It scares me. It scares me like nothing before in my life. Which makes it all the more important to set out and do it.
Recall Bilbo after the dwarves invited him on a journey to kill a dragon and then left him alone in his hobbit hole to ponder it all. He sighed to himself and surveyed his home thinking how nice it was they had finally departed. All was quiet and back to normal. Except now something was stirring inside of him. Bilbo had felt this stirring before—a spark that had been burning from within since he was a boy was suddenly set ablaze by the dwarves' proposal. It was growing, growing like a wildfire that sent him fleeing out his door, willingly leaving his mother's doilies and his valued 'kerchief behind.
All my life I have felt a similar burning sensation. I have been hoping and hesitating and dreaming and planning and contemplating and waiting—to slay Smaug! I mean...to go on an adventure! Just like the opportunity that was set before Bilbo, I have the opportunity to go on a journey of my own now. For the last two years, when I wasn’t writing up my dissertation or working in a college administrative office, I spent my time learning how to make long-term travel not only possible but sustainable. I was aware that other people do it, but had no idea how to go about making long-term travel a reality for myself. I only knew that I had to make it happen.
When I tell other people about my plans, I often get the question “Will you still be working on something related to your degree while you’re away?” During all of graduate school, I never once heard that taking a full year to travel the world is a logical next step for a PhD graduate. I heard many other options such as doing a post-doctoral fellowship, adjunct lecturing, landing a tenure track faculty position (for the lucky ones), or other career moves that set PhDs on the path of building their life-long careers. On top of that, being finished with school—especially after so many years of doctoral training—means that one finally has the chance to make financial investments, purchase that car or home one has been dreaming about, settle into long-term relationships, or start planning a family. Basically all of those things that seem to mark people in American culture as successful, responsible adults are the only narratives I ever came across. For a while, these seemed to be a part of my plan, too.
But then I realized that those options did not have to be and were not a part of my plan as chosen by me (at least not right now anyway). They were part of something that was set up as the norm before I or anyone had a say in it. In short, the norm is far from selling all of one’s things and becoming a world nomad. I mean, come on—how irresponsible! An adventure? Such "nasty, disturbing uncomfortable things."
If you know me well enough, then you know that I have never been one to do something just because it was the norm to do it. In general, I strive to be a very open-minded individual allowing for new ideas and new opportunities (if they are good ones) to sway me. However, the majority of my career-path has been fairly narrow. I have focused on setting intellectual and professional goals and achieving them so that I may become a professor one day. It's a comfortable path. Just like my economic status is comfortable. My social networks are comfortable. My living situation in New York is comfortable. In sum, the life that, by chance, I was born into is easy, accessible, and just so damn comfortable. This is perfectly fine for some people, but, for me, I believe that the bit of discomfort and instability that long-term travel offers will push me to grow in ways and find opportunities I never could have if I adhered to a more typical path.
So starting September 1st, I will embark on the first leg of my journey: New York to Reykjavík, Iceland. Why Iceland? Because I want to. And that's the beauty of an adventure—you choose where you want to go and when you want to go. I'll be there for about 9 days and then head to Germany for a full month (or longer?). After that we'll see where the world takes me. My ultimate destination is New Zealand, hence the theme of this post. Yep, the nerd in me is driving me toward Middle Earth where I will be spending a large amount of time so that I may fully explore both islands and also find work opportunities there to continue to help financially sustain my long-term travels.
I anticipate that this will be the experience of my dreams, and perhaps a fraction of my nightmares. I will explore and write about parts of the world my eyes have only seen in pictures, and people and cultures I've only read about in black and white. I hope to learn more about how others deviate the norm, what motivates them, and discover how people work toward social justice (a theme of my graduate work) in their lives and communities. Empathy and understanding for our world and its people are important values to me that I hope to expand within myself and impart to others through my writing. So will I be working on topics related to my degree while I travel? Absolutely. I've always been effective at working independently. This experience—albeit a new kind of challenge—will be no different.
Overall, the discomforts that I will experience certainly do scare me. But fear is not what drives me—fear will just keep me mindful once the journey has begun. Rather, it is an inner excitement that drives me out my door. I suppose I have a bit of that Bilbo Baggins spark in me! A burning passion for the new, the mind-blowing, the unexpected. A passion for adventure.