If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Granada, Spain - Utopia and Realidad

Granada, Spain – Utopia and Realidad

On January 15, 2013, I was freaking out.

I was throwing things into my backpack, then into miscellaneous bags to be sorted in the car. I was worried that I would miss my flight if I deliberated too much, but at the same time was concerned that I would forget something important and be kicking myself for the next seven months. I was leaving for India to begin the second leg of the Voyage, and I felt absolutely unprepared.

In the final countdown to my departure, I had an endless laundry list of things to do. I had family to hug and friends to text and a boyfriend to keep updated. I had to remember to pack medical prescriptions, travel-friendly toiletries, conservative clothing, and important documents. Did I have everyone’s number? Did I secure my liquids well enough? Did I notify my bank of international travel? Did I print out my boarding pass? Did I leave my room relatively clean?

I didn’t need to worry. I had everything I needed, plus some extra that I left in India before I flew to Thailand. My dad had a conference scheduled in Hyderabad while I was there, so he brought me some reminders of home, bottles of vitamins, and a Christmas gift that arrived a day too late. He could have brought more, but I didn’t need anything. In retrospect, I have to give myself credit – I am an ever-prepared master packer.

I had jitters, definitely. I got to the airport, checked in my backpack, tearfully waved goodbye to my parents, and got on the plane, still a bit nervous that I had forgotten some critical item or task. But the second the plane left the tarmac, I was overwhelmed with a sudden calm.

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot, Cambodia

Maybe it was the cabin slowly pressurizing. Maybe it was the Vicodin I popped to help me sleep and readjust to the new time zone. Maybe it was the natural result of my body running out of adrenaline.

But I think it was the happy realization that I couldn’t do anything more at the moment. I did what I could. I took the necessary precautions. I learned from my mistakes in the first leg of the trip. I told my family and friends that I loved them. I was on the plane.

If I needed anything, I could buy it. If I forgot something, I could ask my dad to bring it. If I decided that seven months was too long, I could come home. If I felt like culture shock was too exhausting, I could Skype with anyone else in the world. Everything was in place for me to have an amazing journey, and everyone was on my side to make sure that happened.

And I did! From the time I landed, it was one adventure after another. The few times I felt homesick, I developed little coping mechanisms to remind myself of why I was traveling in the first place. That weird nervousness was a blessing in disguise; it provided a great contrast for the rest of my Voyage.

Not that the rest of the Voyage was rainbows and butterflies. I got my heart broken, (over)spent a lot of money, missed out on several fun opportunities, restricted my path due to some preconceived plans, and probably didn’t optimize my trip as well as I could have. That being said: if I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I know what I would do next time, but there has to first be a last time for there to be a next time.

Besides, it was all necessary to have swallowed that bitter pill of reality, to have my priorities and values up on the wall, to understand and learn from situations I never would have anticipated. A year later, I’m cringing in memory of some truly embarrassing, depressing, and upsetting experiences – but I’m glad that they happened so that I now know what to do in the future. Just like the first leg of the trip helped me pack and prepare for the second, this Voyage hyperaccelerated my personal growth. And of course, I can’t dwell on all of the things I can’t change now that they’ve already happened. I can only move forward.

Donosti, Euskal Herria / San Sebastian, Spain

Donosti, Euskal Herria / San Sebastian, Spain

En route to India, I had a twelve-hour layover in Singapore, where I left the airport to visit a friend who had recently moved there. It had been several years since I’d been to Singapore, and the first time I came alone. I was soaking the city up like a sponge – the brilliant multi-functionality of the airport, the ease and access of the internet, the signs that warned metro riders against carrying durian, the beautiful lush scenery and the fragrant humid air, the surprising diversity of residents, the excitement of navigating an unfamiliar place by myself.

It was such a joy to see my friend again. We talked about all of the changes in both of our lives, and how we couldn’t have imagined we’d be where we were just a year before. We were both happy, though we jokingly complained about the minor inconveniences we’d experienced in our relative situations. When we separated, we knew that it might be a while before we reconnected, but it wasn’t a big deal. Friends are never really out of touch.

All in all, it was the perfect way to begin the second leg of my trip. It reminded me that no one knows what they’re doing exactly, or how their life is going to turn out. Everyone could use some answers. But we make do with what we have, we stick with the people we love, and we go for what we want. We can’t control everything, but we have the power of choice. Everything else just falls into place.

A year later, I’m in a totally different place in my life, but I’m still facing the same basic issues: am I prepared for the adventure to come? Am I ready to move on with my life? Have I told my loved ones how much they mean to me, have I positioned myself in the direction of where I want to go, have I invested in myself enough to know a good opportunity when it comes?

If this last year has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t need to worry. I’ve done what I can. I’m where I need to be. The pieces will come together. The plane has already taken off, and I’m on my way to something new – how much I enjoy it is up to me.