I woke up at home in my own bed on Monday with no next destination in mind, without a familiar sense of needing to see something, to find a ride, to pack a bag, or to book a flight. And oddly, the absence of no next thing felt less like relief and more like a hole—the inevitable dent made from 50 wonderful, yet consuming days of travel. Truthfully, the only real thing that got my travel-tranced butt back to Tennessee was the longing to see the faces of my friends, and you know, less exciting but necessary motivators like bills, house plants, commitments, and a quickly dwindling (it's gone) travel budget. As my return home got closer, I knew the transition would be tough—an acclimation to several changes that had taken place while I was gone.
Let me back up a little bit. In April, I took a month-long trip to Europe with one of my best friends. More on that later (I HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL YOU, IT WAS AMAZING). In that same time frame, I watched my life at home change quite a bit. When I was in London at the beginning of the month, I was faced with a tough decision that led to me leaving my job. While this was for the best, the timing wasn't great—it turns out a salary is really nice when justifying a Pimm's Cup budget. Throughout the rest of the month, I experienced the highs and lows of an ending relationship, which, emotionally, was not unlike my past experiences of undertow (i.e. get hit by tidal wave, pulled under, released back up for moment of air, swim frantically to shore, repeat), and by the time I was preparing for my return to America, the relationship was over. I was sad and exhausted, but I was also out of the ocean.
In one of my lower moments, I found myself bursting into tears in an airport security line like an ornery toddler, gladly accepting the pity of a horrified TSA Agent, who quickly exclaimed in her British accent "Oh, Lovie! What ON EARTH is wrong?" Which made everything better. To be fair, this particular incident could mostly be blamed on horrible sleeping patterns and hidden travel fees, but that wasn't the whole of it. I was going through a lot.
I would hit several more stumbling blocks. However, in my best moments, I was able to make the choice to not let changes back home, and the fears that accompanied them, get the best of me. I could worry about the future, busy my mind with doubt, stress out about finances, stay inside my Airbnb, curled up in a ball of self pity, or... I could keep my eyes on what was in front of me and enjoy this trip.
If you've ever ridden the tube or a train in the UK, you've likely heard the phrase "mind the gap." At each stop, a British woman's voice comes on over the intercom asking passengers to "mind the gap" as they board and exit through the doors. The phrase is a gentle warning, one meant to help you acknowledge and step over the space between the train and the platform, and a subtle reminder that if you don't, you'll fall on your face rather than move forward. All my stumbling blocks—the unanticipated events, changes, disappointments, fears—they were my gaps in Europe. If I didn't acknowledge my gaps, I gave them the power to eventually swallow me whole. But if I thought about them for too long, gave them too much power, I'd be paralyzed and unable to move forward, stuck on the platform or in the train, going nowhere. But if I minded them, if I acknowledged the gaps but refused them the power to hold me back, I could get to where I needed to be next.
We rode dozens of trains during our time in the UK. These relatively silent, still and seated rides were our sanctuaries during a month of constant movement and unpredictability, and they likely contained the minutes I reflected, processed, and prayed the most. When we'd arrive at various destinations, I would begin to hear "mind the gap" as a personal invitation to come up from the depths of my thoughts, take a deep breath, and move forward with my day. And while the choice to be present may have costed me the chance to feel prepared for my return home, I've felt great peace knowing I will never look back on Europe wishing that I would have worried more about the future. Sure, coming home to a new reality is tough, but I'm grateful to be navigating the challenges here than to have spent 50 days trying to do so abroad. I got comfortable being on the go, and I was feeling anxious about coming home—but man am I glad I minded that gap to get here. I'm finding the only way to get through anything tough is to acknowledge it, trust that the best is yet to come, and make a confident step forward. The unknown doesn't have anything on those willing to step into it.
P.S. If you haven't heard Liza Anne's new album, Two: 1) Hurry up and do that. 2) You can hear that infamous London train intercom voice playing in the background of "Oceans," the last track on the album. And it's perfect.