“Not all who wander are lost.”
This phrase hangs in frames or printed on colorful paper in countless hostels I’ve visited, lining the ribs or inner upper arms of travelers in tattoo form. I love J. R. R. Tolkien quotes as much as any passable The Lord of the Rings fan. But I whole-heartedly disagree.
I left home more than a year ago, and planned on returning in time for Thanksgiving last November. But I never boarded my flight from Auckland to Boston. I didn’t even go to New Zealand.
Continuing to explore the world was the most life-changing decision I’ve ever made. Along the way, I’ve met fellow travelers who were one week, six months or seven years into their journeys. These people were wandering, and I can tell you that every single one of them was lost in his or her own way, including myself.
I found myself very literally lost in Rome on a little scooter I learned to drive that day, and in the New South Wales farmland backroads attempting to drive stick shift on the opposite side of the road. Being literally lost is part of the adventure, but winding up mapless in a foreign city isn’t the only facet of being lost.
Aren’t we all a little lost? It’s almost laughable how put-together I thought I was a few years ago. I had it all figured out declaring I wanted to be a doctor when I was 17, and again at 19 when I believed journalism to be my passion and path. I graduated from college at 20, sure that I knew everything about myself, my dreams and the world.
I remember taking a class at university where my professor had us answer the question, “who am I?” on a piece of paper. We wrote various responses consisting of our majors, or who we were in relation to others, like “brother,” or “daughter.” Then, we ripped them up. Just like that. She explained afterward that what we choose to pursue as a career or how we perceive our roles in other people’s lives is not “who we are.” That stuck with me. We grasp for stability, career plans, relationships—any form of identity that could make us feel a little less lost. Staring down at my crumbled shreds of notebook paper saying “journalist” and “friend,” these labels were indeed very fragile and paper-thin. How could they ever hold the weight of any person’s life?
One man I met in Paris at the Hemingway Bar seemed to have everything in his life in order. He was financially well off, working in a successful real estate business that provided him with a personal concierge and more than enough income for Parisian holidays. He had a niece he adored and was on his way out to a completely booked-out Michelin-starred restaurant. Yet, he said he envied my travels. He didn’t have the freedom to just take off from home. He felt there was something more, but couldn’t get himself to leave his life in Los Angeles. He said he felt lost.
Working and living in hostels, I’ve met some ridiculously interesting, flighty, funny and kind people. They were lost, and searching for something else. Hostels are special places where being lost is an openly accepted truth.
I began this blog as a way to set myself up with an identity while traveling. I loved the idea of it. “Travel Blogger” sounded so trendy and cosmopolitan. But after a few posts, I realized that posting “X things to do in X city” articles felt inauthentic, and didn’t really encompass the realities and struggles of living a transient lifestyle. Traveling is amazing, difficult, fulfilling, heartbreaking, stressful and liberating. It can’t be simplified into listicles and pretty pictures.
After some time off, Bridge & a Backpack is gone, and Lost Bridge Blog lives in its place. Honestly, I don’t always know what I’m doing, or where I’ll end up in a month or two. I’m not sure what you should pack on your trip to Morocco, or which landmarks you’d most like to see in Prague (although I am really good at finding the best coffee in every city I visit). But I like to tell stories. And maybe some of them will be useful.
I’ve been asked more than a few times why I don’t just go home, and I can see why. I have pre-made friends there, family, more job options and a lot more stability. Despite how dearly I love those people and things, going home just doesn’t feel right yet. Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Later in the same speech, Jobs continued,
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
It might not make sense to everyone, but I’m okay with being lost. I’m comfortable in figuring out my life without pressuring myself to know exactly what I want or to describe “who I am.” Most of all, traveling provides me with a happiness and freedom I could never find at home. I can’t connect the dots yet, but hopefully someday in the future I’ll be able to look back and see the beautiful connect-the-dots masterpiece I created.
Whether I write about the instability of switching beds and couches every few days or how to secure visas and stay afloat abroad, maybe it’ll help some people who feel like getting lost, too. We’re all already lost anyway—we might as well embrace it.