I remember sitting in the kitchen of my childhood home and being viscerally stunned by this question. Despite countless hours spent begging acceptance for my passion for travel and my commitment to it as a lifestyle, I found that I had no answer.
I had no concrete answer. Just a feeling.
Of course, I could conjure up famous travel quotes, words of white men decades dead about the good it does you, the opening of your eyes and expanding of your heart, but when it really came down to it I had no concrete answer. Just a feeling.
After a few new countries and months of rolling it around in my brain, the furthest I’ve come to a concise answer is to say that I am trying to write a story of my life that I would want to read.
A story that I am excited to tell.
Any decent story starts in the beginning. Asked when I was younger what I wanted to be when I grew up I had a different answer for each day of the week. I wanted to be an archeologist and an astronaut. A ballerina, and an English professor and a president. A witch.
I found myself beneath the proverbial plum tree, but instead of being stunned into stillness by the possibilities of life I had an insatiable hunger. Why be satisfied with a single ripe fruit when I could eat and eat until I was more juice than blood. There was too much life to be lived. A kind of frenzy began within me.
I was ready to consume.
As I grew older I settled for a time on acting as it was the easiest way I saw to slip in and out of these lives as I pleased, to experience all without sacrificing any opportunity. But at 18 I saw this life as impractical and so set myself adrift in the world without any real plan beyond pure hedonism: I was ready to consume.
I remember staring at the ceiling, laying in bed next to my best friend facing each other though we couldn’t see for the suburban darkness. My street didn’t yet have lamp posts. We pinky promised each other we would go to college together in London.
Nothing had ever felt as right, as inescapable, as getting on that plane.
That plan fell apart as so many do but when I was told years later that one of the professors in my department was leading a study abroad in London there was no question in my mind. At 19 I was the youngest that was allowed to attend the program. Nothing had ever felt as right, as inescapable, as getting on that plane.
Of course, it was not only personal pursuits that made me want to understand the world. We all wish to find a place and a way in the world where we can feel useful, impactful, that might lend our lives some external meaning. But travel is inherently a selfish pursuit and while I strive to do no harm as I make my way I know that the vast majority of the good work that I do is internal.
Travel is inherently selfish, most of the good work done is internal.
There's a whole list of abstract nouns I can throw around about travel, and probably will as I continue to write about all the experiences that have followed that first solo plane ride 5 years ago. Freedom and fate, happiness and boldness and confidence, wisdom and even faith. They all weave their way in and out of the life I am building for myself but the word I really settle on in my thoughts about travel might be a bit more unexpected. It’s Impermanence.
We are the happening. It's happening right now.
Traveling has allowed me to examine the impermanence of life, to appreciate the world for what it is by being here today and gone tomorrow. To take true responsibility for the opportunities I have and the choices I make with them. I think we all sometimes find ourselves falling into this thought that life is something that happens to us. But I know now, at the age of 24, that we are the happening.
It’s happening right now.
And I know I said at the beginning of this piece that I couldn’t sum up my reason for why I travel with a quote from a long dead old white man, but here I am, about to try anyway.
“The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.” Homer.
Travel has connected me not only with my own fate but with the fate of each life I lead. The Landis who studied linguistics and theatre in London lived for three months. The Landis who worked on a commune in rural Oregon lived for a single summer. The Landis who studied English language education, biking to school each day on the red paths of the Netherlands lived for one year. The Landis who teaches kindergarten in Southern China has an inevitable ending as well.
I'm alright with that reality though. Its never been the arriving in a new place that has spurred me onward. It’s always been the leaving, and the anticipation that hangs in between.