There was this recurring dream I’d have while I was backpacking Southeast Asia. I’d wake up each morning in a dingy bunk bed or stifling guest house room and have to remind myself where I was, how long I’d been traveling, where I was heading that day. In the dream I was always at home in Connecticut again, surrounded by excited faces set in front of my mom’s floral wallpaper in the dining room, and I’d spin around wondering how I got there, why I wasn’t traveling, when I was going back. I’d shake my head and say no no no no no, it wasn’t right. I hadn’t meant to come home yet, or I’d lost track of time, or I’d forgotten leaving. I would scramble around looking to see how much a return flight was, or I would tell people that it was only temporary and I was meant to be going back soon, or I’d cry and try to explain this terrible dream I was having.
The dream was about the knowing I had that I was meant to be traveling. That I wasn’t meant to be back in the U.S. yet. And I was desperately afraid that it was going to end before I was ready.
I’ve been having this dream again.
As I neared the end of my year-long visa in Australia, I started to worry. No no no, this wasn’t right. It can’t be over yet. I can’t go home yet. I’m not ready yet. I need to be traveling. Where did this year go?
If Southeast Asia was all about expansion, Australia was all about contraction. I’m incredibly sensitive and backpacking around developing countries by myself for three months, despite having been the happiest time of my life, had depleted me. And so I exhaled. And settled down. And made friends, and went to work every day, and developed connections and relationships. It’s been so lovely.
And then I had to look back through my email to find my AirAsia flight confirmation and recall what day it was that I entered Australia, to know for sure when I was meant to leave.
June 19th. It had been cold and dark and a shock to my system, coming into Southern Hemisphere winter from Northern Hemisphere tropics. I walked through Sydney’s CBD and ate sushi from a conveyor belt and noticed that you could buy fresh flowers in a Coles grocery store (I’d forgotten this existed). It was about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and I was confused as to why people were walking around in winter coats and hats and even gloves. I remember thinking how stylish and well dressed everyone was, coming from a place where I wore tie dye dresses over bikinis and had two pairs of shoes and threw my hair up in a bun most days and rarely wore a stitch of makeup.
And so, this June 19th I’d have to be out. And suddenly I had to come out of my cave, inch out of the comfort and familiarity, and think about traveling on my own again. (I’m maybe the world’s biggest homebody, FYI.)
I wanted to go to New Zealand, since it was so close — how could I not? And maybe Bali too, since that was also close. I had other dreams about South Africa and Nepal and France, but figured I’d focus on New Zealand first.
Only, I couldn’t buy the ticket. I checked the prices every day, I watched them go up, I listened to Estelle tell me, You leave soon! You need to book your ticket! Except I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t decide if I should fly into Auckland or Christchurch, I couldn’t figure out how the NZ Department of Conservation campsites worked, I was surprisingly petrified of driving around in a campervan by myself. But I did the research and read the blogs and put all the stars on my Google maps and applied for work-exchange positions and even planned out my driving route.
I was ready to go except I couldn’t go.
Some nights looked like me curled up in a ball in a mess of tears, listening to Friends playing from Netflix on my laptop in the distance purely for the comfort of it, wondering what the fuck I was going to do. I wasn’t ready to go home, that much was clear. (I suppose there needs to be a tiny silver lining to having extremely vivid dreams every night.) But I didn’t know where to go. It felt like everywhere I turned, a door would slam in my face.
Naturally, I found myself questioning my entire existence. Where I belonged. What my purpose was. What I was meant for in this world. (Naturally, heh.)
Bread crumb number one appeared then: I had the sudden thought that I should just stop. Take a break. Despite the fact that I could hear everyone’s voices in my ear, both metaphorically and literally, reminding me that I was leaving soon and hadn’t I booked my ticket yet? I was going to be kind to myself and take a break from the torture. And so I stopped talking about it. I closed out the 97 tabs of travel blogs and flight scanners and Instagram hashtags and tourism sites that I had open. I chose to breathe instead of panic.
Bread crumb number two: I had been planning to go to New Zealand pretty much the whole time I was in Australia, so why hadn’t I just gone ahead and booked the flight yet? I realized there was a reason for this. I asked myself if I really wanted to go (of course I did), but also if I wanted to go alone and with really limited money.
The answer was no. I didn’t want to go alone. I had flown to Vietnam alone and ridden a motorbike through Thailand alone and taken a tuk tuk through Cambodia alone, but I didn’t want to drive a campervan through New Zealand alone. I knew there was a reason I hadn’t bought my ticket yet, and suddenly it was clear. Thank goodness I listened to that intuition. It was hard to hear, but it sure was persistent.
I finally had a smidge of clarity, and late one night I was lying in bed texting with a dear friend back home in Connecticut. I told her I didn’t want to go to New Zealand alone, that it felt like I wasn’t meant to. And she asked me the same question that she asked over a year ago, late one night while I was lying in bed in a hotel room in Hanoi, unsure of what to do. “If you were to travel for a limited amount of time, how would you like to spend it?” (This tiny question was a huge bread crumb.)
As I laid there in bed, family photos on the wall above me and my meager pile of possessions folded patiently in the closet and the now-familiar bedside table lit by the light of my phone, I thought, What if I just go straight to Bali?
Suddenly it was as if a literal stack of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I exhaled deeply and felt myself smile and immediately pulled up a map of Indonesia. After we finished our text conversation I tried to go to bed but I was just too excited. I was awake for at least another hour, in the pitch dark, exploring site after site and Instagram account after Instagram account, getting ridiculously excited about the idea of going to Indonesia.
I went from curled up in a ball utterly paralyzed by the thought of making a decision, to staying up late out of pure excitement for the decision I’d made.
This is what happens when we follow the bread crumbs. When we tune in and get quiet and honor ourselves and listen closely and keep our eyes peeled.
It’s what led me to my decision to leave Hanoi and quit the job I hadn’t even started and backpack around for three months. And it’s what led me to my decision now.
On June 4th I leave to spend two weeks traveling around Australia. I’ll fly to Melbourne with a friend and drive the Great Ocean Road and stay in hostels again. Then I’ll make my way to Tasmania solo, road tripping through the wild terrain and hiking mountains and bundling up for sure. After a quick little return to Sydney (for one more goodbye!), I fly off to Java. Indonesia. A new country! I’ll travel by train through Java and make my way to Bali, which is as far as my planning goes. I hope to stay a little while there and get some major writing done and improve on my now-faded tan. And yes, eventually, I’ll be coming back to the U.S. I just have no idea when ; )
These little threads of aliveness are everywhere. They’re in every decision we make, even the tiny ones like when to brush our teeth or which book to read next or what to eat for lunch. (This is freedom.) And when you can tune in and follow the tiny threads of aliveness even when they seem nonexistent, and then the next one and the next one and the next one,
well that, my friend, is how big decisions are made.