4 Things You Learn When You Let Go Through Travel

Far off lands and luxurious castles -- this may sound like your cliché Disney setting, but three years ago I strived to make it my reality. At 23 years old, I realized that my life was not my own. I was wrapped up in the heart of someone who didn't just mistreat me, but also erased me completely. After messily unraveling my way out of an unauthentic and controlled life, I had authored chapters in a novel I refused to put my name on. With a passport as my storybook, I decided to pick up the pen and start my life from 5,000 miles away.

During what were supposed to be the most transforming years of my life, I had mindlessly concocted the perfect ingredients leading up to my own quarter-life crisis.

My recipe was simple:
  • Gather low self-esteem
  • Mix with toxic boyfriend
  • Add one diamond ring
  • Extract all independence
  • Bake for a tumultuous five years
  • Enjoy a horrendous breakup for two

I soon decided that I, like many others, was not a casualty to a toxic relationship, but a survivor--strong and brave, yet still nonplussed as ever by the whirlwind of five years. From serial dating to blog writing, I threw the stranger I had become at every idea, waiting for something to stick.

I didn't need a human rebound, but a city. I wanted to infatuate myself with a honeymoon phase of sights, smells, tastes and sounds of a completely new world. Traveling was the tattoo artist rebound boyfriend I'd never bring home to my parents. (Well, I might have brought home one of those, too, but that's another story.) I needed something that wasn't only fresh but foreign.

I finally found traces of my "lost" existence at a Barnes and Noble, thumbing through Lonely Planet's Discover Spain. My travel bug had always been itching at me and as its bite got stronger, so did I. For abandoning everything familiar (or what my parents would call "my sanity") and hopping on a flight to Seville, I was discovering something that was exponentially greater than myself. The girl who lost her independence was going to face the ultimate test.

Finding yourself isn't a scripted journey.
The feeling of packing your life into a 45-inch box on wheels is a hybrid of both terrifying and exhilarating. Everyone wants his or her own Eat, Pray, Love tale to tell. It's the story where you wake up in a strange city only to feel at home. You meet a handsome stranger and eat endless amounts of gelato incredulously without gaining a measly pound. This all plays out seamlessly while a girl power-induced soundtrack streams in the background. This isn't the case.

You'll be raw with emotions that range from confusion to elation. You'll feel entranced some days and utterly homesick on others. Self-discovery won't always be as pretty as the postcard you send home, but the growth you experience will be beautiful.

You may be alone, but you won't always feel alone.
I'll tell you a secret: you're not the only person with a passport. Wherever you go, you'll be pleased to find inspired nomads living out life's curiosities. Some have been traveling for days and others for years. No matter who you encounter, they all have one thing in common: the craving to feel. They, like you, are empowered by exploration and adventure. Don't be surprised to find that everyone has their own reason for fleeing their everyday life. Learn from their quests while on your own -- you won't regret it.

This isn't an excuse to run away. Your past has a passport.
Don't confuse a need to escape with a need to explore. Whatever you're running from at home will follow you on your journey. It will rear its head in quiet churches, peaceful palaces, and blaring nightclubs. It will ruminate as you stare at the stars on the steps of Plaza de España or tuck itself in as you lay in the twin bed of your hostel. Physically distancing yourself from your conflicts won't create an internal divide -- it's important that you realize this and react. The past will wait until the opportune moment to remind you that this trip isn't a vacation, but an awakening.

It won't make any sense until it suddenly does.
Getting caught up in late nights and early mornings is expected. Sometimes you'll be so carried away that you may lose sight of what brought you there. As lost as you may feel, it won't be long until that one justifying moment sets in. You'll capture it, cherish it and reminisce about far after it happens -- you'll do everything but put it into words. I realized this on a night when the sunset fell over the highest hill in Granada; I lifted a plastic champagne-filled cup without question and toasted to myself and to the woman I wanted to become. I was finally able to pen my name to a story that was my own.

Whether letting go or just choosing growth, you're going to make it. In an awe-inspiring mixture miles and moments, you will catch the next flight to completeness. When you get there, don't forget to raise your glass and say cheers to a life that's yours.

This post originally ran as "4 Reasons to Make Your Passport Your Storybook" on CupOfCharisma.com, Jillian's blog focused on style, social good and the twenty-something's guide to life.