Maybe Being A Drifter Isn't So Bad After All

Something I remember from meeting my current group of friends was their keen observation that I was, as they put it, a drifter. The one who leaves. They noticed it on days when I'd smile at old friends, hang out with a group of people I was once close too, cancel plans just to Skype for twenty minutes with someone I hadn't seen in months or get restless for staying somewhere for too long. I thrive from change, they told me.

At the time I denied it, said I was the opposite, I was someone who stayed.  And then, this past week I realised that they'd been right all along. I was overtaken by my desire to run away, to leave, to drift. It was only by realising what I'd be leaving that forced me to calm my heart and say, no, its not time for leaving just yet. This is only a beginning.

You see, I have this incurable condition. It’s an overwhelming, all-consuming, insatiable case of wanderlust. A few weeks ago I found myself staring at an airport departure board with such fervour that a concerned gate agent had to ask me if I was alright. The freedom of choosing my next destination by closing my eyes and spinning a globe – of leaving it all up to chance – is beautiful to me, the product of full (and sometimes reckless) abandon.

It’s the desperate dream of faraway places that I don’t even know exist. I was born for leaving and I can’t stop.

I often get asked where I consider home. I mumble through the ever so awkward and slightly rehearsed preamble to explain away how and why most of what I own fits into one suitcase and duffel bag, and that the rest is stored in my old childhood bedroom. Home for me is the present. It happens to be wherever I'm located at any given point in time, whether it’s a cramped 9 bed hostel room or the serenity of an airport terminal in the dead of night.

Travel, as we all know, is both beautiful and exhausting. For the first time in my life I'm preparing to live and work in a place for a whole year. I'm tying myself down in a country I've never been to before. I'm under no illusions. The next year of my life will undoubtedly consist of late nights and early mornings. It’ll be flight delays, flying with food poisoning (aeroplane food never agrees with me), traffic, and painfully slow internet. It means Skype dates, jet lag, and an embarrassing over-reliance on social media to keep up with everything. Constantly yearning to be where I'm not.

And I wouldn't trade any of it for the world. Being a drifter, a traveller, a wanderlust-filled human can be hard. but it’s also incredible. Friendships that transcend distance and time. Having a home cooked meal by a campfire in the middle of the jungle, nothing but an expanse of stars above and the rumble of wildlife in the distance. The wistfulness of being in the middle of nowhere in a tiny museum and seeing the tiny drawing that inspired the Salvidor Dali painting that hangs in my home city, and feeling closer to home because of it.

It’s wandering through unknown cities without a map or plan. It’s waiting for a sheep to cross the road in Ireland so you can safely make it alive. It’s chasing waterfalls and snacking on food you don't get anywhere else. It’s comforting a stranger’s bawling baby on a bus. It’s seeing the sunrise on the other side of the world. It’s relearning how to live when you’re completely alone in a foreign country.

It’s feeling how utterly insignificant your problems are as you occupy such a tiny place on this earth.

You see, no one has ever given me a reason to stay in one place. If and when someone does, I’ll know it’s real. I’ll know that I’ll be able to happily call a place home, because sometimes, home isn't four walls or the familiar curve of your favourite pillow. It’s wherever another soul calls you to return to day after day. Until then, my heart yearns for the unfamiliar and distant corners of this tiny planet that each and every one of us calls home, and I don't mind that. I don't think being a drifter is so bad after all.

photo credit: alex benetel


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