Finding Purpose Without a Plan

As the months and weeks counted down to the start of my trip, the fact that it was happening became more and more real. I started researching travel backpacks, making mental notes of what I was going to pack from my closet, and debating with myself whether I really needed to take that 14mm lens in my camera bag (the obvious answer being yes). And as I talked to people about my trip, more and more I got asked if I was going off to “Eat, Pray, Love” my way around the world. My immediate answer? “Hell no.” 

To back up for a second - for those who don’t know, Eat, Pray, Love is a book detailing the author’s year of travel after going through a divorce and finding herself in a state of internal turmoil. The book is very polarizing - either you loved it or you hated it. I tried to read it years ago when it came out but couldn’t get past the first chapter, so you can guess which camp of people I fell into. The book was a challenge for me because, from my perspective, it lacked purpose. The book is packaged as a journey of life experience and self discovery, but is in fact a journal of the author’s adventures and exploits, without offering any real insight into life or human development. And the author’s travel adventures are ordinary, and insufficient to sustain the book on their own. 

So, coming from this perspective, when people asked me if I’m going to EatPrayLove my way around the world, my answer was a resounding no. Yes I want to meet amazing people, eat great food, and see the amazing sights that this world has to offer, but I also want more.** 

Which begs the question - what more do I want? Even now, over four weeks since the start of my trip, I have no plans, no specific destination, and no concept of time. I booked my initial flight to Lisbon 48 hours before it took off. While in Porto, I bought my 5 am train ticket down to Lagos at 11pm the night before, sitting on the floor of my hostel bedroom in the dark while some of my ten roommates were sleeping and the others were out getting drunk. I was considering going to Morocco next but changed my mind while in Lagos because someone pointed out that the world cup is starting up, and being in Spain/Europe for it is an experience I can’t pass up. So instead I decided to go to Sevilla in Spain. Except that the day I was going to take a bus to Sevilla, I ended up in a car driving to Faro with two people from France. I’ve extended hostel stays the night before I was supposed to check out, or changed hostels if they were out of beds. I’ve sat on the beach, on rooftops, and in cafes with no concept or concern for the time. In completely separate conversations in a matter of days, two different people applauded my “no-plan plan.” 

So at various times I’ve worried - am I just EatPrayLoveing my way through this trip? Am I just going through the motions, with the only payoff being time and distance from the real world? 

 Thankfully, each time I ask myself this question, I find myself answering it with another resounding “No.” The struggle is that, because I don’t have a plan, because I have no affirmative purpose or goal, it’s only in hindsight that I can see the value of an experience and how it has contributed to my growth as a human being. And in just under four weeks of traveling, I’ve gotten A LOT out of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. For a few years now, I’ve had a vague and constant goal of self-improvement, and this journey has really accelerated that aim for me. I’ve realized how much of my life I’ve wasted doing mindless stuff on my phone; I’ve gained perspective on my last relationship and what I want and need in my next relationship; I’ve relearned how to connect with people and how to find joy, value, and pleasure in all of my interactions; I’ve become more in touch with my emotional self, which has had a positive ripple effect on other aspects of myself; I look forward to sitting down and writing, a task I used to loathe; and I think with all of these smaller developments, I’m closer to finding a larger purpose or direction for this trip and for my life. 

I’m aware that some people reading this may think that what I’ve “gotten out” of my trip so far sounds dumb, lofty, abstract, useless, or [insert negative or judgmental word here]. But I’ve come to a realization while backpacking that I think is my most important so far: most backpackers are in transition. Most backpackers are looking for something, even if they don’t know it yet. And that thing is personal to that person, and different from what anyone else is looking for. And the beautiful thing is that because backpackers are a fairly welcoming and non-judgmental community, living together in rooms of ten at a time with no place to hide, we are all (unknowingly) helping each other to find what we are each searching for. It’s amazing what you can discover about other people and about yourself when you feel safe having open and vulnerable conversations about sex, politics, work, traveling, music, relationships, and so many other things, with someone you barely know. 

So while some readers may not be impressed with my short journey, I can say with complete confidence that what I’ve gotten out of this trip so far is exactly what I’ve needed to get out of it, and that it’s because of the other backpackers I’ve met that I’ve had the experiences that got me to this point. And as a result, everyday I’m closer to living my best life as my truest self, and hopefully helping someone else to do the same. 

** Disclaimer: this blog post is NOT a judgment on how or why other people travel, and I applaud those who are open-minded and adventurous and seek out other people, cultures, and experiences in this beautiful world we live in!

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