“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac
As I sit in “my room” in Atlanta, Georgia to write this, I am surrounded by memories of the past year of my life. Perhaps “overwhelmed” is a more appropriate term. The pants I wear were purchased from a street vendor in Taganga, Colombia for all of $7. My backpack has remnants of that little hostel in Leon and countless dirty busses. I think it even still has sand in it from Utila. To the right is my jewelry — a necklace from Guatape, a bracelet from Mexico and earrings from Nicaragua. Within my jewelry bag (which is a ziplock bag) sits a bag of pure sugarcane from a cafe in Cartagena. My Skype contacts have multiplied by the tens, right along with my Facebook friends. My passport sits on my makeshift nightstand and she’s been inked, stapled, stamped and beaten. This is my life now. Every little piece of it, sprawled across my room in this symbolic effort to remind me that I’m not who I was a year ago today. It is both beautiful and bittersweet. It’s not often that I say this, but I am completely overcome with emotion. I feel every ounce of it today.
I remember leaving the Atlanta-Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport like it was yesterday. Dad was by my side until TSA wouldn’t let him any further. I cried at the gate as I boarded the plane for San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It’s all so vivid. I didn’t have a clue that the best year of my life was in store. I also didn’t have a clue that on that same plane, a few rows behind me sat a little Russian girl who I would later do my Dive Master Graduation with in Utila. Yes, that really happened. Her name is Olga and she is awesome and hilarious. From my 3-month stint in Utila last summer, to my 6 weeks in Colombia this spring, I have had the ride of a lifetime. The good, the bad, the crazy, the homesick — all of it has made for the most incredible year. I try to focus on the positive in life and most certainly in this blog. I write in hopes of encouraging thought and inspiration. That being said, this year has had its downs too. It can’t always be sunshine and rainbows, and I’ve always known that. That’s not what this journey was about for me. It was about learning how to face the fears, the negativity and the challenges. It was about learning how to cope when you don’t get your way (because guess what, guys — often times you don’t. And that’s life too). It was about seeing the beauty in the simplicity. It was about growing as an individual and learning how to fit into a world that I often times cannot understand. I wanted to “find my place,” if you will. Needless to say, I quickly learned that part was not something you learn in a year, but rather in a lifetime. Every single lesson has been incredibly valuable to me. I have grown as a a person, as a woman, as a backpacker and as a friend. I met THE most amazing people in the world. Literally. From the family I found in Utila to the random faces I ran into repeatedly throughout Colombia, I have really, truly loved. I have learned that it doesn’t matter if you’ve known someone for 5 years or 5 weeks. When you find solid people, you hang on tightly. You make room for the good and let go of the bad because life is too short to do anything else. I learned that one the (really, really) hard way, but it is perhaps one of the most important lessons of all. The girls I met in Utila are what I like to call my soul mates. We are now scattered from here to Australia to Peru to The Netherlands to England. We are planning trips and reunions and we speak monthly, at the very least. We have a unique and special bond. The kind of bond that can only be formed by souls who have crossed paths in the most unexpected way…..in the most unexpected places. There were endless laughs, countless crazy nights, hundreds of sunsets, dozens of chats on the dock and even a few tears. I was also fortunate enough to experience so much of this with Ginski. I don’t think I would have been such a “do-er” if it weren’t for him. He helped me to keep a positive attitude, he encouraged my blogging and he was my biggest fan. He is hands-down one of the most incredible human beings I have ever come across. As an added bonus, he has hair that’s to die for and his dance moves are off the charts. I had the opportunity to spend months and months on the road with him and I am so thankful for that. If you don’t know him, you should. The memories I created this year are the kind you hang onto for life. Same goes for the people. You have all played such an important role in this journey and I am thankful to the Universe that we were at the same place at the same time. For that, I am so lucky.
So here we are, one year later. Once again, I write from Atlanta. After returning from Colombia in late April, I spent some time with the folks in Florida, then made the rather quick decision to spend my summer working in Atlanta. It was time for a change, so I got a job at a new spot in Midtown and the saving beings today with my first non-training shift. I will be staying with Dani and Shira (whom you’ve seen in photos with Ginski and I throughout the blog) and am incredibly lucky in that regard as well. Ginski is spending some time back in Utila working with photography and videography — two of his specialties. For now, we are taking our own little journeys and will see what life has planned. I will be staying put until I can save some money again, then will head to The Philippines in September to meet some of those fantastic girls I just spoke of. It will be an insane and emotional reunion and I apologize ahead of time for whatever photos come out of that. I am way too excited. There has never been such an understatement. For now though, I must focus on the job, the money, the saving. I have to “keep my eye on the prize,” as they say. I must admit though, I’m having a really tough time with it this go ’round. There’s a quote from Carson McCullers that I’ve known for years, but never truly understood. I found it a few days ago and it stopped me in my tracks. She wrote:
“It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home town or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.”
The past few weeks have been really tough for me. The house I grew up in sold within 3 weeks of me leaving for Honduras. My parents permanently relocated to Florida, which is what I now call “home.” It’s not mine though. Atlanta is also not home anymore. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but the spark is gone. I struggle to find enthusiasm over much here. I ride my bike and I take the train. I watch people with their awkward luggage as they head southbound for the Airport. It reminds me that I’ll be back at that very airport soon enough. I go to a little burrito spot 2-3 times a week where I use what little Spanish I know. These tiny things get me through each week. A friend told me the other day, “Emily, just think of it this way. For every $150 you make at work, that’s another week in another country….especially in Southeast Asia.” I will hang onto those words for now. When you travel like I do, it really is the case. Oh, and Southeast Asia is high on my list, so prepare yourselves to make the transition with me. I will be saying “adios” to Latin America (just for a while), and some word I cannot pronounce to some country in Asia. My money will go even further there and if I’m making the trip all the way to The Philippines anyways………….I figure, why not?
Before I end this post with more photos, I want to say a HUGE thank you to every single one of you who has “liked,” commented, followed and loved. You kept me going when I questioned myself. Your words made my day. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit there. All 8,236 views speak to me. (That’s a real blog stat. I didn’t make it up, swear). I don’t think you know what a massive part of this you are. I have received countless e-mails, comments and Facebook messages from people I haven’t talked to in years and it has blown my mind. I have even received notes from people who I’ve never met, telling me my blog encouraged them to make the decision they needed to make in life. The words of encouragement are always, always welcome. I think we should all be doing a bit more of that to each other on a daily basis. We all need that in our lives. Among the many other lessons, this year also restored my faith in humanity. For every A-hole, there are a thousand more awesome people out there. I have seen the poorest of poor people and watched random locals, backpackers, volunteers and organizations reach out a hand to them, rather than sit back and ignore the situation. I have witnessed some really precious moments and interactions, which I will carry with me as I pay it forward. Perhaps the biggest lesson for me though, was the simplest one. It goes like this: Facing your fears will change your life. Mark my words.
“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” – Donald Miller
When I boarded that plane for Honduras on this very day last year, I was horrified. By the second night in San Pedro Sula, I thought I wouldn’t last another 2 weeks. I didn’t want to come home crying with my tail between my legs though. I refused. I knew if I could stick out the tough parts, the loneliness and the anxiety, it would pay off. Well, I was right. It paid off, big time. Five new countries, dozens of new cities, hundreds of new friends, 19 new blog posts, endless hours spent transiting, an infinite amount of laughs, thousands of new experiences and a Dive Master certification later — I am a different person. I set out to grow, to change, to evolve. As I sit here on WordPress and write this post, I can’t help but reflect on it all. I hope at least one of you has taken something from my story. If you’re on the fence about something you’ve always wanted, but you have a long list of reasons why “it won’t ever work,” read my story again. There will never be a good time to make a major change in your life. Money, your job, school, your dog, your family, your car — whatever it is. There will always be something that’s stopping you. Life’s too short, guys. You hear me say it a lot here, but I cannot stress how true that is. This year drove that point home, and I am thankful it did. I may not have a 401K, a car, or a house. I may not even be able to pinpoint where my “home” is right now. But you know what? I am really LIVING. I am living a life that rewards me in ways most people never even think of. And that, in and of itself, is worth all the risks and sacrifices I’ve taken to get right here, right now. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued support. To my friends in Atlanta and all over this beautiful world — I am happy that you are the family I’ve chosen. I cannot ever repay so many of you for your selflessness. To the family I was born into — You are my rock. I could not have done any of this (the traveling, the writing, the working) if it weren’t for you. I am both proud and extremely fortunate to call myself a Booth.
I still have one more post on Colombia to come, which will keep the blog interesting over the next couple of months. I know, Colombia was like….2 months ago. I’m such a slacker. We did so much though and the last bit was the best. After that, I’ll keep you updated on plans and places. It won’t be long before I’m on the road again. So much love to you all.
“…..But the good news is the greatest stories are lived in the desert. The great lives are lived in the places we most fear. If we fear being rejected, the great story has us standing at the door with flowers in our hands, if we fear losing love, the great stories have us letting that person go rather than clinging to them. If we fear taking a chance on a dream, the great stories have us quitting our jobs.” – Donald Miller