Amy on Planning, Process, and Purpose
As the summer winds down and our departure date nears, I'm still coming to terms with the reality of putting my New York lifestyle, jobs, friendships, apartment, and pet fish on hold so Joel and I can embark on an epic adventure on the other side of the world. Though we’ve been preparing for months, it’s hard to envision the nuances of our impending nomadic life.
For years, my natural inclination has been to cling to the familiar and reject dramatic change. Growing up, family vacations were infrequent and almost always domestic. Without the experience of international travel, I came to associate distant places with imminent danger and life-threatening illness.
In addition to deep-seated anxieties concerning the unfamiliar, I also suffer from chronic migraines and other ailments that require a slew of medications and treatments. This alone has kept me in close proximity to my comfy mattress, collection of ice packs, and indispensable acupuncturist. But being overly cautious and coping with health issues come with a price: I have rarely strayed from my comfort zone to explore what this planet has to offer.
Then I turned thirty. For me, this new number felt triumphant—I survived my tumultuous twenties and made it to an ever-wiser decade filled with endless promise. As the concept of what it means to be thirty nowadays sunk in, time started to feel elusive, one moment opening its arms and the other turning its back. If I ever hope to break away from my well-worn routines, kiss my comfort zone goodbye, dispel unfounded assumptions, and seek out adventure, I must grab time by the horns before it’s too late. With Joel as my travel guru and professional planner, I made the decision to flee my beloved city and explore an unpaved path.
Part of planning our itinerary means taking my aforementioned ailments and sensitivities into account, namely by scheduling buffer days in the inevitable event of a migraine. We’ve also opted for shorter plane rides, when affordable, over lengthy bus rides, and I have amassed a hefty amount of preventative supplements and as-needed prescriptions.
During our two-week Panama trip last summer, I learned that challenging my body and pushing through the pain is part of the journey. After hiking, biking, traversing boulders, falling in mud, getting soaked in torrential rain, enduring bumpy boat rides, and avoiding men with machetes, I discovered a few new things about myself: I can live with less than what I own; being “on the go” is exhilarating; unplugging is satisfying; and pushing myself gives me pride. I may be a delicate flower, but I boast thorns of steel.
Our trip to Panama also clarified the difference between travel and vacation. The allure of the all-inclusive is lost on me. While it's lovely to just kick back and relax, and while I certainly don’t consider myself rugged—I want a hot shower after a day’s trek, and I’m not keen on sharing bathrooms—luxury resorts and cruise ship entertainment seem like the antithesis of adventure. Nor do I want to relinquish planning power to a pre-paid tour guide. Sometimes the B-side (i.e. ancient petroglyphs on an isolated rock) is more worthwhile than the greatest hit (i.e. Panama Canal).
The DIY approach can often be cheaper, too. In Boquete, we took a seven-dollar cab ride, walked a mile up the road, walked another mile to a booth, and paid five dollars each to explore the Lost Waterfalls. A packaged tour would have cost considerably more, and we wouldn’t have experienced the excitement (along with the extra burden) of finding it ourselves based on directions from our hostel and a few random people we encountered along the way. There’s truly a reward in veering off the beaten path, relying on common sense, and not taking the easy way out.
After returning from adrenaline-packed Panama—and realizing I’d been bitten by the travel bug—I struck up a conversation with a cab driver in Westchester. I told him I’d spent a lot of time hiking during my trip, to which he exclaimed, “Are you crazy? Hiking?! You only did that because your boyfriend wanted to.”
The cabbie proceeded to tell me about his recent vacation in the Bahamas, and how my days of hiking in the Panamanian cloud forest were clearly inferior to the Vegas-style shows he’d seen. I tried to point out that if I’d wanted to gamble, watch TV, and speak only to other English-speaking tourists, I didn’t have to leave the country. And I wanted to explain that I may be a travel novice, but I’m not above public beaches or backpacker hostels. I want to be out on the streets, not cooped up in a room, however fancy. I can read Lonely Planet to make informed choices, use Google translate apps to decipher street signs, do my best to communicate with locals, and cook my own food even when I’m far from home.
One of the things that excites me about our Asian adventure is finding things that guidebooks and websites never thought to mention—those hidden gems you weren’t looking for and can’t believe you found. Our current itinerary provides a balance between urban cities and rural landscapes, historical landmarks and natural formations, ancient shrines and modern attractions, and cultural museums and village markets, affording us endless opportunities for chance discoveries. I cannot wait to wander into shops, slip off my shoes at temples, and immerse myself in the buzzing cacophony of cities. I’m even looking forward to getting lost!
While I expect that sixteen-hour train rides, hard-as-rock mattresses, and 25+ pounds on my petite frame may result in a terrible migraine, I refuse to let that stop me from pursuing this adventure. And who knows...as I toughen up, inhale fresh air (well, not in Beijing), and settle into a new way of life, perhaps I will better manage, or even diminish, some of my pain. Or perhaps my pain is beside the point. All I know is that I no longer want to feel limited. With more confidence than ever, I want to accept the unexpected as Joel and I dive into one of the most exciting times of our lives.
words by Amy
photos by Joel