Travel / by Safia Southey

I never choose the window seat, because I want to be the first one racing out the door when we touch down. I’ve been trained as a New Yorker to never stop, to take lines as a mere suggestion and to treat slow walkers like obstacles in a maze. I use my travels as an exercise of my quick upbringing, identifying the must-sees and trip-advisor day-tours, moving a mile-a-minute through the streets of new cities with simply my camera and a backpack. I refuse to take cabs from the train or bus station, walking is my preferred methods of transport - which has led me to some interesting experiences gallivanting around Yerevan, Chisinau, Beirut (...) in the dead of night, reassuring myself of all the comforting things I tell my mom to make sure she doesn’t worry. It’s also led me to my best photos and most authentic experiences, to the neighborhoods filled with genuine people outside the urban centers, setting up their restaurants and preparing for the day ahead. While the big touristy experiences can be interesting (if not extremely overwhelming), it’s the meandering journeys I take to get there through markets and parks and even along highways, the street food I discover on the way and the sounds of people chattering, that truly make my quest not just another page from a guidebook.

I never plan what I’m doing, quickly finding a hostel on my phone using the airport wifi while going through customs and finding some distant point to make my way to using google maps (honestly my travel savior, I would be literally dead without it and honestly was close when in China - Baidu just doesn’t do the trick). I search for experiences that continue to push me to be my wildest self - from skydiving above the Dead Sea to sinkhole jumping in Oman (not my best moment) to stealing currency in North Korea (probably shouldn’t publicly admit to that), I tend to make decisions that aren’t the smartest. And while I admit that many of my reckless choices are a product of my desire to uphold my reputation, it’s more to myself than to anyone else. I want to continuously prove to myself that I am the brave girl that my parents raised me to be, that I’m not growing weak as I get older, but rather that I am taking every opportunity that I am presented to ensure that I will never have to face the regret of what I could have done if I just weren’t so cautious. I yearn for experiences that interrogate normative patterns of thinking and being, environments that urge me to question my standards.

However, I understand that my travel can be extremely problematic, on a number of levels which deserve to be acknowledged. As a human rights major and self-proclaimed politically correct semi-“woke” bitch, I need to learn to separate my search for wild stories from actually supporting violent and abusive regimes that go against all that I work to deter (which is why I will not be going to Saudi Arabia any time soon), and from taking advantage of my opportunities in a way that simply furthers modern day white imperialism (no voluntourism thank you very much). And while I preach traveling as if it were a sprint, I often forget that I am not a machine. I abuse my body through lack of sleep and food and water, forcing it through hours of just going in shoes that are not made for walking and clothing that should not be worn in negative degree weather (you’ve all seen my skirts-only wardrobe). My parents and friends have to beg me to take a break and just sleep on occasion, which is a concept that completely defies my sense of self-image. Half my decisions are powered by my mental health, or lack thereof, with anxiety that tears through my chest on a near-constant basis, forcing me to power through so that I don’t waste any second I am awarded outside of school or work. There is a pressure in my heart whispering that I will never forgive myself if I don’t take that jump, that with every time I decide to relax instead of tackling some new adventure, I am that much less impressive.

My heart races thinking about all the places I have never been and all the time that I do not have - my mind fills the future with dreary classrooms and desk jobs that won’t permit me to escape at any impulsive urge. But hopefully, I will find new opportunities which will allow me to adventure in more productive ways, through work that is less selfish than simply wanting to see everything that I possibly can. People criticize my travel for just wanting to cross places off my list - but it’s most of a manifestation of how daunting and big the world feels, and how I’m terrified of not being able to see it all. I will continue to walk the Earth, tearing through countries as if I were running away, but I’m slowly realizing that sometimes it’s necessary to stop rushing. I never choose the window seat, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate those moments when I forget to specify a preference and end up taking a hundred photos of sunsets on my phone. It is when I finally slow down and abandon my hectic New York mentality that I can actually appreciate all the little moments along the way and see just how lucky I am to experience all that I have.