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My Name is Stephanie
and I have Wanderlust
In my relatively short business career, I have enjoyed considerable success, especially achieving the position of manager of a retail store in a large and well-known American chain. When I started with the company, I was a college student who was waiting tables at a restaurant part-time. I started at the bottom of the totem pole as a sales associate and then over a period of three years, I was promoted five times, eventually to my current position as Store Manager. Work was my life. Putting in so many hours, I missed out on a lot of social activity but never regretted putting my career first. And it paid off – sort of. My bosses liked me so much that they approved a month-long leave of absence because I decided to do what I had always dreamed of doing – taking an extended trip through Europe. This was my gift to me. However, indulging myself in this way has created a bit of a crisis in my life.
During my “grand tour,” I began to realize that my business career was actually just the starting point for something bigger. In that one short month traveling in Europe, I learned more about myself, history, culture, language, love, and people than I had during the three successful years in business. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Rome to the moment I got back on the plane in Munich to come home, I have never felt more alive.
I suddenly discovered what it is to step outside myself, to get another view of who I am. All the time I was traveling I didn’t think once about my work, my staff or my boss. I became totally absorbed in the way I felt traveling in Europe. I am a doer by nature, so it this very unexpected awakening of my senses, my newfound hunger for a different kind of knowledge, and the desire to interact with people who were so different from me really made me aware of another, more reflective part of myself. And now, it is a significant part of myself that that I feel the need to cultivate. That corny old song, “How ya goin’ to keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree” has a whole new meaning for me.
And because I am now hooked on the need to “get away,” I cannot suppress my desire to travel – and to write about it! I also now realize that my business career has actually contributed to my wanderlust because I have been in the business of people – understanding them, training them, motivating and supporting them, or just finding out what they need. My new post-trip awareness has taught me that on some level we are all trying to find a connection with each other. I have always considered myself to be open-minded, but I also now realize that that characteristic leads to a higher level of awareness of everything. And for me, that awareness is now on a larger scale. Furthermore, it has made me stop and consider carefully the real nature of travel.
I now know that traveling means stepping outside of yourself for a week, a month, a year – the duration is not really the issue. You step outside of yourself to get a new perspective on life, society, your culture and on your role in them. While traveling in Europe, I didn't think about work, or my staff, or my boss; I was totally absorbed in the way I felt in this new state. It’s not as if I haven’t been away from home – I have traveled all over the United States – but this was so different, so unforgettable, and so addicting. And it has been such a life-altering experience that it has led me to examine the very nature of travel.
So, I did a search on the Internet using the word “travel” and hundreds of links and definitions immediately popped up – of course, a bit like traveling itself. All of them sounded reasonable enough to me, but after my “adventures abroad,” I have developed my own personal definition of what travel is really all about.
It may sound simple to well-traveled people, but I now know that before traveling, you have to define your reasons for doing it. Are you traveling for work? Do you need time off from a job? Do you have family and friends that you need to see? Do you need to escape from your life temporarily? All of these reasons are good and a few of them even applied to me. However, it was not until after my trip that I realized that I had set off to learn about myself. I also came to the realization that when you travel you learn so much about other people that in the process you really start to know something about yourself. What goes around, comes around.
And the kind of self-knowledge you get when you travel is something, electrifying, and brilliant – and very difficult to put into words. Before I left on my “journey,” I did the usual research: looking up information via the Internet or travel brochures and books. I talked to people who gave good advice about how to be “travel savvy.” The one thing that everyone failed to prepare me for, however, was how much travel would magnify all of my senses and electrify me to the point where I would no longer be able to live a life that did not include travel. And what I learned about myself by traveling is a lot of what I had forgotten: that I still could be electrified and exhilarated – even by events and experiences that were normal daily occurrences in another country.
It has just occurred to me that I may not have made it clear that during my month in Europe, I was traveling alone. And now I also realize that when you travel by yourself to a “strange” place, in a very special sense you have nothing but time for yourself. There is only you and the place in which you are traveling: the streets you wander, the strangers you make friends with, the cafés in which you sit and have a cup of coffee – and think. And beside you is your only travel companion – your spirit.
In Europe I was able to shed all preconceived notions about myself, especially those that I feared others had about me. Amid my travels, no one knew me nor where I came from; I could let go and be who I wanted to be. It was a very special kind of privacy. It was a contextual experience.
I wonder where I’ll go from here.
Stephanie Moreland lives in Houston Texas. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
See also our previous editorials