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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Bring On Africa!

I’ve done this already.  Multiple times.  And yet, the mixed feelings inevitably come.  Kenya, Tanzania, and Mount Kilimanjaro loom large on my horizon, but I’m torn on leaving a very settled New York existence for the pleasures and perils of a travel-break. 

Most of you know my story: a rising publicist within the matrix of the HarperCollins Publishers machine, I left my job in 2005.  No disillusionment with cranky authors, no falling out with top brass, no desire to continue my upward climb.  I just…quit.  Looking back, the urgency and growth that I had long associated with my position had fallen off.  I owned my New York City apartment; I dabbled with the same boy for half a decade.  Change cramped my style, but it was time.  On the cusp of 31, unattached, and unchallenged, I decided to delve into a new experiment: traveling the world.  Solo.

The lack of corporate identity faded to black, replaced by worries about proper hiking boots and rain ponchos, durable yet lightweight wheelie luggage and international visas.  A holy immunization hell awaited me.  Ecuador would be the first stop on what came to be a two-plus year adventure, but in that solitary moment of booking a ticket to Quito, I wondered what I would wear on the plane.  These became my preoccupations.  Night sweats ensued.  The big question loomed: was I prepared?

A month on the road showed me that preparation only goes so far, and you’re never completely ready for life’s many challenges.  I grew to love greeting the dawn each day—often in a new city—with a wealth of possibility at my fingertips.  Shockingly, I embraced living out of a suitcase.  The contents of that well-chosen wheelie bag became the only constant; everything else around me fluctuated like the wind. Spontaneity became my new best friend.  Unpredictability, my new boyfriend.  Oh, how I thrived.

More than two years have passed since I returned to New York as headquarters of my new life.  In that time, I’ve struggled with re-entry.  Redefining the location of your old life in relation to your new one takes work and, at the time, I wasn’t ready to go back to work.  I wallowed.  I did; probably way too much and for way too long, but it takes a while to process two years, five continents, and thirty-something countries in a studio apartment that doesn’t have the best natural light. 

Eventually, though, the sun came out.  Hiding behind bedcovers until 2 PM started to feel silly, and I slowly began to rebuild.  A manuscript here, a freelance travel article there; working with various global charities reinvigorated my soul and drove my passion.  Voila!  New York regained a bit of its rose-colored glow.

This winter, when the opportunity to spend the summer in Africa presented itself, it seemed a no-brainer.  For charity, no less: where do I sign?  But now, five days out, coming full circle in career and confidence, I’m mixed on leaving.  Again.  Thankfully, I have hindsight on my side, and my trip to East Africa ties into my budding role as a travel writer and a responsible tourist.  I always think I’m immune to anxiety on the eve of extended holiday, and my nerves take me by complete surprise when they surface.  Plus, with each new adventure, they change their spots.  Today, they take the form of: Will I be able to summit Kilimanjaro?  My first joint trip in years, will my travel partners and I get along?  Will I have enough time to cover my assignments and bask in the continent I’ve dreamed of exploring?  And, of course, do I have the right hiking boots? 

Luckily, I know the answers will sort themselves out.  They always do.  That’s the beauty of taking a break from real life for a solid dose of a travel life. 

Bring on Africa!

*This blog was adapted from a piece I wrote for a website called Briefcase to Backpack (  Check them out!


Alexis Grant said...

Found you from Briefcase to Backpack. Love your story! I've got a similar one. Would be interested to hear more about your travel memoir... You might join our Ning group for writers working on travel memoirs. More details:

Cherilyn said...

Love it! Cant wait to hear more along the way!!!