Finding Myself Through Travel

If you talk to any of my friends, they will tell you I’m a people person. People, people, people; an extrovert to the core. For the last two and a half years I’ve lived in Portland, Oregon. I’ve enjoyed staying busy and filling up my schedule with as many activities and meet ups with friends as possible. It gave me anxiety to have more than one free evening a week. I feared being left alone with my thoughts because I knew I would question why I was continuing on a path that made me unhappy. I felt numb and stuck.
I’d been a nanny for two and a half years. I did switch between few different families, but it was basically the same job the whole time.  I didn’t see a way out off the path I was taking. Working as a nanny gave me good hours and pay, and allowed me to stay in my comfort zone. I was good at it and it didn’t require much growth or skill because after two and a half years I had gotten all I could out of it. I wanted to work in a different line of employment, and I tried quitting previous nanny jobs in hopes of another gig, but I would always just get another nanny position when the first couple jobs I applied for didn’t pan out.
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My lifelong friend Anna was volunteering in Malawi, Africa. We kept in touch and I promised to visit her, but as her two years in Africa were drawing to a close, I knew I had to act soon if I was going to make good on my promise. I decided on a date, and one month later I was on a plane to Malawi.
At the two week mark of my one month journey through Malawi I had had zero alone time. I was staying in Nkhata Bay, which is a small, lively city nestled on the northwestern coast of Lake Malawi with a small group of people. We were all relaxing lakeside when a sudden urge overtook me.
The warm, almost tropical water starts to hit my feet, then ankles and knees. Waves crash into my thighs and start to reach my stomach. My bare feet touch the smooth stones as I take step after step into the clear lake. Then worry hits. What am I going to miss while I’m gone? What if I experience something amazing and have no one to share it with? I’m also not going to have any distractions. I will be all alone. I stand on a large underwater rock, take a few breaths, and then continue deeper. My eyes keep switching from the waves ahead to the shore behind. I see the floating dock ahead going up and down with the flow of water. I can’t touch anymore, but I can still clearly see rocks beneath me. I too am going up and down. I focus on the dock, and my arms glide through the warm water. My legs enjoy the resistance with each kick.
I’m taken back to swimming in Idaho’s lakes as a child, the neighborhood pool where I lifeguarded as a teenager, and soaking in the hot springs of Oregon, as an adult. I don’t remember learning to swim; in my mind, I’ve always known.
I turn over and float on my back. I let the lake take my body up and down with each swell. I look up at the cloud-free sky and close my eyes. My arms and legs are swaying with the rhythm of Lake Malawi. All is quiet and I am at peace. Blue surrounds me. The sky above is a vibrant blue and the water I’m immersed in is the clearest/bluest water I’ve ever seen. I’m not exaggerating to make a prettier picture. Lake Malawi is really that beautiful. I don’t know how long I floated, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Malawi gave me the time and space to realize that life is too short to work a job you’re not passionate about. If I was ever going to change careers I knew I needed to start now. Before I went to Malawi I didn’t have the motivation to change. I was caught up in being too busy to give myself a moment to think. It’s amazing how much time you have when you don‘t have a job or the everyday distractions of American life. Malawi gave me the opportunity to be alone and to find out who I wanted to be. I’ll be forever grateful for my trip to Malawi for giving me the confidence to quit one of my nanny jobs and pursue a job in graphic design, which I’ve been wanting to do for a few years. I did it, and you can too!
About the author:
Hannah Ayers is currently living in Portland, OR. She started traveling internationally at the ripe ol’ age of six and doesn’t want to stop anytime soon. The only activity that rivals her love of travel writing is her passion for rock climbing. She has enjoyed climbing in Squamish, BC, Leavenworth, WA, Malawi, Africa, and most recently Bishop, CA. She looks forward to the upcoming climbing season. 
*Please note that the cover photo for this article was taken by Emma Ayers, Hannah’s sister. 

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