Rummaging through my travel documents to double-check my passport’s expiration date, I came back up with a set of old unused visa photos. It may be self indulgent but I like to look at these photos. Because I tend to hit several countries at a time, many of these photos were taken already “on the road”. And, for that, the face that looks back at me from the little rectangles is the face of a person who is doing A-Okay.
It is important to reconnect with this version of myself on occasion – this person at the height of her self-esteem and mental and physical fitness. This is my most uninhibited and confident “me”. It does not have to mean the wildest / craziest “me” but it is me when I feel at my freest.
These snapshots are the faces of a person in perpetual motion. The super faded pictures were taken in Brazil for crossing into Paraguay: they are useless as visa photos but they summon forth the “me” from that day in time. Frozen in a photo, right there, I will always be that traveler with a mondo migraine who was sent on a wild goose chase around the city of Curitiba to hunt down a gazillion different stamps for a Paraguayan visa. The Paraguayan visa, let it be known, is rivaled only by the Russian visa in cost, bureaucracy, labor-intensiveness and dark magic involved in its conjuring.
The fact that I remember having a really bad headache is, actually, a very positive indicator of how great my life was at the moment, several months into my year-long backpacking trek around South America. Living in the American Northeast, my migraines are so regular that they all blur together into one long hellish game of “chicken” between me and searing brain pain. If I remember that Brazilian migraine, it means it was a blessedly isolated incident at that time.
The four undamaged copies are of the picture taken in Thailand for a Lao visa. The old-fashioned photographer fetched me a man’s shirt to cover up my tank-topped shoulders for the shot. At that moment, bitterness and disappointment were weighing heavily on my heart and I was going through a “withdrawal” after some major emotional poison. I had ways to go before I would wake up relaxed, as opposed to exhausted from vivid, intense dreams that tormented me at night.
Withdrawal is the initiation of recovery and spending an emotionally difficult time on the road can really serve as salve for the hurting soul. On this trip, largely staying away from substances and parties, I got the exact communion with nature and with culture I knew I needed and had set out to find. I returned to the States excited about getting back to work. If that is not the mark of a miraculously transformative vacation, I don’t know what is. And so, I enjoy looking at stills of myself on that journey – it gives me a positive charge of spirit, transmitted through the memory, transformed into a renewed intention to be and feel like that again.
Looking at these pictures, I am also reminded that youthfulness and beauty are still within reach. After a couple of weeks of being on the road, I usually get a whole second wind of energy. My senses become uncorked from heavy mental grime, my skin tightens, my facial features relax, my back un-pretzels, my neck de-petrifies itself, etc., etc., etc. It’s nice to see a tan, strong, healthy version of myself in those photos – it gives me hope.
If you can carve out a few months on the road, you can work up to some serious traveler zen bliss! It gives you enough time and distance to look back at what you’ve left behind – as well as think forward to what is waiting for you – and re-evaluate those things in light of being more relaxed and in touch with yourself. Seriously, if you haven’t taken a prolonged solo trip yet, I cannot recommend it enough. Do it as soon as you can, really. It is good for anyone. And, for some of us, it is a straight-up vital necessity. Take yourself on a “walkabout” and, in weeks / months, you will re-emerge as a more confident, calm, wise, fit and all-around badass version of yourself.
And then, at times when your life has become a little too settled and static and you feel the ole Wanderlust tugging on your hems and scratching at your feet, you can dig up those visa pictures and start planning the next adventure.