This is a re-post of the essay I wrote for my application to the 2016 World Nomads travel writing scholarship, which provides several winners with a 3-day writing workshop with Anthony Ham of Lonely Planet and a 7-day trip across Australia.
You can also view (and share) my essay on the World Nomads website.
Wanderlust and humanity have always gone hand-in-hand. Once, we spent our lives out in the wild, hunting and gathering for sustenance. America’s forefathers had high hopes for what could be out west, so Manifest Destiny was our cultural theme. Today, we seem to travel in our twenties. We want to backpack across Europe or hike through Australia’s outback. We want to spend our early adulthood touring Asia and sipping coffee (or wine) outside a cafe in Paris. We want to see the world, meet people, tuck experiences under our belts, and become more cultured. But we forget about what we have to offer the locals. When you travel, you’re not always the only one who learns a lesson.
I grew up in New Mexico, which survives on the money from two sources: the government blowing things up in the middle of nowhere and tourists.
I’ve met a lot of people from all over the world. Sure, most come from northern Mexico and west Texas, but many come from Germany, Japan, and New Zealand. One in particular changed my life.
His name was Devon. He was a 22-year-old truck driver from Cleveland. We met a few weeks ago and spent an afternoon together enjoying Albuquerque’s local cuisine and chatting while we hiked the east mountains. We kept in contact for only a brief moment of time, but I’ll carry his words with me for years to come.
I’ve always struggled with self-doubt and an impressively low self-worth. Over the last couple years, since leaving an unhealthy relationship, I’ve grown, but growing into myself has, unfortunately, meant giving up on other people. I pride myself on my independence, but at some point I crossed the line into outright isolation.
Devon called me out on that. He had the ability to read me, see where I was lying to myself, and figure out exactly what I needed to hear to shift my perspective. He asked me if that felt like living. It doesn’t. He asked me if I was happy with my life. I’m not. He asked if the things I’m doing to change my life are effective. They aren’t.
But what struck me the most was when he told me that he understood. He knew what it was like. He said I don’t have to feel isolated and alone, because everybody goes through pain like this and handles it in their own way. This was just my time to heal and cope – to become a full, whole version of me.
I discovered a new, vulnerable way of life. I have a new outlook. I have a new me. And it never would have happened if it weren’t for the traveler.