Coming out of the woodwork

woman_on_map.jpgIt seems that the more boldly you go in the direction of your dreams, the more readily you find kindred spirits going boldly in the direction of their own very similar dreams.

It started two years ago when I traveled to Argentina for my first solo adventure abroad (apart from Vancouver the year before, which barely counts). I met a 20-something Korean woman who had been backpacking alone for four months across South America even though she spoke maybe 40 words of Spanish and even fewer of English. I sat next to her on the bus back to the hotels from the Argentine side of Iguazu Falls one night, and then ran into her at the entrance of the Brazilian side early the next morning. We walked around the falls together, and though we understood next to nothing of each other, her bad-assness translated perfectly.

A few months ago at a Speakeasy event I met a French woman in her fifties who was in the midst of long-term travel. She is the only person I have ever met who has taken a cargo ship to get where she was going, and she did it by herself. I asked her all about it because I would love, love, love to do a leg of my (still-nebulous) journey via one of those ships but am just a little wary of what that would entail. She assured me it was safe, clean, fascinating, generally awesome. More inspiration in the bank.

In Mexico City two weeks ago, I hit it big. At breakfast on the last day of my trip, I met a Dutch man whose adventure started twenty-something years before when he moved to Sweden after studying Swedish in school. He just loved the idea of Sweden for some reason, much as I love the idea of Senegal without really being able to say why. After something like twelve years there he quit his job as a translator to travel through South America and Asia, but he ended up staying in Buenos Aires for almost three years because he loved it so much. (Much as I fell head over heels for Argentina.) At some point, his former company called to offer him translating work that he could do via telecommuting, and he realized he could travel at the same time. So he’s been a veritable nomad for twelve years. He speaks seven languages, several of which he learned in his thirties, and he did it via self-teaching and immersion rather than classes. I practically bowed down to this man for offering living proof that it could be done.

Then I returned to work and found out that it was a colleague’s last day. I hadn’t talked to her much before but we started a conversation and learned that we are the same age, have trained in similar fields, and are both about to take off on a self-financed trip to Africa to finally do what we’ve been meaning to do for years. She plans to head to Tanzania in January to document the situation for Burundians in refugee camps. I told her I’d see her there – since, you know, we’d be nearly 6,000 miles from each other but we’d be on the same continent, so of course I’d come to visit.

Because that’s how you’ve got to think when you’re thinking big.

[Photo: Kate Ter Haar]

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