Travel and a sense of Self

Last night I flew from Seattle to Oakland, CA where I am spending a couple of weeks with family. After devoting myself almost exclusively over the past month to getting this website up and running, the change in scenery was a shock to my system.

I love to travel. I could wax poetic about scenery and freedom and seeing new things but what I really get out of traveling is a true, simplistic sense of self. When I’m traveling I’m not surrounded by the daily reminders of routine and responsibilities, nor by acquaintances, nor my apartment full of ‘stuff’ that has come to represent the physical proof of my existence. When I travel those things break away and I am left with just me. Sometimes that’s a scary realization: I am who I am independently of my external surroundings.

So this morning when I woke up I had one of those “where am I” experiences. Since I moved to Seattle from the Bay Area both of my parents have moved a few times, so when I come to visit the feeling of ‘home’ centers around people, not places. Lying there on the hide-a-bed in my dad’s home recording studio, it really hit me that when I travel I break myself down and find the essence of ME.

Last April I was lucky enough to travel to Italy for two weeks where I spent my first few days wandering Roma solo (sola). Before leaving Seattle, I comically spent three weeks cramming on Italian language CD’s yet made the (somewhat irrational) decision to just immerse myself as much as possible once there, sans map. I landed at Fiumicino airport with directions to the hotel I had booked for one night and not much else. Over the next few days I just walked. I had been to Rome once before in 2003 so I had an idea of the places I wanted to revisit and things (mostly art) I had missed the first time around but was determined to avoid ‘a plan’ as much as possible.

After two days of aching feet, a full belly, two memory cards full of pictures and a new-found appreciation for the Italian way of life (and homemade pasta), I noticed that the anxiety I sometimes experience before throwing myself into a new situation had never even come up. I reflected on this over many cappuccini. Like I did this morning, I came to the realization that traveling by myself in a new environment had stripped me down into my component parts and what was left was a true sense of self. Once this idea had sunk in, it was like a fire had been lit inside me. With everything else stripped clear, I felt shiny and literally able to accomplish anything I set my mind to. I was also so far removed from my usual surroundings and acquaintances that all ties felt severed and I was free to just EXPERIENCE without external influence.

In those two weeks I just ABSORBED. Having a true sense of self in an unfamiliar place was like a license to try everything on for size to see how it fit. I very much admire people who are present enough to experience this daily. Apparently I need to get out of dodge before the realization hits.

Have you experienced this before?

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