At the risk of sounding dramatic- November 8th, 2016 changed my life. It’s not like everything was perfect and overnight it went to shit because a privileged white man won a race that he appeared to treat as a game of Monopoly. But kind of.
Now that the first 100 days of the Trump administration have come and gone, I have taken the time to reflect on how I have survived the daily news alerts on my phone, seeing his face on TV, and hearing his cavalier attitude as he talks about dropping bombs in countries with cultures he doesn’t understand.
You see, I too come from a world of privilege as a white middle-class American who won the birth lottery with parents that possess American passports. But I woke up the day after the election confused, depressed, deflated, angry, and hopeless. I couldn’t fathom how someone who spreads such hate and intolerance could have become the leader of a country that stands for liberty and justice for ALL.
As the days progressed I found solace in things like the Women’s March, talking to friends, working for an international human rights organization, and drinking a lot of wine. However, it wasn’t enough.
I kept hearing Trump’s voice describing nonchalantly how he repeatedly sexually assaulted women and got away with it. Then I realized, that was acceptable conduct to almost 50% of the voters who turned up to represent our country on that fateful day.
So on January 30th, ten days after the Presidential inauguration I packed up my bags and my passport, said goodbye to my co-workers, NYC apartment and job, and on February 1st I left the country.
I spent the next two months visiting 8 countries carrying my life on my back, sleeping in hostel dorms and in tents, and making international friends. By the time I landed back at John F. Kennedy International Airport, I was lighter, happier and at peace with the world.
While backpacking through Asia, I found the cure for Trumpitus.
Wandering through ancient ruins and exploring Buddhist temples certainly helped me find my inner zen, but the ingredients to this cure go much deeper than that.
Something happens to a person when they backpack, whether you are in Asia or South America.
The second you pack your life into a backpack, you are forced to simplify. You compromise luxury due to sheer lack of space. You choose your less fancy outfits and learn how many material possessions you can live without. You get down to the basics and are left with the purest version of yourself without clutter and responsibility getting in the way.
You leave your comforts behind and become an outsider in different cultures. You’re thrust into a world so different from your own, but you start to own it. You soak up new foods, music, and languages. You dare to take a bite of that unpronounceable street food. You venture out into jungles, the deep ocean, and other unknowns. You make foreign friends over coffee in hostel lounges.
But best of all, you let go. You let go of your need to control things. You let go of the stress that surrounds things you can’t control. You let go of your grief and your bitterness. Your blood doesn’t boil every time you see a news alert about an immigration ban. The burden you carry as an American starts to subside and you miraculously start to feel lighter with every bite of pad thai. Each conversation you have with a stranger feels more and more comfortable. Until suddenly you’re conversing about foreign politics with ease and almost without cringing at Trump’s name.
Because you realize, that Trump and his administration, and our struggle to cope with what it represents, is a blip in the grand scheme.
The ancient ruins of Angkor Wat were there long before Trump, and will remain an icon of history long after. Sometimes you just need to walk the grounds of something grand and old to remember where humans have been and what we are capable of.
In the end, his mark will be left by how much stronger he made us all with a much-needed wake-up call. November 8th certainly woke me up.
I realized that travel is more important now than ever.
If you decide to go backpacking to find your own cure for Trumpitus, you won’t have to go far or look hard. The people you share a dorm room with understand that different parts of the world have different things to offer. They appreciate diversity and sharing ideas, stories, and drinks. These people are building friendships over card games and anecdotes. They are bonding over travel mishaps, learning new languages, growing intellectually and falling in love with new people, places, and things. They are mini-ambassadors of their countries and they represent the pros and cons of their homelands. They recognize that the government and the people are separate entities and should not be judged in the same way. They get that we are all connected and driven by the same basic things. You will witness peace negotiations on micro levels in hostels as backpackers explain their cultures and accept each other’s differences with open arms. These people and concepts are our future, and they exist right now.
So keep marching, stay active and true to your beliefs, stay optimistic, but please whatever you do- make time to travel. And if you do pack your bags, travel in a way that exposes you to new things and people. Maybe go a little bit farther off the beaten path, choose a homestay or a hostel over a hotel, and take public transportation once in a while.
I promise if you do, you will obtain an education you cannot learn in a classroom. These lessons aren’t for sale, because they’re free and everywhere all the time. You may not understand everything you see, but you will realize it all has a purpose. Each language and culture balances each other out. No nation has it right, and no population should carry the burden of their government just because they were born there. We are all susceptible to pain and love, but together we ALL make up the human race.