An Open Letter to Anyone Dreaming of Running Away
When I was younger, I was obsessed with the idea of living in California. It was the subject of many of my conversations, late-night internet searches and romanticised daydreams.
Though I had never actually been there, I was absolutely convinced that I wanted to live in this place on the other side of the country.
“What if you don’t like it?” my father would challenge me.
“Impossible,” I’d reply.
When I was 14, I got the opportunity to visit the place that I had been dreaming about for so many years. After two weeks in the Golden State, I came to a disheartening conclusion: California was not for me.
I shifted my energy elsewhere. California became Paris. Paris became New Zealand. New Zealand became Thailand. I spent much of my high school days immersed in thoughts of far-off lands, attempting to avoid the reality of my small suburban town.
In my junior year, I finally made my escape. I spent a semester studying abroad in a town outside of Tel Aviv, Israel. I was living with around 40 other teenagers, going on trips several times a week, and learning about things that truly excited me. It was an amazing experience that I treasure dearly, but it came with a realisation that now smacks me in the face each time I go somewhere new: no matter how far I run, I am always going to run right into myself.
I was astonished to find that even in another country, I still had my bad days; I still experienced pain; I still struggled to silence my internal demons. Even in another country, life was just that- life.
My travels have now taken me on countless adventures. I have volunteered at a surf camp in the middle of the jungle; I have taken part in an ancient Mayan ritual; I have witnessed bulls running in an indigenous village; I have backpacked, worked in hostels, taken Spanish lessons, ridden horses, bathed in hot springs, hiked waterfalls, zip-lined, snorkeled, caved… just to name a few. But unsurprisingly, the same anxieties and difficulties that haunt me at home have been with me through it all.
So to the high school student staring out the window during algebra class, envisioning future travels; to the university student anxiously planning a year abroad; to anyone who is dreaming of running away… here is what I wish someone had said to me.
Traveling will be one of the best things that you have ever done. You will see remarkably beautiful sights. You will meet people in every walk of life. You will learn how to navigate any kind of situation. You will have so much freedom that you won’t know what to do with it. You will have moments that feel like movie scenes.
But I can guarantee that no amount of traveling is ever going to magically solve all of your problems. No amount of mountain treks, beach sunsets, or full moon parties will ever deliver you eternal happiness on a silver platter. True peace can only be accomplished when you learn to come to peace with yourself, a process that is much more complicated than purchasing a plane ticket or hopping on an overnight bus.
For the past year and a half, much of the world has been forced to put their travel plans on hold. Dreams of laying on white-sand beaches and going on crazy adventures have been replaced by remote jobs, Netflix binges, and zoom birthday parties.
Unfortunately for those of you with flighty souls, a soft spot for unfamiliar places, and an intense love for life on the road, there is now nowhere to run. But it does make it the perfect time to appreciate where you are right now. Notice the subtle charm of your suburban town. Pay attention in algebra class. Learn to be present in your reality. So when that trip of a lifetime does eventually present itself (which it certainly will), it will be all the more enjoyable.
Cover by Andrey Larin