What Are We Running From? A Traveler's Dilemma

“Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have to go.” - Anthony Bourdain

When I was younger I didn’t enjoy traveling. I was a homebody and preferred sitting in my room and hanging out friends. This is probably not uncommon for teenagers. However, even into my college years my wanderlust was impotent. I didn’t see the value in it. I am fortunate enough for parents who lugged me across the North America during my developing years. However, I wasn’t much of a sight seer and to be honest, I had a crappy attitude.

A Transition

It wasn’t until 2 years ago that my curiosity finally peaked. My friend Jake returned from a teaching program in Korea a few months after a long term relationship of mine had ended. It was an time of uncertainty and I was looking for a new way to define myself. We were both in transition and fertile for exploration. In two months we traveled to New York, Philadelphia and drove from Detroit to Denver. My first road trip. We jumped out of hotel windows, leaped into New York garbage piles and climbed the Rockies.

Jake had moved to Denver and I returned to Detroit and my routine. I was itching for something new and was eager to scratch it. So, I decided to drop out of graduate school and move to Denver as well. I had a job lined up, a place to stay and was set to go. I thought moving would satisfy my yearning for substance. However, there were two serendipitous interventions: a conversation with my graduate advisor and falling in love.

I told my advisor that I was preparing to move to Denver and would be dropping out of the counseling program. He talked it over with me and at the end of our discussion said something that reoriented my thinking. He said “what you are looking for, you will not find in Denver. What you’re looking for is in here” and tapped his chest. Now, my favorite quote is “the only Zen you  find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there” from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The message is the same and his words rattled my perspective. How could I have missed this?

In addition, I met someone who I knew (and have confirmed) would become a big part of my life. Wanderlust was escapism; romanticized. The question arose-- what am I running from? Looking back, it’s now clear. I was searching for comfort in movement because movement was a distraction. I was entering a new phase of my life and it scared the shit out of me. I had graduated college, moved out, started graduate school and a new career, ended one relationship and was starting another. Tons of movement, little solidarity. So I hit the road in a Kerouac-esque quest for meaning.


It all sounds romantic, but along with all the hotel leaping and mountain scaling was an intense level of anxiety and discontentment. Though I’ve worked the anxiety out for the most part, I feel as if I am confronted with a similar question as I prepare for a 10 day trip across the West.

What am I chasing?

This blog is part of a process. Questions are posed and tips are given based on my own curiosity, experience and education. There is no absolute here. I feel the Bourdain quote is fitting as I explore my past adventures while preparing to embark on another.

It’s important to begin a trip with no expectations other than where to lay our head and a flight itinerary. Too much planning can suffocate the process. If we know what to expect, we miss the point of a vacation, which is to vacate our present routine for the unknown. I’ve packed my bags, checked into my flight and am ready for some sun. However, every one of my trips comes with a dilemma. While there will be beaches, warmth and good times, my mind will be grasping for the meaning in movement.

The dilemma of whether to live in each moment or search for a theme to tie it all together.

My Minimum

For those who enjoyed the post “What’s Our Minimum?” the photo below features my minimum for this trip, which spans two climates:

-2 pairs of shorts
-1 bathing suit
-1 pair of jeans
-5 t-shirts
-1 flannel
-5 pairs of socks/underwear
-1 toothbrush
-1 pack of hair gel
-1 book
-1 notebook
-1 leather jacket
-2 pairs of shoes
-1 glasses case (with glasses)
-1 iPhone + accessories
-1 thermal hat
-1 backpack to hold it
Total: 26 items

Title photo by Idewei