• Meg Gaertner


Ever since my first trip out of the country (to Australia), I have felt a strong sense of wanderlust. I’ve traveled to many countries over the years, motivated by a need for adventure, for newness, for learning. Whenever I see a friend on social media share posts about their travels, a part of me twinges in envy of their experiences. There’s a vast world out there of which I’ve barely scratched the surface, filled with different landscapes to see, different cultures to explore, different worldviews to try on. There’s so much to learn and so much to know.

I feel less of a burning need to travel now. My wanderlust is sated by my happiness at where I am in my life, my strong conviction that I’m doing what I want to be doing, that I’m fulfilling my dreams, that I know who I am and like the woman I’ve become. At times I wonder at my contentment. Am I “settled”? Am I complacent? I don’t think so, but I find it helpful to keep interrogating my own intentions, to keep asking myself: How do I feel? Do I feel good? Do I feel honest?

Now, when I see people quit their jobs and leave behind their entire lives to travel the world, I admire them for it and wish them all the best. But I also wonder at their intentions. Some motivations for travel are inauthentic.

Looking back, much of my wanderlust has stemmed from the need to be anywhere but where I am, the desire to claw my way out of my skin and inhabit any other. Many travels are motivated by this escapism. Traveling is such a romantic notion, the idea that we can start over from scratch, leave the past behind, be reborn anew. I felt that romanticism when I moved to a new state for college, when I ended an abusive relationship, when I moved to a new apartment.

But it isn’t possible to be completely reborn anew. We can’t outrun the past. We can’t escape our shadows. We can’t escape ourselves. We bring our pasts, our shadows, ourselves with us wherever we go. No matter the distance, no matter the expense, no matter the length of time spent in a foreign country, that baggage is still there. No amount of traveling can give us the true escape we might seek.

What can we do with all of this baggage? Rather than running away from it, we must deal with it. Face it head on. Dig deep. Deeper still. Learn from our experiences. Maybe even find ways to be grateful for it. Gratitude will always lighten the load.

Aside from escapism, other travels are motivated by an equally romantic (and equally inauthentic) notion of “finding oneself.” What an interesting notion. Did we lose our selves? Misplace them perhaps? Mail them to the wrong address? I joke here, because it’s very possible to lose oneself—in another person, in a job, in a regret, in social media, in a fad or trend. It is the easiest thing in the world to lose yourself.

But the idea that we have to travel thousands of miles to find ourselves is simply not true. Travel can help, certainly. Distance and time can give us the benefit of perspective. But we are always right here. We never left. We are always here and now, in our bodies, in sensation, in our thoughts, in our dreams.

Finding oneself is a simple (or not so simple) matter of paying attention. Start where you are. Be with yourself. Be embodied. Be present. Feel into what brings you joy in the here and now versus later and someday. Pay attention. What feels light and what feels heavy? What gives you energy and what sucks it away? Prioritize that which enlivens you and cut away all that doesn’t. There. You’re on the way to finding yourself, without needing to get on a plane and spend thousands of dollars.

There is nothing wrong with traveling, and there is a great deal to be learned from it. I will jump at any opportunities to travel, and enjoy traveling as a break in my routine and as a way to jolt me out of my complacent lifestyle and offer me new perspective. But I want to travel from a place of already knowing who I am. I want my baggage to be as light as possible. I want to know that my traveling comes from a place of security and abundance, rather than from a place of fear and lack. Rather than running from something (the past, regrets, mistakes, etc.) or running toward something (answers to a burning question, the unknown, etc.), I want to be where I am, wherever I am.


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