Image 01 Image 01 Image 01 Image 01 Image 01 Image 01

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending six nights kicking it in Jacksonville, Florida with my dear friend Angie. And I do mean kicking it. I must admit that for a second time (I also visited for a few days in 2015 in which we literally barely left Angie’s apartment — in our defense, it snowed) I kind of failed Jacksonville as a tourist.

But four whirlwind days in New Orleans and a family-filled nine days in Illinois before that and, well, an insane-in-the-membrane summer before that, it felt really nice to just slip into someone’s life for a while and join them for family barbecues, work days in the home office, mid-day runs to the build-your-own-salad spot, and afternoon swims in their new backyard pool. And slipping into Angie’s life means going to church on Sundays. With Angie one of my closest friends, I was looking forward to finally getting to experience this important part of her week with her.

Surfboards in Jacksonville, Floridalike basically the only photo I took in Jacksonville

I grew up attending the church where my mom was a deacon every Sunday, going on church retreats with my cousin in the summer, and watching Veggie Tales videos until way beyond when my sister and I had technically aged out of them. (What, you aren’t familiar with this musical and magical cast of talking vegetables telling the stories of the Bible?! Pshhhh. Get with the program, guys.) Religion was generally a positive aspect of my upbringing, and yet I knew from a young age that I was quite certainly agnostic, long before I understood what that term actually meant. But I digress — that’s really not the point of this post.

The best pastors are fantastic storytellers, which is why I always enjoy a moving sermon, even if I get lost in the heavy scripture stuff. This particular Sunday, Angie’s pastor gave a sermon that at one point asked us to contemplate what the anchors of our lives were. The things that held us down when the winds of life really kicked up. He even gave us time to take notes in the snazzily designed programs we’d been handed as we walked in.

Wow, did that give me pause. And I thought about it for a long time after.

I suspect that for many in that room, faith was one of if not the primary anchor keeping their life grounded. And I think it’s a solid one: it’s something you can take anywhere and one can ever take from you. I’ve got nothing but respect for the people who have it. But for my own answer, I had to dig.

I think a lot of the valid answers to this question — home, marriage, family, career, maybe even our passions and our hobbies — are extremely important factors that make up the foundation of many, many people’s lives. But as so many of us painfully learn, especially these last weeks as the world reels with tragedy and disaster, is that none of those are, really, guarantees. Houses burn down and blow away. Relationships end. Jobs are lost. People who are foundational to our lives can be taken from us in seconds. Most of the time, when people lose those crucial anchors in their life, it’s a painful experience and it isn’t necessarily their choice.

For me, it was my choice. At the ripe old age of twenty-one, I decided to enthusiastically cut off all those bowlines for the unknown of long-term travel. Looking back, I realize I had no idea the gravity of that decision. I just wanted adventure, and I wasn’t letting silly things like stable job offers get in my way! So off I flew on a one way ticket out of New York, the contents of my apartment sold off and the things I couldn’t bear to part with packed away in my childhood home. But today I have the clarity to realize that I sacrificed a lot of things that, perhaps in another life, could have made me extremely happy, too: a permanent residence, more regular contact with my family, a more stable career choice, a more traditional relationship.

Instead, I chose an unconventional path that prioritized travel. And you know what? In shedding those anchors that I thought a life was built on, precariously stacked by things I couldn’t control, I gained something. I often write that traveling, especially solo, has been the most empowering experience of my life. Traveling alone has meant navigating unfamiliar cultures, problem-solving my way out of enormous challenges, forcing myself to learn to self-soothe in times of trouble, and most importantly, learning to deeply enjoy my own company and be able to hear my inner voice without the chaotic chatter of other people’s opinions or the drowning hum of the daily grind.

By sailing into the unknown I inadvertently built a foundation for my life that no one or no thing can ever take away from me: a lens of gratitude with which to see the world, a strong sense myself and a deep well of faith in my journey.

Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.  — Mark Twain.

How does travel build confidence and a sense of self? It just does. When your flight gets cancelled and it throws your trip into chaos, you deal with it. When you get dropped off at night at a hostel in an unfamiliar city and the doors are locked and you have no phone and no idea were you are, you deal with it. When you find yourself heartsick and ego-bruised and completely alone after a travel romance goes wrong, you deal with it. You suck it up, you deal with things, you figure shit out, and in between you find yourself regularly in awe at the absolute beauty and magic of this big wide world you’re lucky enough to be exploring. You’re surrounded by unfamiliar everything — language, climate, currency, everything. And you’re not just surviving, you’re even maybe every once in a while thriving. How could you not think of yourself as a total badass after that? And spending months with your own company as your only constant helps you develop a pretty rock solid sense of who else you truly are. Other than a badass.

Now, clearly, nothing is perfect — I still occasionally find myself feeling uncertain about the future. I still have certain people in my life that are able to push my buttons and rock my boat no matter how much meditating I do before I see them. And I still sometimes throw myself elaborate, lavish pity parties over things that amount, in the long run, to minor inconveniences.

But, well, I’m getting there. And I feel certain I would be a completely different human if I’d chosen a different path those six long years ago. Traveling changed me down at a cellular level. Yes, I still consider my family and my friends and my boyfriend my business and my part-time apartment here in Thailand to be anchors of my life. But traveling revealed to me that I have one that is stronger, deeper, and more permanent than any others: the confidence to truly know myself, the independence to carve out my own path and the creativity to find joy in life regardless of how the tides ebb and flow. I have me.

I get emails all the time from readers who feel lost and adrift. Don’t we all, sometimes? From now on, I’m going to have a new piece of advice for them: Be your own anchor. I have an idea for how to get there.

Tell me crew: what are the anchors of your life?

3-devide-lines
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
47 Comments...
  • Erika
    October 16 2017

    Loved this!

  • Ijana Loss
    October 16 2017

    Wow that’s a question with surprising depth O.O I’ve never really considered this. I suppose I kind of agree with you on this one, I’ve found myself to basically be my own anchor as I’ve moved through different places of life, literally and metaphorically. I would also say that another thing I consider to be an anchor is faith, though not of the religious variety. More like, faith in people. Faith in goodness. Faith in the earth.

    Side note, I am also agnostic and yet I find it completely fascinating to attend religious ceremonies when I have a chance. My best friend is Muslim and going to the mosque with her is always fun, it’s like a doorway to a whole other way of thinking.

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      I agree! I’ve always loved Jewish temples and traditions and have enjoyed exploring Islam, different versions of Christianity, Buddhism and beyond in my travels.

  • Rick
    October 16 2017

    Your amazing communication skills are obviously inhanced from the freedom you have chosen.

    “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” J. A. Shedd

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      Thank you Rick! And another one of my favorite quotes.

  • ‘Lovely post, full of depth.

    I guess the anchors of my life, are firstly myself – knowing who I am, what I want, where I’m going, and how to get to A, B or C!

    Secondly, my family. You don’t realize how important they are until you’re no longer near them.

    A proper relationship when the time is right – I’m happily married and have been for years, which shocked everyone, including myself, and I like it very much!

    Regardless of all the above – freedom to live the life that I want to live, and be 100% in control!

    Thanks for sharing!
    Victoria @TheBritishBerliner recently posted..How to be a German – 10 ways to do it!

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      I love your response 🙂 Kudos to you for finding so much love in the world and being true to yourself above all else!

  • Marni
    October 16 2017

    Beautifully written, Alex! It’s hardest to be your own anchor, but it’s definitely something to strive for. I’ve learned to be that, but, like you, it’s not always the easiest choice. It IS the most rewarding, however. I feel like most of mine are the typical ones – family, friends, travel, etc. It’s a thought-provoking question to be sure, regardless of the answer!
    Marni recently posted..A Farewell Love Letter To Ottawa

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      Indeed! I really enjoyed mulling it over for a few weeks 🙂

  • Maggie
    October 16 2017

    This post is everything. Very insightful. I only get to travel a fraction of what you get to travel but I feel the same way as you.

    I am my only constant in life. Jobs, friends, family, all come and go from my life. But, me, I am always here. I feel most anchored when I am being true to myself. This is not always easy. Its been a journey to figure out who I am. Traveling has definitely helped to me to get a better understanding. Never done learning.

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      Yes yes and yes Maggie. I think this comment is everything 😉

  • Caroline
    October 16 2017

    Great Post Alex! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      You’re so welcome — thanks for reading.

  • Jessica
    October 16 2017

    Love this! I haven’t traveled as much as I’ve liked, but I’ve been through rough times and learned to truly love and like myself. It’s so important for people to do that, whether through traveling or something completely else, and I feel not a lot can do that.

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      Travel can be an incredible tool for healing — or, rather, for learning how to heal yourself. Safe and happy travels 🙂

  • Olivia Baackes
    October 16 2017

    Sobbing little sister alert!

    So proud of you and the cool, fulfilling life you’ve built for yourself, by yourself. And damn, you’ve become a really good writer!!

    LOVE YOU xoxoxo

    • Alex
      October 17 2017

      I guess it’s in our blood 😉 Love ya back!

  • Kate Storm
    October 17 2017

    “How does travel build confidence and a sense of self? It just does.”

    I love that. There’s just no way to fully explain the breadth and scope of all those little scenarios, from scary to annoying, that maximize your problem-solving skills almost automatically–necessity is the mother of invention and all that.
    Kate Storm recently posted..Quick Malta Travel Guide: What to Do in Malta, Where to Stay & More

    • Alex
      October 21 2017

      Agreed! It’s kinda one of those things you have to experience to really feel right down in your bones, though I do make valiant attempts occasionally to put it into words 🙂

  • Dawn Mosely
    October 18 2017

    Really loved your article ….#yourock

    • Alex
      October 21 2017

      Ha, thanks Dawn 😉 Appreciate the hashtag!

  • Madlen
    October 19 2017

    Wow! Very well written and inspiring. New favourite post! Being your own anchor first will help with so many things in life. It’s work in progress I guess 🙂

    • Alex
      October 21 2017

      Indeed. I’m sure it will be a lifelong project for me.

  • Maggie
    October 19 2017

    This article is amazing and I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said! Choosing an unconventional lifestyle may be throwing a lot of things away but it opens up so many other doors that a lot of people will never have the chance to experience. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂
    Maggie recently posted..What’s So Wrong With Being Alone?

    • Alex
      October 21 2017

      You’re so welcome Maggie — thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts <3

  • Julia Nix
    October 20 2017

    My anchors are “thinking outside the pressure box” and be looking forward to my next vacation, even if it’s a short one or long one. When I have some low days at work especially, guess what, I “park” myself at your blog and absorb the tranquility of it. Don’t be surprised at how much I come back. Time to call it AIWAS (Alex in Wanderland Appreciation Society) 🙂 Ha. Love you, Alex.

    • Alex
      October 21 2017

      Haha, I love the new club name 🙂 You’re the best Julia! Here’s to many more daydreams!

  • Steph Dring
    October 22 2017

    Amazing post. My anchor is myself, I am the only thing that will always be there, no matter where I am or who I am with.

    My boyfriend is also my anchor because living away from home, I don’t have family or stability holiding my down and he keeps me sane.

    Steph x
    Steph Dring recently posted..THE PULSE ON: CUSTOMER SERVICE

    • Alex
      October 25 2017

      That’s beautiful — it’s always nice to have someone that you feel like you’re home with wherever you go!

  • Elizabeth Howell
    October 22 2017

    Wow, awesome post. Thanks for writing so candidly. I’m going to have to dig a little to come to grips with my own.
    Elizabeth Howell recently posted..Tips for Getting Around Bali WITHOUT a Scooter

    • Lisa
      October 24 2017

      Thank you for such a thoughtful post and timely as I was just thinking about it.

      • Lisa
        October 24 2017

        I’ve had what feels like some judgement from people about my long term travels. I am balancing a marriage with my travel life and my husband supports me fully to live my passion in every way as long as I land every couple of months for a bit before I take off again.
        I have been contemplating lately that my travel life makes me dig deep and be true to myself and not give my self worth over to what others think I ‘should’ be doing So truly I am finding my own voice and becoming my own anchor.
        Also you are so right about becoming resourceful and also seeing the miracles unfold. Two days ago I was stranded at the airport enroute to Japan from Indonesia. I was a bit flustered at first but then got down to the business of figuring out where I was going to sleep. There was a seemingly nice man next to me so I asked him if he had a suggestion. He then invited me to he/his wife’s beautiful Balinese villa!
        Blessings to you always 💕

        • Alex
          October 25 2017

          I’m sorry to hear you’ve been dealing with some judgement, Lisa, though it sounds like you’ve found a way to tackle it with a deep well of self-love <3 What an amazing marriage you have! Happy travels...

          • Lisa
            October 25 2017

            Thank you….it’s women like you who continue to inspire me 💕

    • Alex
      October 25 2017

      Good luck exploring for it 🙂

  • Jen
    October 24 2017

    Amazing post, Alex! Very though-provoking and inspiring, causing us all to reflect on our own anchors, on the choices we have made that have led us to where we are, and on the choices we will make to take us where we’re going. Your journey is an inspiration, even to those who do not stray off the well-defined path. Thanks for sharing it so authentically with us!

    • Alex
      October 25 2017

      Aw, Jen, you’re going to make me cry here! Thank you so much for your kind words… and for being a part of this journey with me!

      • Jen
        October 25 2017

        My pleasure!

  • Lotte
    November 3 2017

    Wow, thank you for this amazing story, I couldn’t stop smiling while reading it. What a wonderful question it is and what a lovely answer you gave to it. At the moment I’m struggling a little with my anchors, some are rock solid but others are conflicting (I would love to have a house and I love my job – but I would also love to move abroad and travel even more and for longer periods of time). Time will tell! 🙂
    Lotte recently posted..Zo mooi is de herfst in Schotland

    • Alex
      November 5 2017

      It was fun to write something a little different 🙂 Thanks for reading, Lotte!

  • Katy
    November 11 2017

    Loved this post, Alex. I lost track of how many times I thought “YES. THIS.” Thanks for sharing!

    • Alex
      November 12 2017

      Thank you Katy! I’ll try to write more posts like this — love that you guys have loved it <3

  • Katie Lyons
    December 20 2017

    Lovely post! It is very humbling yet grand to find yourself in a new place, time and culture. There have been so many moments that I have been anxious about how things will turn out. I’ve found that embracing the chaos and rolling with the punches are what keep us unique. I love your honesty and grit. Thanks for reminding us all to be our own anchor.

    • Alex
      December 21 2017

      You’re too kind, Katie. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Learning to roll with the punches has been one of life’s great lessons for me!

  • Ash Parks
    December 26 2017

    This post resonated with me so much and in so many different ways. I have gotten A LOT of why would you ever travel alone questions and until you do it and feel the sense of accomplishment you will never understand! Love the be your own anchor, especially since historically the anchor is a symbol of hope! You have hope in yourself that you are going to make it where you need to be and enjoy the journey there 🙂

    Look forward to more Thailand posts, hoping to make it there next!

    • Alex
      December 27 2017

      I didn’t know the anchor was a historical symbol of hope — I love that! Thanks for sharing, Ash 🙂

Join the conversation…

CommentLuv badge