I (still) believe in: the gold tooth fairy dust I’d unsuspectingly collected in a small porcelain boot over time and the power of the written word. A ballerina slipper-shaped notepad sat inside; on it were notes illegibly scrawled in glitter milk pen. “I can be anything, and I want to be a writer,” I wrote to myself as a girl (and, evidently, a yet-to-be-proclaimed feminist) who didn’t know then that she would grow up to be just that. If I knew then that I’d someday be backpacking the far reaches of the globe utterly alone to share other women’s empowering stories of “being anything” and the stories of those who don’t have the liberty to be anything, well, I’d have asked the tooth fairy for more money to fund it all…
Of course, I always knew, in theory anyway, that I’d do this eventually. Mostly because I’d be damned if I didn’t. I think back to the countless hours I’d spent after school in my high school English teachers’ offices until I improved enough that one English (and journalism) teacher finally bumped me up to honors classes. I think back to the day I emailed him from my old clunky, sticker-happy Macbook to let him know that I’d joined the college newspaper as a freshman copyeditor, and I think back to how I stuck with it until I worked my way up to editor-in-chief. I think back to spending my summers at New York University’s hyperlocal newsroom academy and unpaid internship after unpaid internship with both print publications and online outlets just to learn everything I possibly could. I remember running around on a practice assignment to interview any pedestrian on the street and stumbling upon the East Village’s Mosaic Man, who famously titillates the vibrant neighborhood’s street lamps with recycled ceramics—I felt so imbued with life, like I’d killed that assignment and had learned something in the process.
Then I think back to the first time I’d ever left the country to study journalism abroad in Morocco and how proud of myself I felt after securing a front-row seat at Casablanca Fashion Week, where I conducted tens of interviews in French, Arabic and English on my own when my translator bailed. I think back to how curious I was as, somehow and somewhere along the way, that story on Fashion Week unfolded into a deep dive into the Westernization of Moroccan consumer mentality and the stifling effect it had on local designers who’d been working in relative obscurity in their own country—and I think back to how that story alone fueled my insatiable passion for explorative, global journalism. I was so hooked, I’d convinced Gettysburg College to let me design my own journalism major and fund my travels back to Morocco on a Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Mellon Grant to write a follow-up story just one year later. I remember touching down and crying tears of joy that I’d actually pulled it off.
I also think back to pitching that story when I returned home, interviewing with publications as big as Vogue. I got so done up in a green dress and teased my hair into a voluminous sock bun (they were in then) to take that Skype voice call from my parent’s den. I received rejection after rejection after rejection.
But constructive criticism makes a writer stronger and, for me, it also taught me persistence. Those rejections lead me to launch this blog in 2013 because, if no one was going to publish my story, I was going to publish it myself. This blog quickly became an unabated addiction that’s taken me to more than 30 countries thus far, and it also houses the writing clips I needed to score my first editorial job in New York City. After spending a year learning the backend of content production with a super supportive team, I moved to an associate editor position and, later, a senior editor position with another online magazine to which I genuinely looked forward to going every morning. I had the kind of job that I didn’t know people could be paid to do.
Of course, I kept blogging on the side and picking up freelance gigs to build my portfolio. My days were spent in the office and my evenings were spent in coffee shops and quiet bars across Manhattan and Brooklyn. I got good at discovering off-the-beaten-path, local watering holes that served up coffee and wine late into the night to keep me going and to keep me sane. On the weekends, I’d be locked up in libraries still writing. After all, I was going to travel the world to be a freelancer full time some day.
I’ve never wanted anything else for myself, but I was neither mentally nor financially prepared to take the leap into freelancing and traveling full time now. But someone once told me that I’d never be ready to do something like this—leave security, familiarity, comfort and stability behind for a nomadic lifestyle that’s, frankly, defined by uncertainties. So I just did it. I’ve no real reason as to why I chose Thailand other than, why not? It’s in the farthermost region of the world, so I figured I’d start over there and work my way back to the States. My only plan is to, for the first time in my life, make no plans—to live unreservedly in the moment, and to ride the waves. I’ll either sink or swim, and that’s equal parts liberating and terrifying.
I have fears, of course. For one, I’m scared that I’ve cracked this up to be so much in my head so there is a chance that it doesn’t live up to my wildly vivid dreams or that I don’t actually find fulfillment in travel—if I don’t, I’m not sure what would fulfill me, and the thought of starting from scratch is discomfiting at the least. Likewise, I’m nervous for when the solitude I envision will inevitably, at times, feel more like loneliness. I do resolve to learn self-sufficient happiness, devoid of external influences, but I know it won’t be easy to be alone all the time. And I’m worried that I’ll be working so hard to fund my travels that I won’t have much time to actually explore and I may, consequentially, start to resent the career I’d worked so hard to build for myself.
That said, I’m aware that we lead the lives we choose to live and that I’m as “unstuck” as I’ve ever been if I don’t like someplace or some situation, but that a positive and open mind can be transformative. I know that’s because life happens and, while that’s not a choice, we can choose how all circumstances impact us. As for loneliness, I’ve been around the world and back enough to know that traveling solo never really means traveling alone, unless there’s some concerted effort involved. I know that I’ll need to simply put myself out there when I do feel lonely, and I know I’ll always get over it. And with regards to work, I’m readily aware of just how fortunate I am for an opportunity to traverse the globe indefinitely (or at all)—especially without having to forgo my career—so I’ll be sure to remind myself of that.
It’s also comforting to know just how big a support system I have rooting for me. I felt inexplicably lucky last week. My best friends from childhood threw me a surprise going away party and spent the entire day and night with me reminiscing about the last almost 25 years of our lives together. I mean, how many people can say that they’ve had the same circle of best friends since forever? My best friends from college threw me a going away party that turned into a night of my favorite pastime (karaoke) at my favorite dingy dive bar, Sing Sing. There was even Brie cheese involved at the pregame and, honestly, I couldn’t ask for anything more than my best friends and Brie in one place. I’m still wearing the most beautiful bracelet that reads “No Matter Where” in Morse code from my college roommate-turned-best-friend-turned-New-York-City-roommate-and-still-best-friend that I won’t ever take off my wrist. I had the chance to spend a week with my family who probably know that they’re my biggest supporters, but probably don’t know that they’re also my biggest inspiration and motivation. Dinners and long talks with them about what the hell I’m doing put my mind at ease.
My parents have always been there and advocated for me. When they dropped me off at college for the first time, they gifted me the book Oh the Places You’ll Go by Doctor Seuss. I still remember my favorite few lines that feel as applicable to me now as they did then:
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.”
Here I am, going…