by Jordan Smedberg

When I’d first tell people I was going to
Africa for two months by myself, their faces almost always twisted into an expression of horror and awe, as though they couldn’t quite decide whether I was stupid or courageous.

Granted, my follow up comments: “You
know, because it’s Africa,” or, “Nope, no job
assignments, humanitarian groups, or real purpose at
all,” didn’t help in garnering any votes of
confidence either, but the truth was, I didn’t have an

There was no compelling factor making me
leave, (unless you count another winter in New York),
nor was there one pulling me away (unless you count
Africa). I hadn’t just broken up or gotten a divorce,
my bartending career surely wasn’t expensing me there,
and at 27, I had a few years to kill before I could
blame my impulsiveness on a mid-life crisis. Nope, in
movies, people have motive. In real life, at least
sometimes, you just buy the ticket.

Then you buy the travel guide. The backpack.
The bikini. The Tarzan and Jane safari hat. Okay, you
don’t buy that – but I was tempted. Instead, I kept it
simple, selecting only what would fit into my pack.

Since I was leaving for two months, rather than find a
subletter, I decided to give up my share in a less than
positive living situation and put my belongings in
storage. Over the nine years that I had lived in New
York, I had amassed an exorbitant amount of junk which
I carted from apartment to apartment, telling myself
that one of these days I would sit down and organize
it all. That day had come.

I spent the afternoon working my way though a pot of coffee and a decade
worth of wardrobes. By dinner time I had three garbage
bags full. My caffeine high propelled me down the
street, bags in tow, to the hipster thrift store which
gave me a nice check for my apparently still-cool castaways.

Streamlined now, my head felt clearer, but
with two months until take-off, there was still so much to do. I
found a travel doctor and began my transformation
into a human pin cushion. Hep A, Hep B, Tetanus, Polio,
Typhoid – I had more vaccinations than diseases I even knew about, but with each arm-numbing shot the trip
became more tangible.

I joined a gym and began what I
called, “The Africa Workout Plan,” motivated as much
by the thought of a ten mile trek through the desert
as I was by the prospect of sunbathing in a bikini.

started researching travel web sites, sending out
e-mails to friends and family about my plans, perking
up my ears whenever I heard the word “Africa.” Before
I knew it, I had a handful of contacts, friends of
friends that were more than happy to offer me advice about my trip, and often inviting me to stay with
them for a few days during my journey.

Yes, the mysterious continent was coming into
and to my surprise, so was my own life. Suddenly I
felt more excited than I had in years, and not just at
the prospect of a vacation. In contrast, the knowledge
that I was leaving made me appreciate the city more
than ever.

In preparation of spending two months by
myself, I started paying more attention to my thoughts
and moods rather than looking for things to distract
me from them. My mind, body, and soul felt good,
clear, purposeful, and I realized that when I
initially thought of going to Africa, this was what I
was hoping to achieve. I had found what I was looking
for without even leaving the ground. And as for what I
gained from my actual trip?

I’ll let you know. I’m leaving next week.