Coming out of the tunnel and seeing the sun creep in through the scuffed windows made me take a second to look away from page 104 of Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes.” I couldn’t stop curiously staring out the window as I sat on this crowded B train passing over Manhattan Bridge, overlooking the East River. It was the same path I took five days a week on my way home after work, but I couldn’t stop looking out the window on this day. Maybe because it was one of the first days I’d seen the sun shining in New York, and this made me happy.
The Lower East Side’s Chinatown is a fascinating sight. Graffiti. Chinese Signage. Crammed, colorful buildings decorated with dingy fire escapes hanging above the crowded streets. It was like snapshots out of a movie. Or for me, like snapshots out of my dreams. This two and a half minutes of passing time was something I had dreamed of for fifteen years. I was on the subway, leaving my job in Midtown to go back to my charming apartment in Brooklyn. This moment had swallowed me whole, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling I hadn’t felt since 2014 in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.
I’m just lucky to be here.
How is this real? How is this my life?
I wish all my friends and family could see this.
For me, moving to New York was a lot like backpacking through Thailand – both of which I did alone and without money. I had no idea moving to the big city would remind me of my days traveling from town to town in rural Southeast Asia, but life is weird and it did.
Since turning 18, taking big risks on-the-fly and without money was something I learned I had to do if I wanted to experience the world outside of Gilbert, Arizona. When I left for Thailand, I had 300 dollars in my bank account, and when I moved to New York City, I had no job and 1,000 dollars to my name.
You could call me hopeful. Or ambitious. Or maybe you could say that after feeling stuck in a series of bad luck and unfortunate events, I inherently stopped caring about things like money and security. That said, I was taking planes to places I didn’t know to be surrounded by people I didn’t know.
In New York, and in Thailand, I had to relearn how to navigate – physically and mentally. Getting from point A to point B was no longer as easy as hopping on the I-10. My biggest struggle after moving to the city was learning how to navigate a new lifestyle. How to acquire and maintain balance through the transition of freelancing freedom to a full-time nine to five (actually a nine to six.) Similar to wandering through the jungle, there was no roadmap or step-by-step procedure put in place for me. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know the language. Believe me, New York City has a different language. A different life language – something I knew nothing about.
Not knowing anyone didn’t make it any easier, but it was refreshing. I witnessed myself transform into a completely new person as everyone I saw, spoke to and spent time with was a new addition to my life. That’s probably the biggest aspect that brought me back to traveling – being less dependent on the relationships I found comfort in, and instead living in the moment, taking in new presences as they come. I no longer had a comfortable circle of friends, but unexpectedly and involuntarily, my world became bigger. I was forced to create relationships with new people in my new environment, which is exactly what I sought in moving to New York.
These two eras were some of the toughest experiences of my life, but they are among the coolest things I’ve ever done and definitely the most worth it. I dedicated so many of my thoughts to these moments, and they both ended up being more difficult than I ever knew. Both left me struggling to figure out how I was going to afford food for the next week, and at times both made me too stressed to realize how lucky I was to just be there. How lucky I was to be doing something completely for me. Both were roller-coaster rides full of peaks of appreciation, falls of adversity and plateaus of confusion. But again, worth it.
You never know what’s going to happen, but I’ve learned that when you want to do something, you’ve got to just do it. There’s only so much you can plan out about your career, your travels, your LIFE. But you’ve just got to do it. After being in New York for five months, I feel like I’ve already had to “bounce back” at least twenty times. Resilience will come, not because you want it to, but because it has to. With every new big step, comes a million more struggles. But when you take a second to look up and breathe, the beauty of your surroundings might just find a way to brighten your spirits and leave your heart filled with gratitude.
I’ve realized that when you make the decision to go to new places, it’s never about where you go. It’s simply about experiencing new things – it doesn’t matter where. The quickest way to evolve and learn about you is to rip yourself out of your regular environment and delve into one you’ve never experienced before.
Living in New York City hasn’t been easy. Neither is backpacking Thailand. But I will always know these as the most beautiful, prosperous times of my life. Times that have forced me to look within myself and make.it.work.
At the end of the day
I’m just lucky to be here.