With inevitable personal turmoil, I said, “f*** it,” and booked a roundtrip to Montego Bay, Jamaica with forty-eight hours until my flight departed.
“I’ll be insta-famous, I’ll get my own show on the Travel Channel, I’ll become the female Anthony Bourdain,” are only a few of the words of affirmation I would tell myself in my early years of traveling solo. I tagged any accounts on my GoPro selfies, from @sheisnotlost to @citizenfemme to even @gopro itself when I was feeling ambitious in those days. After all, I was breaking a barrier by being one of those inspirational people who quit their job and traveled the world… alone, as a woman, nonetheless. I knew that just from the never-ending comments from outsiders:
“Who are you with?”
“Are you going through a break-up?”
“Oh, you poor thing,” “That’s so ambitious,” “You’re so brave,” “So, are your parents rich?,” “None of your friends wanted to go with you?,” “Aren’t you scared?,” “Have you ever been in a dangerous situation?,” “Are you, like, a trust-fund kind?,” to my personal favorite … “Why?”
The truth of it is, I just like to travel. As an eight-year old, I remember all I wanted for Christmas was “It’s a Big Big World,” the giant book of maps summarizing what each continent held, and diving into each capital of the fifty United States. I remember when Mr. Durrigan gave our sixth-grade class a pop quiz on who could fill in the map of the United States quickest and most accurately, both states and capitals included, how I would’ve been number one if I wasn’t in such a rush and managed to mix up North and South Dakota (I clearly have still not forgiven myself). So, when I discovered early on it was hard to get anyone on board to travel with me, I thought, “Fuck it, I’ll go alone.” My first solo trip was to Hawaii, which pushed the envelope, but the first trip that changed the game for me was a sporadic trip to Thailand in 2016, party of one. Nothing but a roundtrip out of Bangkok booked with sixteen days in between to do whatever the hell I wanted to do.
The rest is history; at some point, I quit my job to travel the world full-time for six months. I landed a few writing gigs, focused on social media promotion via Instagram stories and posts. In fact, I made it a vow to post once a day on Instagram since I had created the opportunity of a lifetime: traveling the world for six months. I wanted others to know it was possible with hard work, and even more so with the right passport. To my surprise, I gained momentum. I landed my gig with Jetset Times. I was asked by a tourism account to cover an “affordable Asian vacation,” and found myself in Maafushi, a local island on the Maldives. My followers grew from 92 to 560 within three months; sure, I’m no @gypsea_lust and I know nothing about photo shop but shit, I was creating an authentic experience nonetheless. What was different about this travel experience in retrospect to my others? It was mine. I owned it. It was in my control.
For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in control.
But something toward the end started to feel fabricated. I climbed Kilimanjaro at the butt-end of my six-month journey, and it was the only time during the trip that I had allowed myself to be truly disconnected from the outside world. While hiking, I connected with myself in ways that I hadn’t been before because I simply had no choice; it was the true level of comfortably uncomfortable. There was no phone to scroll through, no Instagram pictures to analyze and compare myself to, no one to text, no way to check how many “likes” my picture of the day garnered. It was just the flowers on Kilimanjaro, and little ol’ me. I remember lying in my tent, alone, in the middle of the night on this mountain in Tanzania, thinking of music video ideas (I’m a musician before anything else), composing songs in my head, writing in a diary every night, thinking of things I would’ve changed in my past, and what I potentially want to do in my future. But what stuck out the most in my mind was, I thought about how envious I was of other travel “influencers.” Not writers, but “influencers,” a.k.a. the insta-famous folks who post a pic and suddenly are getting paid to stay at a villa in Thailand (no shame to them, everyone has their own thing). I remember imagining conversations I’d have with them. I thought, “If I run into so-and-so, I’d tell her how fake she is!” simultaneously wanting to be able to look up their Instagram, but couldn’t, due to the lack of service. There was a clear underlying level of jealousy. I constantly discredited myself. I realized how much I had spent living up to this life I had dreamt of, but how much I had been living outside of it. I loved just about every moment of my journey, but I often found myself feeling stuck. Stuck where? In my own damn head, not allowing myself to give myself the credit I damn well-deserved. It’s not easy to leave everything behind and go after something as unconventional as traveling the world alone for an extended period of time. Comfortably uncomfortable, perhaps.
Being a woman who chose to venture this trip, I felt pressure. I was out for myself, but I was also out to prove a point. We can do anything the men can do, and we deserve even more credit than they get. We hike the mountains that men take an elevator to get to the top of, and so it feels like they always beat us. But we work so fucking hard. I was sick of working my ass off in an everyday life just to be discredited. I felt robbed of not receiving the credit I deserved. Meanwhile, here I was, so conditioned to believe I should be doing more, while literally climbing Africa’s highest mountain.
I realized that somewhere along the way of the six-month journey, I had taken it upon myself to change the world. I wanted to be the damn trailblazer, the face of small-town American girls who can make a difference. What started as a quest for regaining my self-respect and self-love became an Instagram frenzy to once again, not only get the approval of, but show strangers that it was possible. This essentially led to my everyday posting on Instagram; to remind you I’m alive, but to remind you it’s not only possible, but it’s enjoyable, and worthwhile. Why did it have to be any of that? Why couldn’t it just be what it was?
On my last day of the six-month trip in Portugal, I remember nearly throwing my tripod and GoPro after successfully getting my last “insta-worthy shot,” and saying, “I am never taking another fucking photo of myself again.” Because, I should point out, part of my “proving” journey was to be the sole person that took all of my own photos; I bought gadgets and gizmos a plenty, just to ensure I never had to ask for anything. I took almost every photo I posted for 180 days.
Once I got back home, I deleted Instagram almost immediately. I needed a break. With that break, I quickly realized I would have taken this journey either way, because that eight-year-old girl wanted that book of the world. I just made Instagram the focus of it toward the end, and I don’t regret it, but I question my motives from time to time. Are you trying to prove to yourself you’re capable, or are you screaming from a mountain top and saying, “See! I am capable!”
Fast-forward a few months later, swimming through the heavy tides of routine and everyday life again, with inevitable personal turmoil, I said, “fuck it,” and booked a roundtrip to Montego Bay, Jamaica with forty-eight hours until my flight departed.
I always wondered what my first getaway would be like after my six-month adventure would be like. But, what was going to be different about this trip? I would sign off. I wouldn’t travel for the sake of sharing photos, for the sake of empowering others, for the sake of proving it could be done. I would do it for me.
I wanted my power back. Somehow, with the pressures of Instagram and despite efforts of keeping my @noman.nomad (shameless plug) account as truthful as I possibly could, I felt like I had both found and lost myself along the way. I had to relearn how to stop following the rules. I wanted to travel as that eight-year old kid with her big book, not as the too-informed adult with the knowledge of social media and hashtags. I wanted to travel when I knew the Eiffel Tower existed but had never seen it, and I knew I could potentially speak another language and mispronounced “bonjour” as “bonn-jore”; and in all honesty, looking back, I never wanted to travel because of anything else. I just want to see the damn world. It’s as simple as that. I still want to go to Iran just as much as I want to go to Denmark. I still want to eat raw cow heart at an izakaya in Japan while simultaneously enjoying a street pani puri in India. I want to experience and taste everything this life and world has to offer. I don’t have to document every single second of it. I can put the camera down, or even more importantly, keep the camera in my hand but not post it. I am allowed to just keep some parts for myself.
I went to Jamaica and I hardly told a soul. I journaled. I woke up and ordered a “Jamaican breakfast” without reading a menu, later finding out I was eating fish skin that resembled eggs, fruits that mocked bread. I watched the Caribbean Sea crashing onto my feet and not knowing where the hell my phone was. I walked the beach with a strange man and I didn’t shoe him away, even though I was uncomfortable. I opened a beach chair in which I jammed my thumb so badly that I am still waiting for the nail to fall off, but I never screamed or flinched because I didn’t want anyone to see me sweat. I jumped off of a thirty-foot cliff into a natural mineral swimming cave. I got a sunburn so bad that I’m not even sure what the tan lines resemble. I cracked open an aloe vera plant and rubbed it on my blistered shoulders and chest. I got food poisoning from the best beef patty I’ve had in my life. I sang Celine Dion and Alanis Morrisette at karaoke and shared the mic with a group of women I had just met. I had Rum Runners for breakfast, drank out of a fresh coconut from a shack on the side of the road in the afternoon, and ate Caribbean lobster by myself as I watched the sun set. I took shameless selfies in the water, and made friends with a cat that kept sitting outside of my room.
And I didn’t post a damn thing.
Maybe I left Jamaica too soon. Maybe it was a lesson I needed to reteach myself. Removing myself from social media took a few days to digest. Maybe writing about being removed from social media is redundant because I will most likely share this article via social media. But it was a valuable lesson, nonetheless.
Disconnecting is important from time to time, and while as a travel writer, I have to move with the tides of the trends, which includes posting on social media, there was something liberating about going to another country for one thing, and one thing only: myself.|
Kaitlyn spent four days in Jamaica.