When Dreams and Reality Don’t Intersect

One year ago today I was on a flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles. It was the end of a two-year adventure which had broken me physically, mentally, and financially, a trip I wouldn’t change a thing about.

Flights are a great place to think. They’re not relaxing and it’s not easy to focus, but when you can’t sleep because the man in the next seat is drooling on your shoulder, there’s not much else to do. So you think.

Since I was ending my journey, I thought about how it began. My undergraduate experience featured working fifty hours a week while taking classes at night, online, and during holiday breaks while my classmates were partying. I graduated in two and a half years. I then finished a master’s degree in one year while losing touch of friends who lived blocks away. But I was done. All work and no play had made Jack a dull boy. A dull boy with a healthy savings account and no student loans. I was finally free. Two weeks later I was at the World Cup in Brazil.

Travel was supposed to free me. I was leaving the stress and structure of standard life behind, setting out on a sink-or-swim voyage to parts unknown. Lest I get cold feet, I canceled my return flight from Brazil. This was happening. I was free.

That freedom gave me the best two years of my life. I used to think it wouldn’t get better than college, but now I’m convinced that nothing will ever beat translating to an Afghan woman that her unborn child wasn’t harmed, or being an emergency fill in for a teacher at a Malawian primary school, or hitchhiking and couchsurfing through Patagonia. Would I ever experience something as vivid as watching tens of thousands of protesters rise against ISIS? Would I meet better people than those who helped me along the way? Was there another place on earth more beautiful than Colombia’s Fin Del Mundo?

Everything was perfect, and yet I longed to be back in stability. Maybe stability was in Brisbane, or maybe Brazil or the United States, but it wasn’t in a new place every month. I wanted to have a steady job and build lasting relationships. Health insurance wouldn’t be the worst thing either.

Eventually, the drooling man next to me got up to use the bathroom and I was able to sleep. My dreams were of lands full of palm trees and malaria, lands far from where the airplane was heading.

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