Taking in the sunset with my brother in our hometown. (photo: Justin Johnson)
When I moved to New Orleans a little over nine years ago, I started almost from scratch. No job. No car. Nowhere to live. Hardly knew anyone. Over nearly a decade, I built a solid community, became part of the city, and for the last five years held the best (and best paying) job I’ve ever had, working as a tour guide. I lived in a great place by the Mississippi River in a truly extraordinary neighborhood.
And now, I’m on the road. Everything I own is on my back or in a storage unit. I’m traveling, and I have no endpoint in sight for my travels. I’m going to keep going until I’m done and I’m going to write about it as I go. And hopefully, I’ll figure out how to make a living doing just that.
That’s an abrupt shift to make when you’re almost 40, but here I go.
A lot of the travel blogs I’ve seen (the ones that seem to get written up anyway), center around authors who have launched out of another life that they viewed as a dead end. There’s a lot of this going around, a theme of, I walked away from my dead-end, soul-sucking corporate job to live my dreams and travel the world.
Well, power to ‘em.
But that’s not what this is. I had a great life in New Orleans. Great job and great friends. My reasons for going on the road aren’t about escape (not anymore, anyway). It’s difficult to articulate, but I think it comes down to this idea: This is what I believe I’m supposed to be doing right now.
That’s a little embarrassing to admit, and more than a little frightening, too. The conventional wisdom is that you aren’t supposed to start your life over when you’re almost 40—not unless you’re deeply unhappy. Which, as noted, I wasn’t.
At this point, being happy with where I lived and with my work, I was supposed to start thinking about settling down. Thinking about the future. And I did. Really. I spent the last two and a half years paying off all my debt, from student loans to old taxes. I got my teeth fixed and visited doctors and changed my exercising habits. I put away some savings. And most importantly, I started going to therapy to process grief I’d been storing in the hidden corners of myself for as long as I knew how to do that.
I wasn’t even certain why I was doing all of this while I was doing it. I simply felt I had to clear the decks, get my past cleaned up before I could think about my future. There was even the thought that I might buy a house at the end of this. I held onto that fantasy for nearly a year.
And then, over the last year, a shift came. I began to look at the two constants of my adult life—writing and motion—and wondered if I could put them together. I never wanted to be a full-time writer before. Mostly, because I didn’t want my passion to become my job, something I had to slog through. That’s what I told everyone.
The real reason I didn’t want to try working full-time as a writer is because I didn’t believe I could do it. Not because I didn’t think my writing was good enough, but because I didn’t think I had what it would take to follow through. To keep submitting articles after a hundred rejections. To keep knocking on doors that have been shut in my face. To keep doing the business end of being an artist—the humiliating grind that no one talks about. I have friends who do it. I’ve always admired their persistence. I always believed I was missing something that they had. Part of me still believes it.
If I am most susceptible to one of the seven deadly sins, it is sloth. I have always been a procrastinator. I have frequently done just enough to get by. That’s not going to do now. This is a walk to the deep end of the water and a leap of faith that I can swim when I have no other choice.
I will be traveling for the foreseeable future and I will document it. I will hope to earn enough money while doing it to stay on the road. I have enough to get started, my overhead is low, and it is entirely possible that this is the best chance I will ever have to do this.
There will be a lot of changes coming. A new website, for starters. Those of you reading this will also see updates about my work appearing elsewhere, starting on Monday. In January, I will head to South America, where I hope to travel for the bulk of 2017. What comes next is still to be determined.
I’m on the road, looking forward, telling myself I can do this. That this is what I do. That it’s what I’ve always done.