When I’d first tell people I was going to Africa for two months by myself, their faces almost always twisted into an expression of horror and awe, as though they couldn’t quite decide whether I was stupid or courageous. Granted, my follow up comments: “You know, because it’s Africa,” or, “Nope, no job assignments, humanitarian groups, or real purpose at all,” didn’t help in garnering any votes of confidence either, but the truth was, I didn’t have an explanation.
There was no compelling factor making me leave, (unless you count another winter in New York), nor was there one pulling me away (unless you count Africa). I hadn’t just broken up or gotten a divorce, my bartending career surely wasn’t expensing me there, and at twenty-seven, I had a few years to kill before I could blame my impulsiveness on a mid-life crisis. Nope, in movies, people have motive. In real life, at least sometimes, you just buy the ticket.
Then you buy the travel guide. The backpack. The bikini. The Tarzan and Jane safari hat. Okay, you don’t buy that but I was tempted. Instead, I kept it simple, selecting only what would fit into my pack.
Since I was leaving for two months, rather than find a subletter, I decided to give up my share in a less than positive living situation and put my belongings in storage. Over the nine years that I had lived in New York, I had amassed an exorbitant amount of junk which I carted from apartment to apartment, telling myself that one of these days I would sit down and organize it all. That day had come.
I spent the afternoon working my way though a pot of coffee and a decade worth of wardrobes. By dinner time I had three garbage bags full. My caffeine high propelled me down the street, bags in tow, to the hipster thrift store which gave me a nice check for my apparently still-cool castaways.
Streamlined now, my head felt clearer, but with two months until take-off, there was still so much to do. I found a travel doctor and began my transformation into a human pin cushion. Hep A, Hep B, Tetanus, Polio, Typhoid—I had more vaccinations than diseases I even knew about, but with each arm-numbing shot the trip became more tangible.
I joined a gym and began what I called, “The Africa Workout Plan,” motivated as much by the thought of a ten-mile trek through the desert as I was by the prospect of sunbathing in a bikini.
I started researching travel Web sites, sending out emails to friends and family about my plans, perking up my ears whenever I heard the word “Africa.” Before I knew it, I had a handful of contacts, friends of friends that were more than happy to offer me advice about my trip, and often inviting me to stay with them for a few days during my journey.
Yes, the mysterious continent was coming into focus, and to my surprise, so was my own life. Suddenly I felt more excited than I had in years, and not just at the prospect of a vacation. In contrast, the knowledge that I was leaving made me appreciate the city more than ever.
In preparation of spending two months by myself, I started paying more attention to my thoughts and moods rather than looking for things to distract me from them. My mind, body, and soul felt good, clear, purposeful, and I realized that when I initially thought of going to Africa, this was what I was hoping to achieve. I had found what I was looking for without even leaving the ground.
Originally published on TangoDiva