Decide to go traveling and live on the road when you’re about 27 or 28. By the time you’ve graduated and got a few years of work experience under your belt, so you can properly appreciate what it means to take that break and really live as though you’re 18 again.
Discover the crushing loneliness of the road, what it means to be truly alone. That what you miss about knowing people around you isn’t the ability to have a meaningful conversation about the impermanence of now. That the little things are the really important details – like having someone to watch your bags while you visit the Greyhound station toilet at 3 AM in Schenectady, New York.
Curse the montages in movies that show millions of miles passing by in a few shots and a soundtrack by an ageing rock band. They gave you a false image of what travel might be like. Realize that travel really is the grey dirty bits filling in all the glamorous vistas. Realize that while you’ve seen some spectacular things, no-one really calls anything a glamorous vista except in deeply rose-colored nostalgia, or in a brochure.
Meet people who are discovering, as you are, that to live on the road means different things than what they expected. Share in their experiences as they share in yours, a bizarre contest of one-upmanship where the winner could be (simultaneously) the person with the best and worst experiences. They will share their tips with you, which you will use and pass on as your own. Don’t worry, that’s how they knew to carry an extra toilet roll to the port-a-potty.
Watch your emotional levels go through peaks and troughs that would put the histrionics of a manic-depressive actress to shame. Grin like an idiot at the silliest things, feel close to tears when there’s no reason for it. Most of the time, feel detached and unobserved. It’s a powerful feeling, to be part of the grey tapestry of someone else’s life, looking in on their doings without being observed and without judging. Don’t ever let that get old.
Learn how to live on the road within your means. This usually means you will overspend like a maniac and then try to rein in your spending by living on moisture leached from the air and Ramen noodles. Especially the Ramen. Become shameless about accepting favors, in the realization that the people who are offering them to you will never see you again and that by declining, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. They can’t judge you for being a mooch if they don’t even remember you.
Remember with a mixture of fondness and self-loathing all those times someone you know expressed jealousy or admiration at your “courageous decision” to go live on the road. At all the times relatives and friends said they were proud of you. Gag with embarrassment as you recall the effortless way with which you deflected it all, as if it was no big deal while deep down, you were simultaneously basking in it and also being scared to pieces by it.
Spend a few moments each day thinking of the people you’ve left behind. Family, friends, lovers. Know that they wait for you, each in their own way, some not at all. One day you will go back to them, and this time when you traveled, the year you spent away to live on the road will seem like it never happened. But it did.
This post is a hat-tip to How To Live In New York City on ThoughtCatalog.