An Afterward to Adventure

They say all good things must come to an end. But why?!

I’ve been preaching zen optimism about rolling with the punches and making the best out of any situation, yet in the days leading up to my departure from South America, the one thing I couldn’t seem to accept was that my adventure was over. 
If travel is indeed a bug, I have a terminal case of it. I want nothing more than to continue exploring the world and learning from it. It seems the last lesson my trip had to teach me was how to go home. 
I’ve been home for over a week now, and it amazes me how quickly I can fall back into normality. 
I am far from unhappy. The one thing I truly missed on the road was people. No short-term travel acquaintance can replace the family and friends you know for years. 
I’ve been a busy boy seeing all the important folks in my life. A highlight was celebrating Thanksgiving with my tight-knit, fun-loving family, sipping akvavit and feasting on heart-clogging food. It warmed me to see how gracefully we can heal from the freshly dealt tragedy I left in September, how we can come together so strong. 
It’s also been pleasant being home again, in the sense of a place. I’ve attended concerts by local bands, had coffee and craft beers at my favorite watering holes, and taken brisk bike rides through the Colorado winter. After two months of constantly exposing myself to new places, there is a real comfort in coming home and not feeling like an outsider.

The realization I’ve come to is this: I love my home, and nothing will ever replace it, but home isn’t going anywhere. 

For all intents and purposes, nothing changed while I was away, and the feeling of familiarity has come to freak me out a bit. As hard as it was to leave South America, I don’t mourn it precisely because it reassured me that I wasn’t missing anything. That sounds harsh to the people back home, who make a damn good reason to stay put, but anyone who knows me well enough understands that I am an independent soul who lives to see the world. On the road, I am the truest version of myself. 
I want to go on record: I am dead set on finding a way to keep traveling. 
But I neither want nor need another vacation, another experience to find myself or push off life’s responsibilities. I want this to be my career, in one form or another. I was not messing around when I decided to study journalism and photography – I wanted to be travel writer, a foreign correspondent, a globe-trotting photojournalist, or pretty much anything that would allow me to see the world for a living. 
For a long time I was afraid to talk about my dreams for fear that they would not come true. Of course fear of not succeeding is the most assured path to failure. I am now confident enough to confront those dreams. I accept the reality that I may not succeed, but I’m going to work really hard to do something worth being proud of.
I’ve never felt so motivated. 
I’m beginning to edit my photos and hope to get them up on some walls, whether they hang in a gallery or a coffee shop. I’m signing up for online writing classes to continue developing my craft, and I plan on taking Spanish lessons as well. I’m researching paid internships, job opportunities, or any other stepping stones toward a sustainable career within my interest.
It’s daunting to set these goals for myself, but I hope by writing them down for the public to read, I will be held accountable by myself and the people close to me. The cards are on the table.

It’s possible some people are thinking, Great. Follow your dreams. But why is travel so important? I’ve been waiting for you to ask.  

For one thing, I am good at it. It takes a particular human wiring and a lot of learning to be a good traveler. 
Given my training, I feel I have so much to give. The world can be such a complicated, messed up place, but I think I can do some good by recording truth, exposing injustice, and facilitating understanding and constructive discourse. Less heroically, I just like showing people something – an story, a picture, a person, place or thing, an idea – they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. 
For my own good, travel is the single most fulfilling thing I know to do.
Parents, if you want your kids to turn into awesome human beings, raise them to see the world until they are old enough to explore it on their own. If you have the means, buy them a backpack, a guide book and a plane ticket. If you don’t, help to earn/borrow/steal the money to make it happen. 
Travel cures ignorance. I’ve met backpackers from nearly every developed and emerging nation in the world. I’ve learned that some people are bad, most of them are good, and it has very little to do with where you come from. Above all the differences in I can learn from any given person, I am constantly reminded how much more we have in common.
Travel has made me the person I am. It has taught me how to take care of myself and confront any situation. It has taught me self-love, self-awareness and helped me define what is important in my life. It has given me courage, wisdom, and an openness to ideas and experiences that are uncomfortable.

At the heart of it all lies this: I have found the thing that makes me happy, and I refuse to let that go. 

Life is short and precious. Since the untimely passing of my aunt, I’ve never respected this cliche more. Realizing your own mortality does a lot to enhance your appreciation for living.
Life is a magnificent privilege with the potential to be absolutely incredible – but it can also be wasted. Over different periods in the last 12 months, I have been the most unhappy and the most happy I can ever remember being. There were many factors contributing to the former, but the overarching reason was that I’d lost sight of what was important to me, of what made me happy. 
People sometimes laugh at my newly-minted life philosophy, but I’m damn serious about it: If you can’t be happy, why don’t you just die? 
Unhappiness is suffering. If you tolerating a miserable existence, incapable or unwilling to find what makes you happy, I don’t see a reason for living. From my twisted existential perspective, life has no purpose if you’re going let it suck. Whether I go tomorrow or 80 years from now, I plan on living the most well-lived life I can, one day at a time.
We all have our own versions of a life well-lived.
Some people have religion, others have football, stamp collecting, or the return of the McRib sandwich. It’s not important what makes you happy, so long as it does. I know a lot of people who find their ultimate state of contentment en route to settling down, achieving financial security, buying that house (and car and boat), raising a family. I’m just not ready for that, not yet. I’m barely 23 years old, with a lengthy punch-list of places to go, things to do, people to meet. Once you go down that road, it’s not so easy to come back.
I have many questions about why we are all on this giant rock rotating in space, a unique species cursed with the knowledge that we are procreating and dying for possibly no good reason. I justify my existence by creating meaning: through art, music, literature and film; through good food and good drink; through friendship, love and human connection. I justify my existence by wandering this massive planet, exposing my ephemerally animated carcass to every beautiful, weird, smelly inch of it I can. 
I am driven because I believe there is something (some thing, many things) out there waiting for me. I’m excited by the idea that I won’t know what it is until I find it. 
I can’t promise I’ll be the same person tomorrow with the same aspirations and opinions – as stated, I’m only 23. What I can promise is that I am going to fight hard for what I love, jump through fire to get where I want to go, and I’m going to have a smile on my face while I do it.
Nov. 29, 2013 – 4:26 p.m. – Home, Sweet Home

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