“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince
I expected that the responsible way to prepare for long-term travel through South America would be to putz around the local library researching Peruvian culture, practice verb conjugation en español, and fastidiously compile lists of “things to pack”, “paperwork to submit”, and “diseases to avoid.” Instead of (or, more generously, in addition to) doing all these things, I found myself lounging on the shores of Lake Gaston in North Carolina with my boyfriend and his cousins this Labor Day weekend.
Thoughts of visas and timelines disappeared at the sight of the lake (somehow they are always much larger than I imagine they will be). Gaston stretches on for 35 miles in a narrow crescent, surrounded by dense pines and frequently interrupted by jutting peninsulas, receding coves, and red clay shores. As beautiful and serene as the lake may be, my memories of the weekend are dominated by play. Yes, good old-fashioned play time, resulting in bruised knees, sore muscles, water-logged ear drums, and more belly-laughs than my abs have had to handle in years.
Somewhere between telling ghosts stories in the dark and belly-flopping off of a speeding inflatable water tube, I realized that I had tapped into a joyfully imaginative part of myself that I’ve only seen in brief glimpses since age twelve. I stopped worrying about how I looked in my swimsuit and happily made a fool of myself with repeated (unsuccessful) attempts to water ski. I fed Doritos to a family of ducks, re-read The Hobbit, and found myself mystified by how many different colors can appear on one dragonfly.
Perhaps, then, the best preparation for my great upcoming adventure is to tap the breaks on the memorization and debriefing and researching, and to focus more on honing my sense of wonderment. At its core, my decision to leave work and go travel is based on a desire to see the world anew. I want to be bewildered, shaken, and mystified. What better way is there to approach every experience than like a child, with eyes wide open (and an enviable immunity to embarrassment)?