Quitting my job to become a traveling writer was not easy. While determining my premeditated roaming as yearlong provided some sort of framework, truth be told I was freaking the hell out until I finally bought that first ticket and left Israel. At this point my neurosis didn’t necessarily subside but just looked better under a tropical sun. Looking back, I think my psychological trajectory from the day I resigned until I finally became a real-life traveling bum had various clearly defined stages.
The Four Stages in the Psyche of the Unemployed Traveler
The state of ecstasy. That’s the moment right after you hand in your resignation letter and sit at your office desk looking at Google images of the beaches you will be lounging at and mountains you will be climbing. That is after 1-2 months, during which you must continue coming to the office and pretend to care about the job you just quit.
When that sinks in begins the second stage: impatient annoyance. Things that never bothered you before like the lady that tells you to be quiet while you speak on the phone or the chatty guy who keeps talking about his problems start to make you highly irritated. You just can’t wait to be out of there when the world will be all fun and games, cowboys and piñatas, coconuts and mangoes, sand and sun and… Thinking of these make you happy, in a sneering “I’m so cool cuz I quit my job and all these people have to keep coming here for ever” kind of way.
The third stage, the stage of horror, panic, and fright kicks in a few days before or after your last day of work. Maybe you already bought your ticket, maybe like me you lingered on as a bum in your hometown for a month before flying out. Either way, shit just got real: You are officially an unemployed blob of nothing. For the past two months every time you announced your decision to quit your job and travel, your colleagues have been staring at you with that confused, awkward smile that people inadvertently display when consoling a mourning stranger. “How brave!” they say just like they said when you cut your hair real short because cutting hair is like saving a drowning monkey from a flooding river. Brave??? I’m not brave, I’m a scared little monkey. Please hold me!!!!
Slowly but surely, after a week or so of staying in bed until noon and generally doing nothing, you begin to embrace your gallant ways and purchase a ticket to your first destination. Enter the stage of idealized delirium. Deep down, you are still scared and about to shit your pants at any given moment, but you have learned to hide it in your pampers. “That’s right, I am super cool,” you say to those that comment on your stoicism and lets be frank, ugly hair. While you imagine yourself as a character in the pictures of good-looking travel bloggers whose day job obviously consist of posing in front of world wonders, you can almost hear the mariachi band escorting you to the gates (not of heaven, just the airport).
Before you know it, you are trotting about Colombia snapping pictures at those very world wonders, and you realize actually doing this entails going through these four stages of intense emotions all at once, all the time.
Quarter-time Evaluation: What comes next?
Now that I am a quarter into this randomly chosen time-period of one year, I am still figuring out what I want out of this year let alone what I will be doing in the one to follow. As I hit the three-month mark into this stage of wandering and about to embark on a new journey in Mexico it is time for some genuine reflection on what I’ve learned and how I wish to continue.
Last night as I stumbled upon the commencement speech Natalie Portman gave at Harvard a few days ago. While her address to the class of 2015 wasn’t a revelation, her advice about choosing a path unique and true to oneself rather than following another’s is valuable enough to be repeated. Having had the pleasure of sitting next to her at a spoken Arabic class at Hebrew University over ten years ago, I remembered observing the very insecurities she spoke of in her speech when the teacher mixed up our names in the class.
Knowing which path is yours is just as hard as sticking to it. Even something that’s supposed to be carefree as traveling requires the thoughtful construction of a roadmap true to oneself as well as the flexibility for its continuous reconstruction. The urge to belong and fit a mold, just like in the routine of the “real” world, doesn’t magically disappear just because you live out of a bag and eat your lunch at the beach. Distractions abound in hostel dorms.
That doesn’t mean one can’t also enjoy diversions. I had a blast following paths not my own. Along the way, I remembered who I am and what I want. I remembered to stay put and make deep connections in the places I visit while giving myself the necessary time and space to write rather than jump on the bandwagon of the gringo backpacking trail. Making this year mine is my goal as I repack my bag for Mexico.
And to start it all differently, instead of booking a hostel I booked a room with an organic-cooking, holistic-healing Airbnb lady. I am excited to arrive in Mexico City, see Frida Kahlo’s house and walk around the neighborhoods Sandra Cisneros describes in Caramelo. Then off to San Miguel de Allende for what I hope will be an extended stay.
P.S. It took me two weeks to finally leave Mexico City, but I have made it to San Miguel de Allende. So much to write about this country full of pleasant surprises!