The lug of 5 am motion is familiar to you. Ever since childhood we have been moving, if only begrudgingly, toward distant relative reunions and budget hotels. We are the generation of push and pull, sight seeing and sore eyes. I’m 20, and ever since I can remember, the only promise that’ll wake me up at hazy hours of the night is one of travel. At 4 years of age, I’d take my mothers hand and get swept up in a big airplane, rubbing my morning tears to arrive quickly somewhere new. This is what I called the closest thing to magic. Now is no different, except the closest human comfort is an MBA candidate at University of Iowa gawking into his cellular device to who I picture is his tipsy mother, a proud Indian lady with a smidgen too much bottom eyeliner on. But the comfort is there, in the shared experience of our crappy driver, a giggly unapologetic black lady, or the sights outside of the majestic Greyhound windows, including picturesque projects and mysterious altercations.
There’s comfort in the fleeting quality of our simple interactions. Nothing is forced nor expected, it just kind of happens.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Mexico for the first time. All alone. Being an experienced traveler from my elementary days, my mother always taught me to look peeved, bothered, even, to detract people from approaching me. I wore sunglasses until the plane took off, and kept my sentences short and my hand on my cell phone. A tad too bothered, yes, but I aways connected it to being a woman, lacking the privilege of openness to interaction by birthright. It’s sad now that I was programmed to detract, condense, and look at every man as predator. But there are reasons.
I tried, coming back home, to do the opposite. Enjoy conversation in lines and with the workers, peppy younger guys with so much pride in wearing their periwinkle uniforms. I met Hugo at the door to the Cancun Airport, a Mexican college student my age. He greeted me with a hug and asked me why I would want to live his great country, which was honestly so nice to hear. Someone genuinely proud of their land. And Mexico, a country painted by stereotype as USA’s annoying foster child, cleaning up its mess and taking in their people. But no, Hugo had the decision to move to USA to study and he wanted to stay close to family, enjoy his culture.
When you travel alone at 20, you can use your curiosity maturely. You can revert gender standards and introduce yourself. You can do it. Although there are tragedies where the girls were coined “too friendly” or “open,” there’s a way you can be quite friendly and intelligent with your interactions.
I’ve learned that you can only learn when you listen. And really listen. I heard my third partner of my 20 hour travel lightly sing a Spanish prayer or lullaby under her breath, and it was beautiful. I heard Arabic spouting from a lovely little conversation behind me, and i heard snoring that reminded me to call my grandmother and say goodnight.
When you travel alone at 20, you can use the endearing quiet to listen to your own thoughts for once. You’re neither here nor there, so you don’t have anyone asking you to do anything or any demands to be listened to. You have yourself, at last. Take this time to write lists, practice breathing, think about the people in your life.
The moment of travel is perhaps one of the first things I’ve ever claimed as my own. A few hours in the air or a few high way signs down the road can be just what you needed to reset, reevaluate and listen. Take yourself out tonight, or this weekend, for a little getaway with you and the rest of the world. I think you should.