“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
I doubt most people in the 21st century would desire to stake out a camp at Walden Pond and live bare-bones in a cabin for two years, but Thoreau’s spiritual journal towards self-discovery and independence is a profound one that easily translates into the experience of traveling, and even more so to one who is traveling on their own.
I realized early on in life that there were things beyond the Maryland suburbs that I wanted to experience. As early as 3rd grade I would spend countless weekends going to the library and checking out National Geographic documentaries about Egypt and Greece on VHS, oftentimes re-renting the same ones I’d already seen and watching them again. I felt like I was born with an infinite wanderlust, and when I could finally drive it was all I could do to coax my friends into taking the weekend road trip to some random podunk town, or absolutely anywhere, seeking adventure. I guess I could say that the idea of travel is something I always felt was part of my blood, something that was uniquely me, regardless of if I was ever old enough or financially sufficient enough to be able to express it.
I love this quote from Thoreau for so many reasons. I connect to it mostly because Thoreau is acknowledging two paths in life: one path where he keeps living as he has been, and another path where he believes that going to Walden Pond will make him feel more whole, and it acknowledges the idea of regret and living life to the fullest. When I decided to take my first solo trip, I replayed his words in my head so much that they were practically memorized. Our whole lives we’re taught how to work well with others, how to listen to others, and how to compromise, but Americans don’t really seem to value independence. People who spend time alone are often thought to be strange or recluse, and traveling alone is thought to be unsafe and unexciting, but I couldn’t accept this as my own path. I felt like getting to know myself wasn’t going to happen through hobbies or work, it was going to happen by completely removing myself from everything and everyone I already know, seeing what the world gives me, and finding out how I handle it. Regardless of waking up everyday and doing things, making goals and accomplishing them, the idea of never seeing much beyond the Eastern seaboard ate at me constantly. Every journey begins with a single step. I didn’t want to die having discovered I had not lived.