How to Travel Into the Unknown World In Your Thirties

I’m writing this from Tokyo. It’s officially 2:30 am here.

I say “officially” because I just came in on a flight (two flights) from New York, and in my mind it’s 1:30 pm, so things are a little messed up right now. I was able to sleep on the flight for 8 hours (amazingly), but I can probably still sleep again now, even though my body thinks it’s the afternoon. I’m pretty adaptable like that.

So I’ll keep this brief.

This trip is something I’ve been planning for a few months now, and I kind of can’t believe I’m here. Literally, my mind doesn’t feel like my body is here. It’s a flaw that I have that when good things happen to me, I sometimes can’t accept them. I’m working on that. Also, technology is so advanced now that I can connect to anyone through my computer in milliseconds and not be so far away. Well, I am far away, but it doesn’t FEEL like it. Of course, there’s that whole language barrier thing, but I didn’t have to deal with it much at the airport today- I’ll encounter that way more tomorrow when I journey outside into the unknown in daylight- so it doesn’t yet feel like language is an issue. The flight to Tokyo from Chicago was 13 hours, so I know I’m not in Kansas anymore, but sleeping through most of the trip made Tokyo feel like a hop, skip and jump away.

I spent the past few months kind of unsure about getting here. I’ve never been to Asia, and I haven’t gone on a big international trip for more than 6 years. And I certainly haven’t gone on a solo international trip before. It’s funny, the whole point of this trip was to go to this completely foreign country all alone and explore with no plan, and be free. But then, a bit before I left, I began to feel anxious about going alone and having no particular plan. I mean, I know where I’m staying and have a trip outline, and I’m meeting some people here and there, but I haven’t filled my days full of manic activity- I just kind of want to be solo in a foreign world.

However, even though I fly more than 50 times a year and I still felt mildly anxious leading up to this particular trip- so I know travel fear can happen to anyone. I think this kind of fear stems from fear of the unknown. I like feeling prepared, and my plan to let go of things and remain less planned out caused me anxiety. Worries popped up in my head about about not bringing the right items and forgetting something Very Important and not knowing the language and missing some Very Important Sightseeing Places. I worried about feeling judged for not seeing things that were Absolute Must Sees.

But you know what? None of that matters. I’m here. I made it. I took a 13 hour flight, plus a 2 hour one plus a layover. And no one who matters is judging me…except for myself- the harshest judge of all, of course. And all that ever mattered to me was to stay open and loving and in flow. I just wanted to let go and let life come in. So I’m damn well going to do that as best I can. And of course I’ll probably feel afraid again, and things might be weird and foreign sometimes. But I have to remember that it’s not about the plans or the places. It’s not about the Perfect Itinerary or the Perfect Day. It’s not about the Must Sees or Must Dos. It’s about being in this very different place at this very particular point in my life right this second. It’s about breathing the foreign Tokyo air into my lungs and seeing how it feels. It’s about going. It’s about staying. It’s about the new. It’s about this moment.

So don’t be afraid to travel. Don’t be afraid at all.  You may feel fear but it’s okay. Go anyway. Grab the moment. And let go of everything else.

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I have no idea what this subway sign means. But I like it.

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My Roommate Talks to Strangers on Subways

When we’re both in our kitchen together, my roommate and I tend to have very in depth, funny, and deep conversations. I’m extremely lucky to have her as a roommate- we were strangers who met through Craigslist and we get along extremely well.

We’ve known each other only three months but we talk about everything from meditation to relationships to street harassment to retirement accounts with an equal degree of ease. Our roommate relationship can only be described as a rare personality click.

The other day she described the conversations she has with random people on the subway. I was surprised to hear this- she doesn’t seem like the sort to have impromptu conversations with strangers on public transportation. She’s a fairly quiet and unassuming girl, tiny and thoughtful- a 29 year old english professor and writer who listens to calming music and chills in her room a lot.

She thinks that people probably open up to her because she enjoys hearing their stories; they may sense her friendliness and feel a green light. It’s true that she always gets me opening up, so I guess her energy works with subway people as well.

I recounted to her that as of late I rarely talk to anyone in transit- even though I travel all the time. I used to have lots of conversations with new people at airports and on planes- in fact that’s actually how I met my ex-boyfriend. But lately I’d been using the old ‘kindle and headphone’ trick to stop people from talking to me before they started. My job involves a ton of talking and lately the last thing I wanted to do on a flight to or from work was to talk.

Sometimes while I'm traveling I'll look up from my Kindle to take a funny photo of fellow travelers, but I've rarely talked to them anymore.

Sometimes while I’m traveling I’ll look up from my Kindle to take a funny photo of fellow travelers, but I’ve rarely talked to them anymore.

But after my roommate told me her subway stories, I began to crave conversation with fellow travelers again. “Just be open,” she said. “They’ll sense it.”

And they did.

Once I felt open to listening again, people began to talk. It was like magic. I turned off my kindle and took off my headphones and I met the LA shuttle driver I talked about in my last post. And on my flight from LA, I met an accountant who used to sell time shares and lived in Cancun. There was a young mom chaperoning a crew of girl scouts on the way back from Dallas, various folk from New Orleans, Vancouver, and Hungary at a recent hostel, and a really cool travel blogger named Jo (Indiana Jo) who apparently travels 9 months out of the year and lived in a cave for awhile.

Both being an open listener and a closed privacy-craver have their pros and cons. I heartily enjoy hearing stories and learning about other places and lives, and travel conversation is a great way to do so. But I haven’t yet talked to strangers on the subway…maybe I’m just not open to that yet.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just sit quietly while in transit. Like now, I’m actually sitting and writing this on a bus to Philadelphia, while the man next to me sleeps soundly against the window. We never said hi to each other. By the time I got to my seat he was already tuned out and closed off with his kindle and his headphones.

I understood.

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