“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision.” ~ Robyn Davidson, Tracks
I thought love was only experienced with people—which is why I spent most of my 20s pursuing relationships.
You see, I’m in love with love itself. The thought of loving, being loved, giving and receiving feels like the ultimate purpose for me.
When I started backpacking, I realized how wrong my perception of love was. Love is so omnipotent that it can be experienced everywhere, in everything, with everyone. It’s so massive that no human mind can ever comprehend it.
It is close-minded to think that love can only be found in romantic relationships. In fact, traveling has opened my heart considerably, so I know now that my future romantic relationship will be experienced on a whole different level.
The love I have found on the road outweighs any type of love I ever lived. That said, I’m delighted to say I found true love while traveling.
I found love in booking the ticket and counting the hours before setting foot on the plane. I found love in the busyness of the airports and the faces waiting for their flights.
I found love in carrying my backpack and wandering with it. We built an authentic bond based on trust. It’s the only home I have when I move on the road—I protect it like it was my own baby. I fell in love with the pain it inflicts on my legs after walking for hours with it on my back—also the stiffness in my shoulders and the scars my backpack leaves behind.
I found love in the faces of people. Their expressions, their eyes, the heartfelt words behind their silence. I fell in love with every stranger I never got to meet, and in every photograph I took of them. The most genuine bond we can create is with the people whose stories are unspoken.
Most beautiful are the strangers who become our closest friends and the friends who steal away a piece of us. No language, no religion, no nationality acts as a barrier before true love. There’s only one bridge full of love, full of giving, understanding and equanimity.
I fell in love with goodbyes and impermanence. I love how I meet new people, only to kiss them adieu. How I grow accustomed to one place, only to leave it a few weeks (sometimes days) later. I fell in love with how I pay farewell to people and empty spaces, oblivious to when I see them again. And I’m madly in love with the impression they have left on me.
I’m in love with the fact that my smartphone doesn’t control me when I’m traveling. It becomes a forgotten object I only carry for emergencies and for sharing my experiences with the world. The level of connections I make face-to-face exceeds any connection on social media.
Although it’s terrifying, I found love in uncertainty. I fell in love with waking up in the morning without the slightest idea of where I’d be heading the next day—and wondering how the day before passed by. The love of neither having a calendar nor a particular time outweighs the love of inevitability. The “now” is the only number I read on my traveling clock.
I fell in love with the monsoon of India and the breeze of Nepal. I learned walking under the heavy drops of the rain, the same way I’d walk under the fierce sun.
What nature has offered me in my travels can’t possibly be described in words. School and college couldn’t teach me half of the lessons that mother nature has given me. The woods have taught me valuable lessons on letting go, trust, just letting things be and patience.
And the greatest love stories I’ve lived were the ones with the monkeys. Living with them and watching them taught me about family, love, fun and what it means to be alive.
I fell in love with how I never cared about the shoes I wore or the pants I put on. The couple of pants and tank tops I carry are enough to teach me that authentic beauty isn’t deemed by what covers our skin—rather, by what covers our souls, speech and actions.
I found love in rickshaws and in trains. I fell in love with watching the sunrise from the train’s window and feeling the bumpy rides in a rickshaw. What’s more mesmerising are the bike rides during sunset and the evening hikes.
And mostly, I fell in love with fear. That kind of fear that puts me in my present moment and casts awareness upon me. The fear of things going bad, of getting lost, of having no more money, of falling sick. The fear of sinking in aloneness. What to speak of aloneness?
It is the thing that allowed to fall in love with myself and learn more about it. To walk with a heavy backpack, to fetch rooms, to find poisonous insects, to experience natural disasters, to sleep on cracked beds, to stay in dangerous places, to having no idea what tomorrow is bringing, teaches you about yourself more than anything in life ever will.
Danger and uncertainty tests our tolerance, patience, willingness and courage. We discern our strength and spot our weaknesses. We behold ourselves as someone we’ve never recognized before.
I fell in love with my new notion of home. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve found home in every place, in every face, in every seat on the plane. I’ve even discovered that home, sometimes, has cognitive faculties—at other times, it has leaves and branches. Home is not on a map.
And weirdly enough, I fell in love with the worst that occasionally happens. I fell in love with getting a sudden cold, a painful burn, or a stomachache from the food. I fell in love with the challenges they inflict on me and the power they stimulate within me.
For every person who asks me why I love backpacking, know that my reasons surpass any spoken words. The passion and eagerness it brings into my soul are indescribable in every possible way. To see the possibilities, the chances, the generosity of the universe, changes us on all levels.
Yes, I did find true love while traveling. Because traveling is love itself. Love is vast, immense, intense. And this is what travel is about.
If you want to know true love, carry a backpack—and by all means, walk.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Instagram @elephantjournal; author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina