Wanderlust. That word- adopted by the English language from its original German- is splashed all over the internet. It’s a favorite Instagram caption, go-to foot tattoo, and well-worn blog title. And I get it: it sounds nice. To wander, to lust. To do both together, in a romantic, adventurous blend of sandy beaches and expertly chosen globe emojis. I’ve liked those pics. I’ve made those posts.
However, this worshiping of wandering is also deeply problematic. Besides the fact that it’s classist because the majority of the population cannot afford to pick up and travel the world, wanderlust also seems to imply that moving ourselves-even temporarily-will automatically refresh our souls and transform our lives. Fulfill your wanderlust, and you’ll discover who you are and who you are meant to be.
Maybe you will, but if you do, it won’t be because you bought a plane ticket.
To quote hundreds of Instagrammers quoting J.R.R. Tolkien- “Not all who wander are lost.” But that doesn’t mean that wanderers are necessarily finding anything either. We see movies like Eat, Pray, Love and we think that adventure transforms lives. And sure, maybe it can, but not overnight, and not without doing the work. To wander is one thing. To learn about another culture- and to find yourself- are totally different challenges.
In my own wanderlust quest, I’m living in Trujillo, Perú while working for an NGO. One of the hardest parts has been realizing that self-discovery and self-improvement have not come immediately.
After almost four months, I speak Spanish better. I’ve seen beautiful scenery, met lovely people, and built wonderful relationships. Mostly, I’ve learned that to know a place with its people and colorful fruit stands and bustling transportation is to do more than than take a picture of it. At the same time, I’ve found that to know yourself is to do more than wander.
Problems don’t disappear when you jump on a plane, or cross a border, or speak about them in a new language. You may be more distracted than you would be at home. You may forget whatever issues you’ve had temporarily, but you never escape them until you make the decision to let them go.
I wish that I could say that moving abroad made me a totally different person overnight. While I am changing slowly everyday as I learn to navigate a new job in a new country in a new language, I am still- frustratingly, unfortunately, luckily- myself, at my core.
Changing yourself means working. It means reading books and trying everyday to accept what you can’t change and working to improve what you can. Travel might provide you with the opportunity to do this, but you still have to put in the effort, regardless of whether you stay home or go abroad.
I still, embarrassingly and American-ly, punctuate many of my Spanish sentences with “like.” I procrastinate answering e-mails. I know I should relish the excitement of hostels, but the introvert in me struggles with sleeping adjacently to strangers. I send SOS texts to female friends when my heart is hurting. Only this time, the texts come from 3500 miles away, rather than from a few blocks over.
Maybe, at the end of the year, Perú will have cured me of all of this. I somehow doubt it. But, as I watch the sun fade in Trujillo on my way home from work- illuminating the parks, the bodegas, and the flowers covering the roofs- I don’t really mind.
Britt Rudolph is a recent graduate currently living and working in Trujillo, Perú. She believes in the power of female friendships, good books, cute puppies, strong coffee, old movies, art museums, and great TV. She's usually drinking pisco, Perú's signature alcohol, but misses mimosas.