Finding the Thing You Can Never Leave Behind

I never feel as exhilarated or as free as I do when I'm riding a motorcycle. Maybe I've got something of a daredevil streak in me that motorcycles allow me to indulge, but there are few things that give me the visceral joy that I experience when I'm zipping along on two wheels, the wind gently caressing my face.

Riding a motorcycle is by far my favorite way to travel, as it lets me feel far more connected to my surroundings than I do in a car or even a train; there’s nothing between me and the world but the air I breathe deep into my lungs.

Back in Nashville, Tony & I had two scooters (we started with one, but found it too hard to share it, so we wound up with another), and we used to go on some fairly epic rides together. One of the best things about Nashville was its relatively long riding season, and those scooters gave us a new lease on the city, as a place that had long lost it luster became shiny and new when viewed from perched atop our rides. We’d zip down the Natchez Trace (dreaming off making it all the way to Mississippi), or head over to East Nashville for ice cream, hell even running errands was more fun when done on our scooters.

When the time came to leave Nashville, it felt good to shed most of our possessions and we were happy to no longer have so much stuff weighing us down. Except for the scooters, which had given us hours and hundreds of miles of enjoyment. Saying goodbye to them was no easy task, but we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we would soon enough be in South East Asia, the land of year-round motorbike weather.


It took until we reached Bohol for us to be reunited with our favored two-wheeled transport, but what a glorious reunion it was! Maybe the beaches were a bit lackluster, but that just gave us more time to cruise about on our bike, soaking in the glorious interior scenery of the island. I think a lot of people hit Bohol with very specific goals in mind, but we were more than happy to explore its hidden sides and embrace whatever they might reveal.

Step away from the beaches, and Bohol is a gorgeous island. We had already gotten a taste of its expansive beauty when we took our day-trip up to the Chocolate Hills, but even puttering around Panglao island was a delight. We may have started off trying to find the best spot to swim, but soon found ourselves simply enjoying our ride through the town that encircles the island and the lush jungle that enrobes it. The Spanish roots to the country are evident, in the faces of the people (always happy and smiling), and the architecture of some of the older buildings we found, particularly the lovely old Catholic churches; at times we felt our flight from Shanghai had really dropped us an ocean off the mark, and we were instead touring the Puerto Rican countryside. We were in a version of Asia we barely recognized and had certainly never dreamed of but that was ok, because this was so much better. It was beautiful in its own right, and we were taking it all in as best we could with eyes wide and fully open.

It will not come as news to any of you long-time readers when I reveal that during the first few weeks of our trip, there were times when Tony & I really struggled to adapt to the realities of our new lifestyle. We battled unrealistic expectations, not just of the places we visited, but also of ourselves and how traveling would change us, or the rate at which it would. Before we left on our trip, I carried a cold, hard knot deep within me. It was made up of sadness and anger and feelings of failure, ultimately all things rooted in fear. Throughout our travels thus far, I had started to realize that these strands were holding me back, tethering me to a life and to a person I no longer wanted to be. I had thought that traveling would allow me to break free of the disappointments and the unhappiness of my old life, but the truth is, it wasn’t my life I had been frustrated with: it had been with myself. The reality is that when you are unhappy with yourself, you will be unhappy everywhere you go, because you are the one thing you cannot ever leave behind.


I’ve long been my own worst critic; for years now, I have been weighted down with persistent, negative thoughts about my abilities, my intelligence, my general “goodness”, even my worthiness for love. If I had been feeling low, it was because I had dragged myself down to that dark, bleak place through my own inability to let myself be happy. By leaving on our trip, I had made the first real step to pursue a life that made that goal a priority.


But it wasn’t until we rode around that island that I finally began to feel that tightness I had been carrying within me finally start to unfurl. The more we rode, the more I could feel the strands that tied me to the past stretch, until in one glorious moment, they snapped, and I was free! As we cruised under palm trees and past rice paddies, my arms flung around Tony’s waist, I realized that the cacophony of negative thoughts that had been bouncing about my brain had finally silenced, and now the only intrusive thought I had was this: I am happy.


That thought had been steadily building ever since we had landed in the Philippines, gradually gaining volume until I could no longer ignore it. In that instant, I realized that I finally felt free, like I was living a moment that I wished could last forever and that I wanted to find a way to always feel the lightness that suffused me. For so long I had been trying to define myself by what I was doing or what I had accomplished, but I am so much more than a bunch of accolades you can summarize on a CV. For all I have done and all I will do, I realized that at this point in my life, I am finally accepting of me and that is most important.


In my last semester in graduate school, I was fortunate to reach out to someone who introduced me to mindfulness meditation in general, and the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn in particular. It brought me a lot of peace at a time when I thought I would forever be at war with myself, and I have continued to explore many of the techniques that I learned during that time today. Jon Kabat-Zinn is an incredibly wise man who practically speaks entirely in notable quotes that never fail to pierce me at my core. During our time in Bohol, one of his most famous lines reverberated within my head, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

In Bohol, not only had I arrived, but I was finally ok with that. Better yet was gaining the knowledge that the person I was in that moment was the person I wanted to take with me into the future. And that is why, disappointing beaches or not, Bohol will always be a special place for me.


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12 comments Leave a comment

  1. Beautiful post Steph.

    Mar. 11 2013 @ 10:24 am
    1. Gillian @OneGiantStep author

      Thanks, Gillian!

      Mar. 15 2013 @ 5:32 am
  2. Carmel

    That is so incredibly inspiring to me. I love that you’ve found that you can’t run away from the person you are, only love and accept it. I like your analogy of having a cold, hard knot tied up inside you. It’s such an accurate description of what I feel at times when I’m not allowing me to be me or putting myself down. This is a beautiful post. I’m so happy FOR you being happy!

    Mar. 11 2013 @ 3:44 pm
    1. Carmel author

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Carmel. I feel as though traveling has really helped me thaw that hard bit inside me that was making me so sad, but of course, I know that traveling itself is not a magic cure. It all comes from, as you say, embracing the life I want to lead rather than ghostwalking through one that I don’t want for myself at all! By honoring ourselves and our deepest desires, that is the path to happiness because it means accepting and embracing who we are!

      Mar. 15 2013 @ 5:37 am
  3. This is the best thing you’ve written and that says a lot because we are fans. It describes everything I’ve been feeling (minus the scooter part, I don’t like scooters) and everything I’ve dealt with over the last couple of months.
    I never expected travel to be this liberating and it has brought me so so so much closer to myself. Good to know I’m not alone and all this good stuff is happening to more people! HUG

    Mar. 12 2013 @ 5:46 am
    1. Angela author

      Your compliment means so much to me, Angela! I am so glad my post struck a chord with you and to hear that you have also found travel has given you the freedom to better look your true self in the face and like what you see!

      Mar. 15 2013 @ 5:40 am
  4. Now everything makes sense and I understand why Bohol has a very special place in your heart and memory. Thanks for sharing this very personal thoughts with us all, I’m sure they will be of inspiration for many. 🙂

    Mar. 12 2013 @ 8:57 am
    1. Franca author

      I know that Bohol won’t be the setting for such revelations for everyone, but you’re right that as the site of my own big realization, it will always be a place I think of fondly. Happily, it hasn’t been the only place on our trip that has given the space and freedom to really think deeply, and I look forward to sharing some of my other revelations (how prophetic!) in future posts!

      Mar. 15 2013 @ 5:42 am
  5. How amazing that you’re continuing to discover so much about yourself while you travel – I’m happy that you’re finally happy!

    Mar. 13 2013 @ 3:57 am
    1. Amy author

      I think the first step to being happy with oneself is first making the commitment to do something that makes you happy with your life. When you have the courage to make your own happiness a priority, wonderful things really can happen. I am so ecstatic with what traveling has brought me thus far, and am excited to see what rewards I will reap from it in the future!

      Mar. 15 2013 @ 5:44 am
  6. I just came across your site and really appreciate your honesty in this post. It reminds me of how hard the adjustment to life on the road was for me and when I realized I needed to just let go. I am glad to hear you are now a happy traveler!

    Oh, and we just discovered the joy of scooters. We rented them in India and LOVED them!

    Mar. 19 2013 @ 3:02 am
    1. Brian author

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Brian. I always admired how truthful you were in the few posts you wrote on So Many Places, and look forward to reading more from you on your new blog!

      I think it is important to be forthright about the reality of travel: it can be wonderful & has provided Tony & me with some amazing experiences and opportunities, but it hasn’t been unilaterally positive. We certainly struggled early on and still do now (though, thankfully, less frequently) but I suspect that’s simply because we still have many lessons to learn!

      (And yes, scooters are the best! I am so glad you discovered the joy of them in India, and hopefully you’ll get to indulge that passion a bit more when you hit South East Asia!)

      Mar. 22 2013 @ 7:47 am

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