I Left My Life Behind to Travel—Here’s the Most Important Thing I’ve Learned

I went on a date recently with a guy I was reasonably excited about. I know “reasonably  excited“ doesn’t exactly SELL my enthusiasm, but it’s the best I can do since Jude Law did not reveal himself to me when I arrived in England like I’d hoped.

Actually, let me backup for a moment, in case we haven’t met. I’m Caitlin, the former Social Media Manager and staff writer of The Everygirl, and one year ago my marriage with the only man I’d been with since I was 14 came to an end. Like any good millennial, I decided the answers I needed in the wake of this heartbreaking change and major identity crisis must be waiting for me in Europe.

 

 

To be honest, I had no real clue what I was doing when I booked my one way ticket across the pond. Landing in London was a major LOL moment. Like, “oh! I guess I really did decide to come here, didn’t I?” The only tangible pieces I had of my life (past or present) fit in a poorly packed carry-on placed underneath the seat in front of me. There was no evidence of the red and white knit stockings I hung for us every year at Christmas, or the porcelain cow-shaped creamer his mom had bought me. Everything in my bag was replaceable, without memories or importance — none of it really mattered. Which, truthfully, is how most things felt at that point. I don’t mean that as horribly depressing as it sounds (although sometimes, it was horribly depressing), but I mean nothing really held weight anymore.

Everything was temporary. Everything was fleeting. I figured I might as well flee too.

 

 

I’ve spent the better part of 2018 traveling, writing, and generally regressing in all traditional areas of adulthood. I used to own a home and now I don’t even own an umbrella. I sleep in hostels (or private Airbnb rooms when I’m feeling like Rockefeller) and live paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ve whittled down everything I own to a duffel and a computer bag. This year I’ve visited England, Portugal, Scotland, and Denmark, and I’ll be heading to Greece in just a few weeks.

Suffice it to say that I spend a lot of time in the “in-betweens.” Trains. Sidewalks. Planes. Bus stops. Some days I’m grumpy and sweaty and tired because I have two heavy bags on my arms and I’m just trying to find WiFi to answer emails and omg how did I lose my toothbrush AGAIN and for the love of Pete when will I learn to wear the right shoes and my god did I seriously just make another wrong turn? Other days I’m still walking with those same heavy bags on my arms, but I remember to take the time to feel the breeze hit my skin; to smile at the single mom getting her coffee; to notice the glow of the twinkle lights on the street. Those are the good days — the peaceful, awe-filled, grateful ones. The past 8 months of traveling have been a constant push-pull of new experience.

 

Everything was temporary. Everything was fleeting. I figured I might as well flee too.

 

 

Which brings me back to dating.

I reactivated my Bumble profile after a glass or three of wine one night and got to chatting with a lovely lad (Damn. A total of 4 months in the U.K. this year and I still can’t pull that off), who arranged for a date the same weekend we started messaging. A real unicorn. He wasn’t OHMYGOD handsome, but definitely cute. His profile said that he was my age, an avid traveler, and the clincher: he loved dogs. A cute, adventurous, friend to the animals. I had seen enough to agree to an adult beverage.

He was better looking in person: tall, broad shoulders, a genuine, toothy smile, British accent, and good hands. (Does anyone else appreciate a nice set of hands? Maybe it’s because I, myself, am cursed with man hands so, it’s an active concern that my future husband will have lady hands and then WHERE WILL THAT LEAVE OUR CHILD?).

But I digress.

Overall I thought the date went well. I guess this is where my lack of dating experience comes into play, because I’m not sure how you ever really know. We didn’t have any awkward lags in conversation. We laughed a lot. He seemed to be a healthy level of nervous, which I took as a sign of interest, and we got a second drink (his idea!). Maybe it was a little platonic and there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of chemistry, but I mean, this was a first date. All in good time.

 

I’ve spent the better part of 2018 traveling, writing, and generally regressing in all traditional areas of adulthood.

 

 

 

I had promised a friend I would meet them after our date, so I told him I had to get going around. He walked me out of the pub, we hugged and he kindly told me to let him know if I ever needed any travel recommendations. (It turned out that he really did travel a lot, unlike other Bumble men who take one all inclusive trip to Mexico and declare it their favorite pastime). We exchanged a quick “had a great time!“ text later that evening, and he made a few recommendations of where to go next in my journey abroad.

A few days later I was out with friends in Covent Garden, drinking too many bottles of wine and unsuccessfully channeling Beyoncé on the dance floor when I met a lovely gal who worked for the Malta Tourism Board. I told her I was a freelance writer and was currently working on a few travel pieces, so she gave me her card and told me to keep in touch. I chalked it up as a sign from Goddess that I needed to go to Malta, and remembered my date saying that he recently went and loved it. I shot him a message the next day and asked him for a few of his favorite Malta spots, and if he had any suggestions on where to stay.

I never heard back.

 

 

I didn’t really care, but, I mean, come on, I kind of cared. I wasn’t smitten with this guy by any means, but there’s a part of me that couldn’t help but wonder why he went MIA, or as the Swipe Right dating era ponders — “why did he ghost?”

Was I uglier in person? Did I do that thing where I laugh obnoxiously loud without realizing? Was I boring?

It’s hard not to get discouraged in these moments, even if you’re lukewarm about the person to begin with. It just leaves you wondering, “WHY DIDN’T HE FALL IN LOVE WITH ME?” And was I in love with him? Certainly not. But somehow that always feels unimportant when you’re in the throes of rejection.

Even though my romance with Cute-Adventurous-Dog-Lover only lasted through two pints of Guinness, I was glad I went. Because I’m realizing that this season of my life isn’t about finding the person I’m meant to be with, but about who I’m becoming on the way to meeting them. It’s not about finding the place I’m meant to be rooted, but what I’m learning about the world while I’m getting there.

 

 

Sometimes these destinations feel so very important: the partner, the career, the home; the fancy, instagrammable vacation. Some days I’m grouchy and tired and sick of walking and can’t help but think, “am I there yet?”

But then there are the other days — those grateful, awe-filled ones. The ones where I open my eyes wider, slow my steps, and absorb the beauty of what my life already is, here, in this exact moment. The ones where I remind myself that this isn’t some interim period where I busy myself before “real life” begins. It’s no less real because I’m single, because I’m not rooted, or because it doesn’t look like I pictured.

 

It’s not about finding the place I’m meant to be rooted, but what I’m learning about the world while I’m getting there.

 

True, I don’t have an easy elevator pitch to describe myself; “Divorced at 28, working multiple jobs, and effectively homeless” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But it’s my path. And I’m learning not to apologize for or minimize the importance of these in-betweens, even when the bags feels heavy and I’m sick of carrying them. Because it’s here where we step into who we really are.

It’s the broken plans, the dates that go nowhere, and the jobs lost that ultimately push us to our next stop. Maybe the destination isn’t that important, after all. Or, maybe there is no such thing. Maybe we’re already living the most important part.

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