Let the Wanderlust Win

Why you shouldn't let anything hold you back from traveling

The author in Northern Ireland.
The author in Northern Ireland.

Many evenings I paced the floor of my tiny Spokane apartment, trying to work up the courage to call up friends and go out. Too nervous, I would often surrender to the comfort of my bed, a bowl of ice cream and a slew of Netflix shows.

I spent the days wandering the city alone, crying in my therapist's office or having anxiety attacks between work assignments. I was stuck.

When you have that unkind combo of mental health issues — depression and anxiety — you feel like you can't move. Invisible weights keep you physically chained close to home and mentally chained to darkness. I was 25, two years out of university, with $60,000 in student loan debt and had decided not to work in the field I got my degree in.

But I had an option, something tickling my mind for years: I wanted to travel. Without much planning, I quit my jobs, put my belongings in a storage unit, filled a backpack and left.

I had snagged a seasonal job on a ship processing salmon at sea in Alaska. From there, I volunteered for Mercy Ships on their nonprofit hospital ship in Madagascar. I traveled to South Africa and I saw Dubai. I returned to Alaska to process cod in the late winter. I flew to Europe and backpacked around the western countries. Now I'm in the south of Ireland, working at a hostel in exchange for room and board. I've been gone a year and a month.

Was I in the best mental and financial condition to go? No. I just went. I decided to let my passion to see the world outweigh my fears and my shallow bank account. And despite many days of kid-like excitement and calming joy on the road, it hasn't always been fun. I have struggled more than I anticipated.

This is how I thought of it: I will always be sad and anxious. What's the point of staying sad and shut up in my apartment? Why not be sad sailing up to the Bering Sea, walking through the streets of Paris or seeing the Roman ruins? Why not feel it abroad in beautiful places, in places that at least give me the chance to feel something better?

Plenty of people I met decided to do what they're doing on a whim, or unprepared.

Nate and Sal had wanderlust so bad, they were train-hopping and busking their way around the United States for seven years before they got on the ship to work in Alaska. Sabine from Germany quit after 20 years of being a secretary to caravan around Europe. Robert from America beamed with pride when he told me around a bonfire in Munich that it was his first time traveling abroad, that he was traveling on his own and he's completely deaf.

The world is a much kinder place than you might imagine.

There are places along the way to help you and to energize you. Those places are hostels, the nexus of like-minded travelers hell-bent on exploring the world. Those places are the couches of generous locals. Those places are cafés, forests and beaches.

I found kindness in a mom and daughter walking me back to my hostel after I got lost in Soweto. I found it in a nun who offered me counsel at a hermitage in Glendalough. I found it in a local serving me tea and toast in his apartment in Derry. I found it in a friend I met in Madagascar who put me up in her London flat.

Whether you're sad, broken, stuck or simply bored, catch a bus, ride a ferry, take a train, hitch a ride or get on a plane.

Just know the road is here for you. It heals and inspires. All you have to do is get going. ♦

Follow Jo Miller's adventures at sadgirlseestheworld.wordpress.com.