Transitions are universal and inevitable; regardless of age we’re constantly evolving. And while change can, at times, feel messy and uncomfortable, it’s through these metamorphosis that we learn success. All of my greatest lessons have come as a result of a pivot after a failure. These pivotal movements have made fertile ground for growth. Through the exploration of these transitions and changes it is my hope that fullest readers will feel less alone in knowing that others are going through the same trials and celebrations. As I move through my Saturn return and the tail end of my 20’s I find myself mining for life’s gems and sharing the lessons I’ve learned (and still continue to learn) through personal essays, lists, and interviews.
Enjoy my monthly column, Pivot for the fullest.
“Your trip starts now,” my cousin Erin said over the phone. I didn’t have time to chat; I had a to-do list a mile long before I left for Spain the next day. I was anxious and frantically trying to explain to her that I couldn’t possibly make it to yoga. I had a definitive picture in my mind for how I wanted my last day to look… and this wasn’t it.
Erin went on, “Listen, get used to things not being like you thought, that’s what travel is and why it’s good for you.” Older than me, she was just old enough for me to admire yet still young enough for me to relate to. She was the most traveled person I knew and was who had encouraged me to break out of the bubble of our small midwestern hometown. I thought studying abroad would be good for me — she knew it would change me forever.
When the plane landed in Spain I immediately understood why Erin kept traveling; for the first time in my life I felt free. Hearing languages I didn’t understand, seeing landscapes I’d only seen in pictures, and tasting foods I couldn’t pronounce forced me to be present by experiencing the world with all my senses. That summer studying abroad felt magical. Distracted by the world around me, my tendency toward melancholy lifted so I extended the trip as long as I could — but the second I landed home all the sadness rushed right back in. I sobbed the entire car ride from the airport and instantly began daydreaming about how I could continue my travels overseas.
Nearly a decade later, I finally dusted off my passport. After a particularly depressing year, I needed a massive life overhaul. I had moved out of my apartment, stored my belongings, and there I was, on a flight to Europe. When my plane took off at JFK, I didn’t know where I was staying when I landed in Paris, but I popped on an episode of Friends and trusted that my middle seat was just where I needed to be.
The impetus for this trip came out of need as much as desire. In the last six months I’d lost two family members, been blindsided by a painful injury that kept me from exercising, and struggled to adjust to new freelancing gigs — which all would have been okay if each struggle hadn’t felt extra potent due to a severely broken heart.
It was time for a full reboot and travel seemed like my ideal solution. (I was right.)
Between a bed-bug scare in Berlin, a bad date in Paris, and getting lost without a working phone in Amsterdam — my month-long vacation wasn’t without struggle. But each day showed me how resilient, resourceful, and self-reliant I’d become.
Just like it had been in college, travel was an antidote to my depression. I was traveling alone, yet my time living out of a suitcase was the least lonely I’d felt in months. The fact that I was on my phone less due to poor service internationally caused me to pay attention to the novelty of my surroundings more (and proved to be just as effective an antidepressant as the prescription for Lexapro that I had left in the States).
High on travel, I wondered how long I could indulge my wanderlust, but I braced myself for the letdown of returning home.
But where was home?
I’d moved out of my Manhattan apartment hours before my flight to Europe. I had some belongings in a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn and some in my hometown in Michigan — but neither of those places felt like home.
As my flight back to the States inched closer, so did my anxiety. I wanted to hang on to this travel high, so I started to break down what it was about traveling that made me feel better.
My first week in Paris I met Sasha Nelson, someone who seemed to be able to capture her wanderlust flow, whimsically taking it with her wherever she went. A yoga teaching expat who had moved to Paris from New York after a bad breakup the year before, Sasha hosted yoga classes under the Eiffel Tower as often as picnics with wine along the Seine. She had moved over a dozen times in the last year and it seemed like she knew everyone, yet she had a peacefulness about her I couldn’t put my finger on.
I was entering a similar season of uncertainty and asked her how she felt grounded in the midst of constant change. She said her “home” was anywhere with community.
Regardless of where she was she felt supported because she felt supported within herself. She knew herself, liked herself, and didn’t need things, people, or places to define her.
I admired her grit, resiliency, and non-attachment to her changing environment.
In her yoga classes she often referred to the yogic philosophy of vairāgya, which roughly translates to renunciation of the pains and pleasures in the temporary material world. It doesn’t mean repulsion for material objects — but rather aims to develop a relationship and spiritual connection with yourself so that outside attachments naturally fall away, creating balance between the internal spiritual and the external material.
Through Sasha I saw that my home wasn’t somewhere I needed to find, but rather a state of mind I could bring with me wherever I went.
This made me realize that travel was, indeed, only an escape. Sure, it was a healthy and welcomed distraction, but it was far from a permanent solution. It had served its purpose and forced me to release control just like Erin had warned me all those years ago — but it was time for me to return home and face the deep internal work I should be doing so that I can feel stable enough to exist anywhere I may decide to put down roots.
As much as I wanted to keep running, I needed to sit still for a while with the internal souvenirs from my travels: the creativity, surrender, resilience, and empathy.
I still feel lost sometimes, I still go down the occasional wrong path — but as long as I’m okay with my own mind I can pivot and get back on track.
And if not, there will always be more flights when I need another reboot.
Katie Dalebout is a writer, host, and founder of Let [a podcast] Out, a workshop that helps people DIY podcast. Since 2013, she has interviewed nearly 300 people on her long-form podcast, Let It Out. Her first book, Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling is a collection of personal essays and journaling prompts that was published in 2016. She now writes about her feelings monthly in her Let It Out Letter.