airport musings // on ripped suitcases and belongings and overpacked minds

Written in my journal on 4/10/2014:

i’m sitting on the floor of the charlotte douglas international airport all by myself at 1am. there is sand in my dready hair and bruises on my traveled limbs and a growing hole at the bottom of the old duffel bag i’ve been living out of for the past two months.

the bag is literally bursting at the seams from the marry-poppins amount of content i’ve been keeping in it. a hammock, a tent, a yoga mat, two towels, three pairs of shoes and a truly modest amount of clothing are all in fantastic danger of being strewn across america tomorrow morning, when i fly back to the heathen lands of las vegas.

i’d mourn the hammock and the tent for their growing usefulness in my life, but not the clothes so much. they smell of caribbean sand and florida sweat and ohio snow and that cold costa rican river water i last washed them in. 

i’ve worn each article of clothing so many times on my travels over the past couple years that they just don’t mean anything to me anymore. kind of like when you say a word over and over and over, until it doesn’t make any sense and sounds like gibberish. it doesn't make the word any less of a real word, but you question, "wait, what does this mean again?"

these clothes, though useful and once beautiful to me, have become redundant. these things i once spent money on because i thought they'd make me momentarily happy, or would somehow define ME and my style, have been stripped of that imaginary value and reduced to their practicality. will this be comfortable on an airplane? can i hike a mountain in these? would this be weird to hitchhike in? could i dance until sunrise and then fall asleep in these? 

you're bound to reevaluate the value of your possessions when you have to carry them on your back everywhere you go. and material things simply aren't worth so much when you're getting richer-than-a-king off of invaluable, mind-blowing experiences. 

so after carrying the weight of these things for so long, you get to a point where you're like, "yeah, whatever. i can let that awesome shirt go. i've had my way with it."

like this long, flowy tribal skirt i was given at a bar the other night in the virgin islands...

i complimented a passing girl on the skirt she was wearing, had a quick conversation with her about traveling, and five minutes later, she appeared next to me again wearing shorts, with the pretty skirt in her outstretched hand.

a random, selfless gesture, which i am wearing as i type because it's my new favorite thing/story/present-ever-received-from-a-stranger-in-a-bar. ;)

it's not everyday you compliment somebody on their clothes and then they almost immediately strip them off just to give to you... that sort of radical detachment from ego is the sort of thing i want to stand up and applaud. 

but this girl was a traveler too. and we nomads have come to know the real worth of these material possessions---skirts and shirts and boots and things---the things you don't even remember you own until you go home and find them hiding in the corner of your closet. they are only worth what you do in them. and what i really mean is, they’re meant to be worn in fantastical places on a weekly basis for months or years on end, until your perception of their worth transcends their monetary value.

because then, their value exists in the photographs of you twirling on that faraway beach with your best friends. their value exists in the memories of the things you conquered while in them. the way they made you FEEL in them, in those moments that changed the way you look at the world forever. 

once you appreciate your experiences in those physical things more than the things themselves, it’s easy to let them go. to recycle them. to give them away. to pass them on to the next wide-eyed, adoring girl, who will wear that skirt like it's brand new and give it a whole new life of badass experiences.

so for the sake of posterity, once i’ve had my fun with this skirt---once it's exhausted its worth with me---i’ll pass it on to the next appreciative girl along my journey.

just like i did with the sunglasses i found on the beach in st thomas, and then accidentally (drunkenly) lost on the beach in barcelona (and secretly hope somebody finds, cherishes, and then drunkenly loses on another beach in another awesome part of the world!).

because that’s the best thing you can do with something really useful---SHARE IT. ...discover it, try it on for size, learn from it, grow in it, and then pass it on! 

you see, it’s been two entire months on the road(/mountain/island/sea), and my brain feels just about as jam-packed as my luggage. as much as i CAN'T WAIT to unpack my dirty travel gear, wash it and put it in its place or give it away, i also CANNOT WAIIITTTT to empty the contents of my very full and scattered brain. to unpack all these lessons and revelations and manifestations. to line them up, clean them off and maybe even polish them. so that i can share. so that they can have a whole new life with someone who's never worn them before. 

as i sit here in the loud silence of this massive airport, the core of my very being feels like it could spontaneously combust from all of the loving and learning and hilarity that I've reveled in lately. i want to hug every human i know and collapse into a coma at the same time. 

it's the same way i felt when i returned from europe last summer. because traveling, and really living deliberately, doesn't afford much time to step back and look at everything i'm experiencing from an outside perspective. to put the chaos of my thoughts into an orderly peace. and to share with people who could relate to/laugh at/learn from them.

this is all to say, i am so excited to go home (or to the semblance of it anyway), and to just BE there. to once again rest my tired mind in a real bed (hallelujah!) near a real fridge (not a tent or a backpack or a friend's fridge!) where i can keep real veggies to heal my tired cells. to do yoga and meditate on a regular basis. to read and learn and digest, until i feel revived enough to share. 

ohhhh, i believe in the good things comin', comin', comin', comin'!

and, as always, i love YOU for being present in this journey, and your own! light it up!

lately i've learned

+ when things aren't going smoothly and it's really a struggle just getting by, the situation you're in is probably not meant to be. all those obstacles are the sign. move onto the next opportunity and be grateful for the lesson.

+ once you make the move in he right direction, everything will fall into place and feel very serendipitous and dream-like... like when you get the the airport 15 minutes too late, but the man at the check-in counter re-opens the computer system just for you. and then you get on board and get seated in first class with the only other passenger on the ENTIRE PLANE, thanks to some fluke concerning the flight the day before. all the flight attendants pamper you with free food and dessert and never-ending wine. if you don't think that's a sign you're making the right decision, you won't know what is!

+ even if you get spoiled with a serendipitous opportunity like that ^^, it's maybe not a good idea to consume an entire bottle of that free first class wine... because a hangover will likely kick in half-way through your connecting flight. and where do you NOT want to be hungover? in the middle seat on a 5 hour flight, stuck between two very large, snoring men. 

belieeeeve me,

stefanie

the settling, or lack thereof

so i've been stateside for a few months now, ambling along, trying to implement the things i learned abroad into the remnants of my old american lifestyle. it's been a struggle of extremes, but i am so grateful for it all. because i've learned that i just don't fit the way i used to---i am wholly and unapologetically changed.

since my return in september, i have gone from ohio to vegas to ohio to vegas to ohio and soon to vegas again (literally that many times). i've spent invaluable time with some perfect new friends, and reconnected with special people i hadn't seen in ages. i've experienced live music in the form of coffee shop singers, talented friends, a concert in cleveland, and a music festival in las vegas. i worked at anthropologie for all of one month, before quitting materialism, once and for all. i got rejected from a job for the first time in my life, because my resume showed that i travel too much. i planned a birthday surprise, visited family in kentucky, saved a beagle puppy, hosted dinners and game nights, and visited best friends in florida a couple times. 

i was terrified to return to the states for the first time after a year of living away, because i had a sinking feeling it would be really difficult. and it's been even harder than my fears predicted, but i've come out of it all more motivated than ever before. i've replenished myself on the love of friends who have such moving faith in me. and made my plans to leave again. IT'S ALL HAPPENING.

there might not be a place for me here just yet. which makes me think there's more out there for me to learn first. so i depart in a week. and will return again when the time is right.

beerfest and maltese blasphemy

cedric, the videographer we met at the patches art festival, invited us to join him and his friends at a beer festival to try some local brews and watch their friend's bands perform.

this was our first time feeling fully immersed into a mass of maltese culture.  cedric introduced us to all of his friends and i just thought they were all so beautiful. the girls danced confidently and sang so sweet on stage. the boys bought us beers and did flamboyant american accents to make us all laugh.

but what i loved most was hearing everyone talk to each other in their unique language. because maltese is like nothing i've ever heard before---a mix between italian and arabic! so there are a lot of arabic sounding words and crazy spellings, but with that lovely italian inflection. 

naturally, i insisted on learning every maltese curse word/phrase in existence. but holy hell, are there a LOT! maltese has some of the most elaborate, offensive, and kind of impressive cursing known to man. so cedric and his friends taught us a few of the easier ones. noelle and i repeated these fun new words throughout the night, like potty-mouthed little mocking birds, and everyone laughed at how well we pronounced them. kind of like when toddlers discover curse words for the first time and it's weirdly cute---but then you have to tell them to stop, because sometimes yelling god damnit in public just isn't appropriate. yeah, it was like that.

when i got home, i skyped with amber and taught her what i learned, since she's pretty fond of cursing too ;) cedric laughed at this, because i was "spreading maltese blasphemy far and wide!" 

the thing about shoes...

we've noticed a couple things about shoes in europe...

first of all, most guys in europe wear nicer shoes on the regular than american guys ever do. hell, nicer shoes than i ever do! noelle and i realized we can always tell a european from an american just by looking at their shoes. sperrys? american! old tennis shoes when you're clearly not running or working out? american! nicer shoes than i own? euroooopean.

yep, i'm impressed. 

secondly, i see shoes laying around unattended ALL THE TIME. and i think,  what happened here? there's a story behind this!  and sometimes,  are they my size?! 

sometimes there's just one. sometimes there's a pair. but it's never in a place where someone could've possibly thought,  yep this is a good spot! i'll come back for these bad boys later.  

scotty saw a pair in a corner of paris and imagined some drunk woman kicking them off and saying "fuck! this!" with a word for each kick, before continuing on her way barefoot and relieved... haha!

i haven't seen anyone ditching their shoes in the street yet, but i'd sure like to. and i'm hoping i'll maybe stumble upon a pair i like. because my shoes are now falling apart and i'd like some new ones ;)

IT'S PEOPLE THAT MATTER.

my junior year of college, i was sitting in a small classroom at 99 Great Russell Street in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. it was mid-december and the end of an enlightening semester. the air outside was cold and still, while the air inside was vibrating with warm memories and goodbyes.

knowing we were all already scheming up ways to move abroad again as soon as graduation came, my literature professor concluded his final class by saying, "remember... you can go all over the world--to the most beautiful places imaginable--searching for happiness. but in the end, a pretty view is just wallpaper. it's people that matter."

i was preoccupied by flighty thoughts at the time and didn't digest just how profound a sentiment that was. in fact, i kind of scoffed at it, half offended. as though he were trying to persuade us to stay in the states with our families and get a boring job. as though parting with old friends for new experiences wasn't worth it. as though moving abroad like he did would be a shallow mistake.

two years (and six months of living in the caribbean) later, i FINALLY understand exactly what Dr. Crook meant that day.

he heard our young hearts yearning for tickets to pretty places that we could cross off our bucket lists. he heard us exclaiming we'd rather travel forever than ever settle down and nurture a family. he heard us joke about how we'd only get married if it meant dual citizenship of another country...

ah, what stubborn young girls we were.

it's people that matter.

after i graduated college last year, i wanted to jet straight off to the many european cities i didn't get a chance to see during my semester abroad. i didn't care if anyone came with me or how much it would cost or where i would stay... i was just so painfully bored of the monotony of school and work that i felt like i was going to explode if i didn't get out there. 

and then the option of the virgin islands presented itself. i had never considered the caribbean before, because i was more interested in european culture. but after some thought, amber and i convinced ourselves it was a more logical route--a transitional baby step. and more responsible than flying to foreign countries without knowing what the hell i was doing. shallow adventure averted.

st thomas saved me from hastily venturing off into the great unknown without purpose

and on the island, amber and i got outrageously lucky. instead of waitressing like we had expected, we were immediately hired on the boats. i learned exciting new skills and found new strengths i never thought possible for myself. i lived with the best friend a girl could ask for. i worked with the most incredible crew possible. and i had an illegal amount of fun with positive, like-minded people on my down time. 

those six months in the caribbean were some of the happiest of my life. we created an island family. and we were hardly ever idle. 

considering all of this, i was surprised to find the sadness that consumed me every now and then.

you'd think it'd be impossible to ever be sad in such a beautiful paradise, right? but the beauty alone was never enough to sustain me. because after a while, those views stopped looking so spectacular and started becoming commonplace. after a few months, i stopped craning my neck to see the sunrise on the hour-long safari ride to work. i hardly looked beyond the boundaries of our boat anymore while we were sailing.

of course, i could look up and feel fortunate to be there... but if i happened to be twisted about internal conflicts, that external surrounding simply couldn't pacify me. the views distracted me a little at first, when everything was still new. but then one day, i sat on sapphire beach with my toes dug in the sand and sobbed about things the sea couldn't heal.

i cried when my family couldn't visit for christmas. i shed tears over a boy i was hopelessly in love with. i caved inward on days i didn't feel good enough. i grieved for weeks after a woman died in the cove. and it came over me all at once while sitting on that crowded beach on new year's eve. because somehow, i felt totally alone.

although those moments of sadness were truly few and far between, the views could never comfort me or talk me out of my worries. it was the extraordinary people in my life that made them go away. that island family made it all worth it.

but then, near the end of my time in st thomas, the things that fulfilled me everyday started fading. my boat crew was broken up. the job wasn't challenging in a fun way anymore. and friends started leaving the island for the off-season. my island experience was stripped of almost everything but the beauty. 

as soon as the caribbean became mere wallpaper to me, i decided to leave. i started craving deeper interactions and intellectual conversations and new cultures. it was high time to embark on that european adventure, with purpose.

you see, i'm not the same overly eager college grad that i was before i knew st thomas. i've learned of the vital importance of connections with people. about how hard it can be to enjoy things alone. and that a great view, though beautiful, is really just secondary---icing on the cake of a rich experience.

so i was naive. and this all may seem too obvious to some, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget what matters. because we're raised to be independent go-getters, to do whatever it takes for our own version of success. sacrifice for self-gain. but an overwhelming sense of independence can be so damaging. 

it's not always an easy lesson to learn, but i think i learned it well. it sank in young and now i feel it through and through. and i'm glad it didn't take hitchhiking across america and starving alone in alaska to find it out, like poor Mr Supertramp from Into the Wild. happiness is only real when shared.

in planning my travels now, i'm revolving them almost completely around people. i'm taking time to visit family before i go, going out of my way to meet up with friends, and meticulously choosing where i volunteer in europe based on the people involved, rather than the sites nearby.

so, dear reader, this is all to say: surround yourself with people that fulfill you. because that's what matters most.