I didn’t know what to expect except to expect adventure.
I had gotten so caught up in my day-to-day, the hectic pace of life in New York City, my full time job, my subway commute, my errands, my to-do list, that adventure seemed like something in my far-reaching past, something that was part of a different me. Adventure was that time between jobs when I explored Burkina Faso by bike and headed to Ghana on an overnight bus. Adventure was the summer after college working on a goat farm in Puglia and a vineyard in Sicily, when dirt and pasta were my prized companions. I hadn’t forsaken adventure, exactly, I just wasn’t actively seeking it, near or far. It had become easier to sleep in on a Saturday morning and make my way a few blocks away to brunch than it was to catch a seven a.m. train to reach a hiking trail. I had become all too familiar with my safe city routine. Adventure was a memory, sunburned and weathered, resting on a shelf in my small Manhattan apartment.
Like a craving for warmth in the dark days of February, I knew I needed an adventure. I knew I needed some relief from the chaos that is everyday life, the checking email right before shutting my eyes at night and as soon as they opened in the morning (and sometimes in the middle of the night, too). I knew I needed a jolt, a push out of my routine. And, most of all, I knew I wanted it.
I had little excuse too. I had the good fortune of having the month of August off. The entire month! A month-long vacation is an almost unheard of luxury in the world of most office dwellers, and most people for that matter. Where would you go if a month lay before you waiting to be conquered? For me it was Madagascar, that large, strange island off the western coast of Africa, that most people only seem to equate with an animated movie. For me it was a target of unexplored possibility, mystery, and contradictions. I had a reason to bring me there, too, not that a reason is ever really needed; for the months of June and July my partner would be working at the US Embassy in the capital, Antananarivo. What better time than August to meet him and explore what has been called one of the edges of the earth.
It seemed months away when I started making plans, but when the time drew near, and the plane tickets were how much?! I started thinking about the more practical things on my bucket list. I had always wanted to drive across the country, explore the deep south, hike the Appalachian trail, or as much as I could do in a month. I wanted to see more of Spain (embarrassed to admit that Ibizia was the only bit of Spanish soil I had touched). There were more Greek island to explore. I wanted to go back to Paris, to London, to roam the English moors pretending to be a Brontë in the fully bloomed summer. Weren’t those somehow more practical, more conquerable travel goals? Was I really prepared to travel rough, to backpack, use a latrine, translate “I’m a vegetarian” into broken French? Was I prepared to be uncomfortable?
Through this self doubt, this reasoning with myself, the wide-eyed staring at my bank account that was begging me to save, I remembered what is sometimes so painful to remember. Nothing worth mentioning happens in your comfort zone. I had been in my comfort zone for longer than I wanted to admit. I asked myself when was the last time I was truly uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable the way you are during a crowded subway ride or at a party where you only know the host, but truly out of my realm, pushed further than I thought I could go, psychically, emotionally, and mentally. I had no answer and that in and of itself became my answer.
There is never a questions of whether or not we should go, once we reach our destination. There is no time to doubt your choice, to feel the stress of life at home when you are so far beyond your normal routine. While riding in a zebu cart into the Indian Ocean to hail a boat to take us to a far-away beach, sleeping in a frozen tent the night before climbing Madagascar’s highest accessible peak, riding on a 15 hour train snaking through the jungle, I found no time for questioning. When you’re traveling and fully alive in your experience, there is no time and no want for self doubt. It isn’t travel that makes the adventure, it is the life lived. It’s the full days that burn into the night. It’s your achy bones, tangled hair, and perpetually sore stomach. It is when we are at our most vulnerable that we become most fully alive.
So where would you go with an entire month? What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Resist the desire to edit your choice. Just go. Stretch further and travel deeper. Do it for yourself and thank me later.
Madeline Weinfield is a full time adventurer, all the time photographer, sometimes writer living in New York City. She works as the Director of Development for Poetry Society of America, the nation’s oldest poetry nonprofit, and, as Anne of Green Gables put it, is “glad [to] live in a world where there are Octobers.” Follow her adventures on instagram at @madolionw.