It’s vacation, really, what I’m on. I didn’t quite think of it that way, but traipsing through Ireland and then England for two weeks with no job, no obligations and only my ability to stay within budget as limitation constitutes nearly a textbook definition of vacation. So, naturally, I find things to worry about. That’s partly human nature, partly my own neurosis, but those nagging perturbations that have a knack for popping up as soon as the preceding one diminishes in importance present a near-constant opportunity for growth. In fact, finding pockets of peace within those worries is kind of the whole idea of this year for me.
People ask and I’m still not entirely sure why I chose this particular corner of the world as my first stop, but both Ireland and England have proved soft entry points into a year of solo travel. Lack of a language barrier, for one, removes a major challenge. So, too, does the similarity of culture and the extensive tourism industry that renders much of both countries extremely receptive to (especially American) tourists. Really, besides being more expensive (London = $$$) and discrepancies in pronunciation and vocabulary, I couldn’t have picked a more comfortable place to travel. Which leaves me to contemplate, to reflect, to wander, and, yes, to worry — but also to sit with those worries and trust myself to progress through them (maybe aided by an occasional text to my mom).
Because the human experience exists on a very, very expansive spectrum, some days or hours or moments I feel good, and some I don’t, and sometimes they occur right after each other or within each other or mix in a confusing swirl of faded trails left by watercolors after the color has run out. I’ll go to sleep wishing so many of my decisions had followed the left side of the T instead of the right and wake up with the sun peeking over the windowsill, and my good-feelingness is welcome but invokes a sense of myself as an imposter. Sure, I’m fine now, but yesterday I made a mistake, I was negative or mean, I didn’t appreciate the present moment, I cried and felt hopeless — so I don’t actually feel good today. I really shouldn’t get too comfortable in this repose.
And that realization, albeit twisted, really has a spark of truth in it. No, I’m not an imposter when things look rosy, and that feeling is totally valid — even if it is because of caffeine or that early morning possibility. Simply, it’s all temporary. Though maybe I’d like my default to shift further towards the lighter end, we so often hail happiness as the end goal, the constant expectation. And by this point I think it’s pretty clear we gotta feel alllllll the feelings. There really is room for the whole of it.
Which is to say, there’s room for vacation and adventure, challenge and relaxation, staying informed and tuning out. I can work on expanding my worldview and nurturing myself and, simultaneously, I can applaud high profile American athletes joining in yet another stage of necessary activism manifesting itself in NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s valuable protest. I can watch incredulously and then with relief when President Obama listens to the people and acknowledges the disrespect and cruelty of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And then, as I’m continually discovering my place in the world, I can notice how unnerving it is to be right smack dab in the center of colonialism. I absorb all of this in a privileged, relatively easy situation and my ponderings only grow deeper — because they incorporate my entire sensory comprehension.
I have never really traveled in Europe before, excluding a short family jaunt through Spain many years ago. My life has been spent almost exclusively in the New World. Thoroughly all of the United States is populated by people whose ancestors did not originate there, with the preeminent exception of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Though I am constantly fascinated by and grateful to live in America, there is always the underlying truth that the people and America I see around me is not the natural outgrowth of what has always been. Especially in Alaska, where colonization is relatively recent and Alaska Native culture is so vibrant and present and central to the collective future of the state, I am always aware that people came before me. Even in South and Central America, where a majority of the population is indeed descended from ancestors who called their same land home, they speak a language and practice a religion forced upon them by the early Western world and look very different from the people who colonized them.
Here, however, surrounded by ancient castles and churches and the native language still the primary one and that from centuries past, with a few difficulties, maybe even I could understand, I feel the novelty. Of course, Ireland was invaded by the British and made to switch languages and religions. But even with that history of incursion, the pigment in the faces that primarily populate Ireland and England has not changed or been subjected to unspeakable cruelty, they have not been ousted from their traditional homes. This is the original West.
Years have passed, it’s not just Britain and England, and many other countries — notably the U.S. — have done their fair share of colonization, destroyed enough cultures and committed copious crimes against humanity. It’s worth feeling the vestiges.
My extremely fortunate opportunity to explore all of these thoughts for myself is nonetheless operating on a one-way cash flow, and it’s not in. By the grace of hospitality and priceless connections I have stayed with friends of friends and am indebted to their generosity, and am definitely on a budget. I’m doing my best to be a responsible and stingy adult and make calculated decisions, so when I entered the Camden Market I nearly dropped into the gaping jaws of that insidious capitalism. Mainly stemming from my own ineptitude at balance, simply gazing at the stuff can be difficult for me to enjoy with no strings attached. But shopping can be fun, especially in foreign spaces and when viewed as an activity to explore the endless variety and ingenuity of the market. Sometimes I can appreciate it, but my inherent desire, my girlish want for the pretty thing makes me ashamed. I’d prefer to avoid shopping altogether and condemn capitalism without nuance than linger in the in-between where I marvel at things I don’t need, acknowledge the system we live in, and allow myself some room for whim purchases. And now that I’ve written that sentence, I realize that’s exactly where I’m headed. Ah, self reflection.
So I’m hopping around in a forgiving yet still terrifying first step of attempting to manifest independence, staying nearly exclusively with people I’ve never met but contacted from across the world, and each one tells me that they were warned karma would come for them. That they were hosted, treated, welcomed as young clueless travelers themselves, and now it’s their turn. I don’t know if the generosity, warmth, and support I’ve received can be justified by just karma, because I have an inkling I really ended up with some good ones. It looks like I’ll be hosting a lot of travelers in my day.