I grew up in a sleepy suburb of Jackson, Mississippi. Aside from our annual beach vacation to the Gulf Coast, we didn’t travel much.
But one Friday morning, our parents surprised my brother and me by driving right past our school and announcing that instead of going to class, we were headed to New Orleans for the weekend. Our bags were already in the trunk. My elementary-school brain could have imploded from excitement.
While NOLA was neither far away nor particularly exotic, the idea that we could just go somewhere was new to me. I was generally well-liked, but I was a chubby kid who made good grades, which means I got teased for being fat and smart. I imagined that everywhere else in America was more exciting than Jackson, Mississippi, and that everyone out there must be very cultured and well-rounded, accepting of all body sizes and viewing intelligence as a good thing (as it turns out, this is not entirely true).
“Initially, walking away from that kind of stability felt like diving off a cliff.”
In high school, I kept a laminated map of the United States in my nightstand drawer. I’d lie in bed studying the tightly knit cluster of states in the Northeast and trace my finger over the lines that separated the expansive blocks of the Midwest. I vowed that someday I’d visit all 50 states.
As I grew older and traveled more, I was exhilarated by my ability to maneuver airports with the ease of a frequent flyer and I watched as the other, often-harried, travelers moved like a colony of ants from one terminal to the next. Traveling made me feel so adult and, for once, so interesting. So when my husband, a musician, was offered a Broadway tour for the show he’d spent 16 months performing with in New York City—I, at age 33, decided to go with him.
“My motto has been to make the most of circumstances I can’t change.”
Initially, walking away from that kind of stability felt like diving off a cliff. I steeled myself for the emotional side effects. Physically, the stress manifested in my bowels for weeks, resulting in unwanted and inconveniently timed dashes to the restroom.
But so far, things are going well. I’ve learned how to pack a suitcase with the efficiency of an army sergeant, how to layer like a pro, and discovered that mostly, the people out there are, in fact, really nice. I’m nice, too, which is something I’d forgotten after 11 years in New York City’s iron grip.
I’ve been more forgiving with myself, more patient with other people, and open to new experiences. My motto has been to make the most of circumstances I can’t change, like flight delays and the toddler having a nuclear meltdown in the row behind me, and to say “yes” to opportunities. I’ve had long, sometimes-enlightening conversations with my Uber drivers. I’ve taken full advantage of having friends in each city, piggybacking on their plans, hoping to see and do as a local would.
I recognize that this is a privilege, to walk away from life as I know it and venture across the country. Not everyone can pursue a writing career untethered. But that doesn’t mean it’s not scary and difficult at times. Because each day is different, I use a lot of energy trying to stay focused on my writing, my purpose, and finding a rhythm that will help me feel grounded from one place to the next. As a newly anointed freelancer, I’m hustling to find work and I’m depressed when there’s not enough to do. I hate monotony, but I thrive in routine. In each city, I find a reason to leave the house, because you’d be surprised how difficult that can be sometimes. I spend a lot of time in my head.
“Instead of reimagining who I might become, I kept packing myself back into a very small space.”
Then there are the logistics. There’s a lot of waiting on tour: for cars, flights, and luggage. Then there’s the hauling of that luggage onto flights, off conveyor belts, out of taxi trunks, and up flights of stairs. I rely on the information in my phone more than ever. I eat a lot of airport food, meaning I scour the terminal for the one place that won’t lead me to a sodium overdose.
I sleep in a lot of different beds (which was exciting in my 20s, but for other reasons), and every housing situation could be some form of a nightmare or a pleasant surprise. It’s like comfort roulette. I miss having a home, and I spend a lot of time missing my friends in other cities and wondering what they’re doing without me. Spending the Christmas season hopping from one hotel to the next was surprisingly much more difficult than I’d anticipated, and while all of tour may seem like a one long vacation, it’s mostly just life upended.
But it’s worth it.
“I wanted to blow everything to bits on my own terms.”
Something happened to me after my decade-plus in New York City, one of those map cities I’d run my finger over a thousand times. I arrived a free spirit and turned into a pragmatist. While I was more efficient this way, I became so engrossed in my work and the identity I’d worked so hard to create, that I got stuck. I outgrew myself, and instead of reimagining who I might become, I kept packing myself back into a very small space. When I wasn’t limiting myself with self-inflicted standards, I was barreling toward something, though I’m not entirely sure what. A mold of the woman I thought I was supposed to be?
I spent all my time at a satisfying but high-pressure job, attending social engagements, and drowning in media consumption. I had insatiable FOMO. While these things made me feel temporarily fulfilled—they aligned with the vision I’d created for myself—they left me no time to recognize who I wanted to be or what made me genuinely happy. Was I living my best life? Or just pretending to? Because, by the way things looked, I had achieved everything I’d ever wanted. I don’t mean to knock the woman I’d become. I like her, and I worked very hard to make her. Appearances aside though, something was missing.
“All my life, I thought that traveling would connect me to interesting, inspiring people, therefore making me so.”
I wanted to blow everything to bits on my own terms: my pragmatic ways of thinking, my obsessively planned life. I took a cue from my parents and their impromptu ways and said, “Fuck it. Let’s go on tour.”
It has not disappointed. At an abandoned summer camp in Pescadero (an hour outside of San Francisco), I ate by the flame of a gaslight with strangers and friends in an old dining hall. I visited a livestock farm, and I picked my own dahlia bouquet at The Pescadero Flowery. By happenstance, I shared red wine, election grief, and book recommendations with Cuba Gooding, Jr. at a restaurant in L.A. I cried during SoulCycle classes in Santa Monica, screamed at the top of my lungs with instructor Natalie during The Class in Brentwood, and had a mind-opening sound bath in Joshua Tree. In Denver, my yoga teachers helped me practice the art of moving gracefully through every journey at Kindness Collective.
And the food. In San Francisco, I took pause after tasting the sashimi at Noe Valley’s Saru Sushi, and I still crave the burrito at Taqueria Cancun in the Mission. I’d scale walls for the pasta at Bestia and the burger at Petit Trois in L.A. If I’d gone to Jon & Vinny’s for pizza one more time, they might have offered me a job there. I tried the biscuit of a lifetime at Octane during a pit stop in Birmingham, Alabama, and I’ll not soon forget the breakfast tacos at Onefold in Denver.
“My fear of missing out would lead me to believe that everywhere else was better than where I was.”
In short, I’ve been humbled. I still think that New York City is one of the greatest cities in the world, but I’m done feeling as if it were the only city.
All my life, I thought that traveling would connect me to interesting, inspiring people, therefore making me so. Typical that my fear of missing out would lead me to believe that everywhere else was better than where I was. But I found my people—they’re everywhere, from New York to California and throughout pockets between. And for the first time, I’m beginning to understand that no people, or places, or jobs define me. I get to do that.
Illustration by Ping Zhu.