Self Ethnography

Rose O’Donnell

Major Paper 1

The Necessity of Adventure and the Obsession with Escape

 

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Research Question: Why do I love the escape?

I grew up on trail mix breaks while hiking, getting yelled at because I forgot to lock my bike up at school, and weekend trips camping. Like… every weekend. Yes, I am that girl. And finally, at this point in my life, I don’t think of it as “I’m the girl with the hippie parents”, but the girl who was raised to know that we live in this vast world, and the answers aren’t always within our little bubble.

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We were always getting out. From a very young age if I was miserable sitting in class, I learned that I can always just close my eyes and remember that in just a few hours my parents will be coming to pick me up from school, to take me on our next adventure. We were always traveling. I’m not saying this to say that we traveled first class, and stayed in overpriced resorts in Milan and Paris. No. We went places both big and small, and we immersed ourselves not in luxury, but in culture. My parents found it imperative that I grew up understanding perspective.  I think this is what made me want to escape, because I always could. I always did. Maybe struggling with anxiety made me want to travel because studies show that 89% of people feel like they are able to leave stressors behind when they travel. We never sat still. I was always searching, and yearning for the next time that I would be able to trek on new land, even go through airport security. Leave everything behind, at least for a little.

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I remember early mornings when my mom would come into wake me up and I would slip on shoes, and grab my already packed small bag of necessities. We learned how to travel light and NEVER checked a bag. I remember mocking those families that somehow managed to bring multiple, questionably large, suitcases. We would always speculate on what items were inside, imitating the typical American mom in the giant floppy hat who was altogether too stressed considering she’s on her way to Hawaii. With such excitement in our young, innocent little hearts (yes, we are now evil), we would drive to the airport, thinking about the sand that would be beneath our feet by the end of the day. By the time I was 10, I had left the country 30+ times. Don’t worry, I’m fully aware that I am super &**%&* lucky that I got to do this. But it was entirely out of my parent’s value in giving us (my brother Quinton(17), and I) worldly views, above all else. I learned how different life can be in different places. I grew up with a perspective that not everybody lived like I did, and that we choose to live the life we do, because we could be anywhere, and everything would be different. And that is ok, and that is beautiful. Every year I would spend cumulatively weeks on a little island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico called Isla Mujeres. The people on this Island don’t have access to too many resources, but they have all that they need. They are just living simply day to day. A lifestyle I would try to implement in the ever so unnecessarily complicated first world.Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 2.22.51 PM.png

I think understanding that you can just get up and go is something I have always held dear to my heart, maybe too close to my heart. I’m always looking to my next escape. Of course, I think traveling independently, and going outside of your own bubble, is incredibly important and has shaped me into who I am. But I must also recognize that in doing this, I have gotten some sense that if I remove my physical body from a situation where I feel out of control, I won’t necessarily gain control by changing my outside world, if the problem is surfacing from within. No matter where I go, the bones in my body will always be my home. I cannot escape myself no matter if I am in Southern California, or the cost of Spain. Of course, getting a break, going to the beach and devoting a week to reflecting in a journal and reading can’t be bad for a person, but if the problem will come right back up when I return, shouldn’t I just face it instead of run away? This is a problem I’ve always felt troubled me. Demons are still demons, and they still exist- even in Paris.

 

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        I also find often when I travel that I leave expecting to feel infinitely better, or like all my problems will go away when I find myself at a very oversized Russian airport, or stealing cheese samples in Amsterdam, but often times I do not meet my expectations. Instead I feel like I’m in the same world, because no matter where I go I cannot escape myself. This sounds like.. .very sad. But I don’t mean it that way. I just mean to say that there are outside problems and there are inside problems. And you can’t run away from your inside problems.

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        I love traveling. I absolutely love it. There is nothing better than breaking up with normal, and exploring new territory, with new food and new people. I personally love traveling alone. I studied abroad alone in Costa Rica in high school, backpacked Europe alone in college, lived in L.A., sailed the Catalina Islands, and traveled to Mexico alone this past summer. I’ve tried traveling with groups of people, in my case to Cambodia and a few other asian countries, but I didn’t love it. I like being alone. There is nothing better than walking around cobblestone streets, looking for a place with a nice street side view and a good cappuccino, with a bag with nothing but a notebook and a good book to fill it. I can take hours just looking for where to get a pastry. It’s an art.  Usually by the time I get there, I’m usually ready for my next meal, but just the process of wandering the streets of a totally foreign place elicits great joy in myself.

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        When I was in Amsterdam once I was looking for a cheap place to eat (often times traveling can get inexplicably expensive very fast). I have Indonesian heritage that means a lot to me, so when I found a traditional Indonesian restaurant (a little hole in the wall type place), I decided I would eat there. I still remember now that at the end of my meal, I ordered a cake called “spekook.” It’s a very thinly layered spice cake.Screen Shot 2016-11-16 at 4.29.48 PM.png

 

When I say layers I mean about 25 layers in a single slice. It was absolutely delicious, I ordered several other slices. As the day progressed I visited the Van Gogh museum and chomped down on that cake. It was lovely. I remember freaking out that I had gained 5 lbs in the first week I was there, then I remembered that living on gelato, entire baguettes and pastries isn’t particularly how you slim down. Even if you are walking many miles every day. Hell yeah though, it’s worth it.

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        People always say that traveling alone takes a lot of courage. I’ve almost felt that when I’ve gone places alone it was out of a very childish need to explore. It wasn’t like I buckled up my bootstraps and actively thought “I have to be strong to do this!” I normally felt like it was a chance to let go, not to really become stronger.

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        Often times in high school if I dreaded going back to class, I would walk to a secret tree house I had found, or go take a hike, or just go drive. I would find it hard to go back. Or to take that turn away from the highway, in order to head back to school. I wanted to keep driving, all the way to California. Just adventure somewhere.

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        I grew up going to Isla Mujeres, Mexico multiple times a year. All throughout my life I looked forward to our next trip from the moment it was planned. I looked forward to coming back with cornrows and flower beads in my hair, bronzed skin and a more “chill” attitude. God, do I sound annoying? But really this was my escape. It taught me that homework and soccer practice wasn’t all there was to life when I was in elementary school. Then in middle school it wasn’t that being skinny and having the right makeup was all that mattered. Because in Mexico that wasn’t what mattered. I could run around the beach topless with a stomach full of guacamole and pina coladas “sin alcohol” (well, until a few years ago), and do cartwheels and jump off bridges into the ocean and just feel the world around me. We would wander the streets at night and eat at local restaurants (I would only ever order beans and rice). Then we would get in arguments about which ice cream place to go to. In high school Mexico taught me that college applications and long rehearsals weren’t the only way of life. That you can just stop. Put on the brakes. And it’s powerful to know that getting all caught up in your world is just a series of expectations and pressures you are putting on yourself. There is so infinitely much more to the world than we know.

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        This idea of just stopping, and getting up and going on an adventure is very important, and something a lot of people don’t fully grasp, or would be too scared to actually put into action. So many people don’t understand that you literally can just get up and go… anywhere at any time. Especially when you are young and aren’t tied down to a family or a job. We don’t realize that if we don’t fit in our tiny bubble, we don’t have to exist in that bubble. We always have the authority to search more, anywhere in the world, to find where we fit in and can contribute our unique values and qualities.

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        However, this freedom has in a way given me the idea that I will always be in the search for perfection. That I should never settle. And though I never want to settle, and I want to live in a world where I do what I love and feel like I am wanted and accepted for who I am- a place where I am truly happy- if I am searching for perfection I might always find negative everywhere and never rest or really give a place a chance if it doesn’t appeal right away. That is a mentality that I think bleeds into my regular life too. I’m always looking into going into a different school or having a different job or taking a different class. I don’t know how to settle or be happy with what I have because I’m always looking for the next greater thing. I think most people have the opposite problem, but personally I feel like I have to at some point realize that where I am now isn’t all that bad, and forever searching might not be as romantic as it sounds.

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        I think traveling has always been very healthy for me. However, It is so important to break the daily cycle and really, really get out. Change your life fundamentally in every way. When I travel I don’t like staying in resorts. I like staying with locals, or at a local hostel (one that isn’t fancy at all and where you may literally find cocaine hidden in books, and blood stains on the sheets.) I like to go to the local areas, not the big tourist attractions. I like to get to know a place, and get to know the people. Walk down the lesser traveled path and eat at a small restaurant that serves mostly locals. This is how you learn about people, and this is how you learn about yourself. People who start traveling become addicted. Many online blogs talk about how the more you travel the more you feel the need to get out. Like nothing is real unless it’s new and exciting. It’s the addiction of the thrill.

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        One time I got lost in the woods in Italy. I realized the ground I had been meandering on was no longer a trail. I was already miles away from the town I was staying in, with blistered and bleeding feet and I was alone in the middle of a forest and didn’t know north from south. When I finally made it to a different village, far from the one I was trying to get to originally, (none of these places had cars or trains or busses…etc), I was 13 miles from my destination, where I would be able to take a boat home. When I finally made it to my destination (my feet literally ready to peel over), the boat wasn’t running because of the current. And I had to find out how to get back to my hostel. Alone, with no money, unable to speak the language, these are the moments you test your character and you learn—It will always be ok. When you look at where you are, and where you want to go, and you can’t see how you can possibly get from point A to point B. Yet, you remain calm and you trust that you will find a way. This is extremely empowering. Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild) talks about this a lot. Her experience hiking the PCT alone (and all of the challenges that came with that), but how just the solidarity was enough for her to find herself and trust herself once again. As hippie dippie as that sounds, having only yourself to rely on is empowering.

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        One time in Costa Rica I got into an unofficial taxi with some local women. The taxi driver dropped off the women and proceeded to drive me around, into an area I was unfamiliar with. Which was odd because I had lived in this tiny town for about 3 months and knew I should have been home already, and knew my way around our one street, uh, pretty well. I reminded the driver again where I lived. He told me he was taking a shortcut, but I knew better. I started seeing real slums come up around me. I felt helpless because I knew if I screamed for help it would be ignored, for people are taught not to answer to screams for help because often times it’s a ploy from a gypsy who will steal from/ hurt you. The taxi driver pulled over and told me he wanted to talk. I said that I really needed to get back, in broken Spanish. Even though I knew the language well, I thought that if I pretended like I didn’t know what he was saying that would somehow help. He said “you know what I mean, let’s just talk.” And I said “no” and luckily this interaction was broken up by a call from his boss yelling at him that he was supposed to be at another location. He proceeded to rush me home in silence and angrily ask for money.

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        In Sweden I was partying with local celebrities who invited me onto their private bus, where they were celebrating Alesso’s birthday. If you don’t know who he is in America, he is huge in Sweden, but has had some top hits here too. I proceeded to go around the town, knowing nobody, dancing and buying $15 drinks only to get kicked out of a club at 5 am only because I didn’t actually know the names of anybody I was with.

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        A time where I had a really life changing experience was walking through the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Having had a grandma who was in P.O.W. camps, separated from his family in Indonesia, the violence caused by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia didn’t seem too foreign. Unlike when you visit the Anne Frank house and it’s all very modern and there is glass protecting all the artifacts, at the Killing Fields, it’s very open. Different regulations, I suppose. You would walk, literally, on the bones of dead people. But here you would get their clothing caught on the bottom of your shoe. There is a tower in the middle of the fields with skulls filled to the top, each one with a sticky note signifying the cause of death. Being this privileged white girl walking through this field, and knowing this was a place of absolute terror for so many people, really changed me. I felt the horror and I was deeply humbled. It wasn’t an experience I could have had the same way reading about the genocide, or hearing about it on tape.

        This is traveling. Traveling is random adventure where you have no idea what is going to happen. You have no idea who you are going to meet, or where you are going to get lost, or what you are going to eat. What you are going to feel.

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        I think that my love for traveling came originally from my parents. From a value to understand different cultures that they instilled in me. Something that was probably instilled in them by their parents, who through the eyes of war saw the absolute necessity of understanding different people and different cultures. Something I find especially relevant in the wake of this election. People vote for people who fit their needs, with prejudiced for people who aren’t like them, because they have never met them. But in big cities, people are the most progressive because they are around people who create diversity, and when you know somebody who is different from you, it is a lot harder to hate them.

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People around me are always looking for success, because they are so caught up in the world around them. They want to work at this specific place, and impress these specific people, and if they don’t, then they have failed. I’ve learned that failure is not defined that way. Because if you fail somewhere, you can move onto the next somewhere. Because our world is made of a million somewheres.

I’ve also visited places where people were on the verge of starving. Where I was the first white person they had ever seen. Where they were surviving, as a family, on a nickel a day. Where the kids, if they are lucky, walk only 10 kilometers to get to school. But what surprised me about visiting these places is that the people aren’t miserable. They aren’t crying and complaining about their situation. In fact, they complain less than some very wealthy and “successful” people I know. Their situation is all they know, and because they can’t obsess on material things they obsess with each other, with the real world around them and they foster really genuine relationships. I think that knowing these places exist, has made me realize that these material dreams that surround me are not necessary, and they aren’t real. They are creations made by the small bubble that I am in, and though it’s easy to get caught up in it, it’s not absolute. And recognizing the vastness of the world, and humbling yourself in knowing you belong somewhere is extremely important. It is important to escape because it is important to learn.

Sources:

“I WANT TO TRAVEL FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE – 15 TRAVEL BLOGGERS TELL HOW TO DO IT.” I Want to Travel for the Rest of My Life – 15 Travel Bloggers Tell How to Do It – Travel Blog @Just1WayTicket. N.p., 03 Aug. 2013.

“Why Cheryl Strayed Says Being Alone Can Be Empowering – SuperSoul.tv.” SuperSoul.tv. N.p., 29 Mar. 2016.

Lane, Lea. “Yes, Travel Is Extraordinarily Good For You: Experts Show How And Why.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

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