Why We Leave
An Ode to Expats Around the World
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves.”
Why do we abandon the places we call home, the people we love, the relationships we cherish? Despite our hunger for the world, the desire to walk barefoot across this Earth, why do we relinquish everything for uncertainty? When our lives are so firmly rooted in a place, why do we leave?
I was always told that seeing the world was the best gift that I could give myself. When I was younger, my parents exposed me to slivers of Central America, gave me glimpses of Europe, showed me the slight crescent of the United States’ West Coast which my eyes swallowed hungrily through the open car window. My dad introduced me to the works of Jon Krakauer and Bruce Chatwin, while my mom repeatedly reminisced on her year abroad in Madrid.
“Learning Spanish changed my life and opened my world,” she would tell me.
After 22 years of life, I have slept for weeks on the floor of a tree house in Costa Rica, lived with an Andalusian family in a tiny town, spent three nights in a monastery in rural Portugal, climbed a waterfall barefoot in St. Lucia, had zero cents to my name in London . . . amongst other milestones and mishaps. I was creating a life-long relationship with exploration and I was in the earliest stages, the initial euphoria. My love affair with traveling tugged, relentlessly, like quicksand at my soul.
By the time my senior year of college came around, I began to feel like my education had failed me. I was looking for jobs in my major, but nothing seemed right. I wasn’t hungry for money or success like so many of the people surrounding me. The comfortable cocoon of my college town began to smother me and I could no longer ignore the strange feeling that had settled deep in my abdomen. The pull of one thousand invisible fibers was luring me to a faraway place.
For months, I had been tossing around the vague notion of moving to Spain to teach English, but told myself that it wasn’t right for me; I wasn’t strong enough, it was an impractical move at this point in my life, I would regret it, it was a cop-out.
My second semester senior year, I was lucky enough to get into a Travel Writing class with one of the best professors at UW Madison. Our first assignment was to read a piece by the travel writer, Pico Iyer. It was called, “Why we travel,” and it opened with the above quote, "We travel, initially, to lose ourselves. We travel, next, to find ourselves." It was the sentence that changed everything. I re-read it again and again. Immediately, my mind was made up. After just a few short months, I left my home, my family, my friends and my city. I left with many strings untied, many goodbyes left unsaid. I left hurried, the way so many of us do.
Now, nine months later, I sit in a coffee shop drinking café con leche, writing these very words on a little Spanish island in the Mediterranean. My new home is called Palma de Mallorca. It’s the capital city of the Balearic Islands, with a population of 400,000. Palma has five prevailing languages and is home to a myriad of expatriates from all over the world, each with their own unique story.
Since moving here, I’ve had many ups and downs, felt elation and emptiness, felt love and loneliness. The only thing I haven’t felt is regret. Sometimes I feel distant from the people I love at home. I struggle hearing about things falling into place for people in the States, career wise, relationship wise, everything wise. Because anyone who knows me, knows that I fear “what comes next” more than anything else.
But so far, expat life in Mallorca is beautiful, lonely, fulfilling, terrifying and inspiring all at once. I am pushing myself to be a better person, but I am also forcing myself to face my own demons head on. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Often, as I ride the train from my city to the tiny village where I teach English, I sit back and ask myself “how did I get here?”
But I never ask myself “Why did I leave?”
So why do we do it? As travelers, wanderers, expats, or whatever we want to call ourselves, what brings us to leave “home?”
Perhaps the comfort of our routines makes us uncomfortable. And sometimes, we need to be jolted out of normalcy, to remind ourselves what we are truly made of. We get sick of our everyday scenery so we choose to look out into the world, but also into our souls. We know that sometimes, we need to feel scared in order to feel alive. Sometimes we need to separate ourselves from the people who we are closest to, to discover more of what lies uniquely within ourselves. The mysterious tug of faraway places pulls just a little too hard on our heartstrings. After awhile, we need to acquiesce; we need to just go.
Why do we abandon the places we call home, the people we love, and the relationships we cherish? Maybe, just maybe, we’re okay with losing ourselves in this mad, unconquerable world. It’s the only way to find our true place in it.