I was surprised at just how many times I received that question while on my latest adventure.
I write this post the night before I leave Mexico City. I’ve been here for three days, and yes, I’m traveling by myself (again), without a hint of sadness in that response.
I actually prefer traveling alone. I can do whatever the hell I want. Rest when I’m tired, stay out too late when the mood strikes, pop into a shop or a museum or a cafe if it looks enticing, strike up a conversation in a language I know with whomever I want without worrying about leaving anyone out because they aren’t feeling social or aren’t as curious about how the crickets are toasted with chiles.
Up until this summer, I’d forgotten about this very specific kind of joy.
It’s a freedom, really, that a single mom with two kids and a couple of jobs and an inability to say no — hey, I’m working on it — doesn’t often get to enjoy.
In August, I met a very sweet new friend who lives in Mexico City, and she casually offered to let me stay at her house if I ever wanted to come down for a weekend. Within a week, I’d started looking at plane tickets, and sure enough, it’s cheaper to come down here than to visit my own sister in Idaho.
Traveling by myself is one of my favorite exercises in being me. Even though so many things will inevitably not go my way, choosing the destination and then the destinations within the destination allows me to carve out a space that is entirely mine.
The first part of that sentence shouldn’t be swept under the proverbial rug: No trip is perfect. Control is an illusion. Going with the flow is one of the most important skills we can learn as humans, and traveling creates a perfect petri dish for getting out of your rut because it’s an ideal environment for something totally unknown to grow.
As I get older, the responsibilities grow. The roots start to creep ever deeper into a fertile soil that we spend years to cultivate in and of itself. We become nothing more than our habits and our obligations. If we’re lucky, we hold onto dreams of what might be, but we’re less likely to pursue them in order to preserve the creature comforts of the adulthood we’ve worked so hard to construct.
After all, there are — in my case — children to raise, stories to file, editors to please, a cat to feed, a car to pay for. If I’ve learned anything since I turned 30, it’s that all of these obligations aren’t burdens, they are joys.
When I’m feeling stressed about my job, the Jason Isbell lyric tiptoes into my brain: “I thank God for the work.” I do thank God, or whatever else I’m praying to these days, for the work, the deadlines, the coffee dates and interviews and activities that fill my calendar.
“A que te dedicas” is how you ask someone in Mexico what they do for a living.
What are you dedicated to?
What a powerful question.
The short answer is that I work for a newspaper and that I’m a journalist who writes about food. The long answer, as always, is much more complicated.
Ever since the years that led up to my divorce, I’ve know that I’m dedicated to expanding my capacity for life.
Sometimes, I get confused that that means more work, more stuff, more busy, more people to please. But when I can remove all of that noise — either by quieting my mind on a yoga mat or physically removing myself from a place I already know — I start to get a better grasp on this expansiveness that I seek.
Traveling by myself helps create that space between the breaths, if you will, where this kind of growth happens. I need and want my regular life. I’m grounded by those rhythms. I crave my bed, my art, my community. I would not thrive living on a different island every week with nothing but said yoga mat.
However, to riff on another metaphor, I can’t build a house if I can’t see the forest for the trees.
For me, traveling is one of the surefire ways to get out of the trees and into the clouds so you can see the forest that is, deadline by deadline, day by day, year by year, growing up all around you.
That might not be the same for you, but whatever you can do to get out of your comfort zone, whatever that comfort zone looks like, I plead with you that you should do it, as often as you can.
If you’re lucky, there are some fucking fantastic tamales waiting for you when you get there.
The joy in consuming them is not diminished because you are by yourself.