This past weekend I took a small road trip to upstate New York. I had spent the majority of time by myself, which allowed time for a lot of reflection. I started thinking of past trips I had taken and the travel companions I had along each way. When I look back on my travels, there were some adventures that really only took a day, and others that lasted weeks. There are still many journeys that I went on when I was alone. While I pride myself on being so independent, I have come to realize something: although the journey will always continue, it's nice to share the road with someone else.
Every trip I take allows me to experience something new, but my eyes are often opened in a different way when I'm alongside a close friend. I think back to when I really first started traveling. I was fifteen and boarded a plane with forty other high school students from around the county to head across the Atlantic Ocean. I basically knew none of those other students. We had met a handful of times before our trip, really maybe just three or four times. I was completely outside of my element. It was the first time I had ever gone somewhere without my family and here I was traveling across the ocean away from them. I must admit, I was scared. I'm someone who thrives around other people, and I suddenly found myself in the middle of London alone. I quickly realized that I needed to make friends. And so I did. The group that started as strangers quickly became my fellow companions of the road. Together we experienced new cultures. We explored history with curious minds; we ate new and bizarre foods; we danced Scottish jigs; we herded sheep in Irish pastures; we rappelled from castle walls; we lived and breathed together. Twenty-one days later, we boarded back on a plane and landed in our hometown, which somehow appeared to be different now. I didn't realize until I got older that home isn't any different; it always stays the same. But it's me who's different; it's me who is being shaped by the experiences I've lived. When I think back as to why I first felt so scared and so nervous on that plane to Heathrow, I think it is because I didn't know my companions. As a traveler, you learn that everyone you meet will present the world to you in a different way. When I was fifteen, I was hesitant of being shown a way I hadn't known. At the end of those twenty-one days I spent in Europe, I came home with a group of new friends, and a new perspective on life.
The years to follow after that first trip, my love of traveling only grew stronger. Each trip came with new companions, some of old friends and some of the new. What I've come to learn is that while the road continues and while the journeys propel us further, I truly appreciate experiencing these moments more with a friend by my side.
While I was living last year in Arizona, a dear friend of mine shared a South African word with me. Ubuntu. The word itself literally means "human-ness." But it is most often used in the phrase Ubuntu ngumtu ngabanye abantu which is commonly translated to "I am because of you." This word alone has opened a new perspective for me. This is what I intend to say: I am because of all the people I've met and experienced.
You see, when I travel I have this odd habit of trying to imagine the people that have come before me and people that will come after me. I try to close my eyes and imagine explorers wandering about the west or great architects building new monuments at which I now stand before. I try to dream of people ahead of me, coming and walking on the same ground I've walked on, and the same ground so many generations before me have journeyed through. When I go and see new places or experience new things, I think of all the people that suddenly I feel apart of, and soon someone else will feel a small part of me. For a few moments, time fails to exist and I'm imagining all time pushed together: happening at once.
In these moments, I ironically feel so small and so insignificant in this universe that I wonder why I'm even here. Until I turn and see my friend beside me. I realize I don't have to be here, but something, perhaps all other journeys before this one, led me here to experience this and to stand beside you. And for a moment, I know I am only because of you.
This post is for so many people that have explored a part of the world with me. This post is for all the people that have come before me and will come after me. You encourage me daily. This is for you. I only am because you are.