I was standing on the corner of a busy street in a foreign city. It was my first time venturing out into Monterrey, Mexico on my own and I wasn’t sure of where I was going, what people were saying or how the hell to cross this street where it looked like everyone was playing human frogger. On the inside I knew I would survive to find the park I was looking for but on the outside everything about me screamed “confused tourist”. I could feel myself trying to be invisible with my crossed legs, fidgety fingers + averted eyes. I knew I couldn’t blend in + I was yet to dig up to confidence to own my foreigner status so I instinctively opted for invisible.
Unfortunately I am not the proud owner of an invisibility cloak so this invisible thing was not working for me. I spent the next hour wandering around a busy street markets + parks near downtown Monterrey. It took a handful of blocks but eventually I stopped feeling awkward + was able to slow myself down to take it all in.
the city seems so much more inviting from way up here… [taken near the top of La M in Chipinque]
I am not unfamiliar with this jittery mess of uncertainty that come with solo exploration in a foreign city, but I was surprised by how violently the awkward attacked me as soon as I walked past a group of locals on the street. I had done all of this before, why was it all so intimidating? What happened to the confidence I had when venturing from Switzerland to Austria to Czech? Why was my seemingly robust self-confidence failing me now?
At first I was frustrated [even angry?] with myself for losing my independent mojo so easily. I panicked a little thinking about my upcoming life plans that were literally built around foreign cities + unfamiliar trails. I was definitely not a fan of this crippling uncertainty that was lurking in the back of my mind, did I really want to spend my entire summer living a life that provoked it!?
Would I get my confidence back? Was it too late to bail on everything and just stay put in Colorado? But, wait…why was I freaking out? I thought I liked all of this? Maybe I don’t know myself at all? Why… How… What… [cue minor freak out, inside my head, as I walked along the sidewalk of a busy city park]
...a truly beautiful city, when you’re far away + your nerves are at ease. [taken on our hike down Cerro de la Silla]
Then, bam, just like that it clicked. This all felt so overwhelming because I had to think about everything I was doing. Every turn I made, every plan I thought up, every time I wanted to communicate I had to work for it…constantly thinking. Thinking is work + work isn’t easy.
On top of that, I knew life “back home” was easy. Sure, I had been working a ton and not sleeping that much but on an emotional and social level life was easy. I know what’s going on, where I’m going + how to act in the mountain town I currently call home. There was certainty in everything I did…no guessing, no assuming, no what if’ing. It was my comfort zone + staying in a comfort zone is easy.
Think about the last time you walked through a city you knew well. Maybe your hometown, maybe your college town, maybe wherever you happen to be calling home right now…just any city you’re familiar with. When you walk along the streets do you feel like people are looking at you? Are you hyper aware of how your movements look to those around you? Probably not. But, why not? My best bet is because you know where you’re going, you are confident in your ability to navigate the sidewalks + you are a little too wrapped up in your own moment to notice anyone around you. Right?
[side note: that whole “too wrapped up in yourself to notice others” thing goes both ways — when you’re feeling self-conscious most of the people who look at you don’t really see you the way you think they day!]
Now, put yourself in a new city…big or small, just somewhere you have not been before. This may not be feasible for you right this second, but add this bit to your to-do list the next time you travel. Walk through a foreign-to-you city, if only in your mind. How do you feel when you’re walking around? For me, it is absolutely nothing like how I feel in a city that I know, on two levels.
First, it’s scary + everything around me is intimidating. That child that said “hola”? Yup, even he makes my heart quicken because I don’t how to react…as I’m replying with an accented English “hola” my heart valves are crossing in hopes that he doesn’t try to carry on a conversation. Not because I don’t want to chat with a Mexican child but because I don’t know what to say. I have a hard enough time deciphering children speaking English to me, let alone a foreign language!
Everything around me seems to be full of risk, rather than reward. It’s a weird, scary bubble. To be clear, at no point am I afraid for my life…it’s my ego that’s at risk. I don’t need to blend in, I just don’t want to be a nuisance. In the safety of my own culture, I know how to do this; in a foreign world, I do not. It really comes down to checking my ego + letting myself be in that one moment rather than worried about the next ten.
Second, it’s all mesmerizing. From the beautiful buildings in Vienna to the street markets in Monterrey, every city has its own thing + it is literally mind-blowing to watch other humans life a life that is nothing like your own. I have learned so much about the world around me by simply watching people interact + go about their own days. I’ll notice things that seem extremely weird [to me]…then watch a stranger’s life play out as the weird starts to make sense. This is amazing to me + I’m fairly certain this is why traveling changes you as a person. I’ve discovered a whole new world out there, beyond the must-see’s + the IG-perfect photos.
All of this — the uncertainty, the ego checks, the new world views — is why I want to keep moving.
With the exception of this bit right here this entire post was written in February as I lay sprawled across a hotel bed in Monterrey. I had just returned from my urban adventure + I was a little overwhelmed, to say the least. It was then forgotten in the depths of the chaos that is my Google Drive folder as I was distracted by the trail stories I had to share. I stumbled across it this week as I was tying up a few loose ends before heading off to my next adventure…to Mexico City + Monterrey.
As I reread it I felt the awkward angst of the first paragraph but as I continued reading the apprehension morphed into excitement. Yes, my first few days in Mexico are going to be stressful as I figure out how to navigate the city, brush up on my [barely existent] Spanish + find basic life necessities like groceries. But, I know it will become more than that. I’ll create a new version of comfortable + rediscover my mojo. I’ll see cool things, meet awesome people + wander new trails. Any dings my ego has to take will be worth it…it always has been.
Staying is easy; so I must go.