I loosened my boot laces, wiggled my blistered, swollen toes, and fished my bottle of tea out of my well traveled blue day pack. Pilgrims passed me, the same ones I’d been leapfrogging with all day, offering a “Buen Camino!” through panted breaths as they climbed.
A hiker from Belgium who I’d met that morning paused next to me and took a long swig of water before he exhaled, “You’re waiting for your Dad again?”
I laughed. “Well, he’s not my Dad, but yeah, I’m waiting.”
“You’re traveling by yourself then?” he pried a little.
“No one is by themselves here, but I’m traveling for myself.” I winked.
He chuckled, winked back, and walked on, leaving me to commune with the sunshine.
Four weeks into a six week journey I was beginning to learn a few things.
I’d parted company with my traveling companion, completely amicably, I might add. Our journeys simply took different paths, so we followed them. It wasn’t until we hugged hard in Leon and wished each other, “Buen Camino,” with tears in our eyes that I began to really get my head around the idea of traveling by myself, for myself.
My life is not one that lends itself to much “alone” time. I have four children, who I’ve chosen not to send to school. I have a husband who has worked from home since our second child was six months old. Sometimes home has been a four bedroom house on acres in the forest. Other times home has been an 18 ft camper in New Zealand or tents on the top of high sea cliffs.
We are big believers in and builders of community, and as such, we have an endless stream of people through our homes and lives. My life is about beautiful chaos and family togetherness. I know it won’t be this way forever, so I seek to embrace it, but it’s been this way for a couple of decades now and it’s not always easy. I suspect many of you know the feeling. Juggling life, work, family, and community over the long haul takes its toll.
My daily life is about giving, from the moment I wake up, until the moment I go to sleep. To kids, to friends, to chosen family, to strangers, to my partner in crime, to career efforts, to educational pursuits, to passion projects, to adventurous efforts.
I suspect most people can relate to that too, especially the mothers out there. Life becomes about getting things done, taking care of the people we love and the people who need it, doing the next thing, and making the world a better place. And then, one day, we stop in the middle of a big climb to catch a breath, and it comes to us that in order to reach the summit, we’re going to need to pace ourselves a bit and perhaps stop to sit on a rock in the sun and have a cup of tea.
I’m thinking about this again as the New Year breaks over us in a crashing wave of enthusiastic potential. As ever, I’m making lists, setting goals, and planning journeys. I’m eyeball deep in launching two teenagers to their own paths and trying to keep the other two on productive ones. In the midst of the rushing river of life that flows through our home, I have made a commitment to remember that taking six weeks to make a journey of my own choosing was the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done for myself.
From where I sit now, I wonder why it took me so long to give myself the permission to take it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve traveled quite a bit by myself. I’ve averaged a month a year for the last half decade or so, as my kids have been old enough to do without me. But most of those journeys have been for others, work related, conferences, or family events. I’ve carved out a few days here and there for “just me,” but that’s not the same thing as taking off long enough to really clear our heads and remember who we are. It took me days of walking the meseta to come to that.
If you, like me, are a worker and a giver towards all of the best things in life, to the point where, perhaps, you’re beginning to miss the point, may I make a suggestion?
Take a trip for yourself this year, and not just a long weekend.
You don’t necessarily need to travel alone, and you don’t necessarily need to leave every single thing behind you. That’s not always realistic, is it? But instead of doing for everyone else, even when you travel, take time this year to “do” for yourself and travel as a way to renew your own soul.
Sometimes a journey is a form of self care for me. It gives me the time to rest in quiet, interact with the world on my own terms, spend hours in a museum without one person interrupting my thoughts, or a whole afternoon laying in the sun beside a river doing nothing at all. A journey for myself allows me to just be “me” for a little while, instead of wife, mother, teacher, friend, daughter, writer, and spinner of plates. That’s important.
If I can’t remember how to be “me,” I can’t be a very good version of any of those other things either.
Traveling for myself reminds me of why I love my life and the people I choose to live it with. I walked a long way this summer, across paths that were unfamiliar, but in the end, I wasn’t walking to Santiago, or anywhere else; I was walking home. I was remembering why I’ve chosen the life I have and renewing my commitment to making it a beautiful place for the children we’re growing, chosen family we share it with, and the strangers the universe delivers in a steady stream to our dinner table.
Going away is what allows me to be home.
Stepping out of the many roles life has handed me allows me to think more clearly about who I am and what I value. How I want to live my life and who I want to share it with. What kind of work is worthy of my time and effort and which projects are most aligned with my core values. Setting aside the dozens of hats a person in mid-life wears and taking it back to the simplest questions of self assessment:
- Who am I?
- What’s going on here?
- What’s the next sensible course of action?
Assessing yourself brings a clarity that is sometimes hard to attain when the windshield of your life is continually being pounded by the rain, sleet, snow, and fog of our various realities.
Last year, and many other years, have been about others. In the coming months, give yourself permission to take a journey for yourself. Unpack that dusty dream that you’ve had in a shoebox on the top shelf of your mind and remember what it is that you’d most like to do, for you, and go do it. If you, like me, have a partner and more kids than sense, give your other half the same gift, spin all the plates while he takes off for Argentina for a couple of weeks with his friend. This year, make time for self care and renewal through travel. Get out of your comfort zone and back into your own real life. Remember what it feels like to feed your soul.