There are obvious places on this planet you would never want to lose your sense of adventure, to lose that lust for exploration or that ambition to test your merits before Mother Nature’s majesty. New Zealand is one of those places.
If you were to take the entirety of the United States and condense it into the small space of Colorado, you would essentially have New Zealand. I mean, it seems unfair when you think about it; this country has everything. There are pristine beaches untouched by tourism, water pigment so blue that photo editing couldn't even replicate it, agricultural stretches of paradise harking to the central valley of California, coastal canopies of Hawaiian resemblance, glaciers tearing through the rainforest and stretching toward the sea, fjords putting Yosemite to shame, and geothermic activity trumping Yellowstone (at least in terms of size).
There are multiple highways in New Zealand that resemble Big Sur (mixing Oregon’s drama and Hawaii’s flora). There are bays filled with miniature dolphins, caves filled with false constellations presented by glowworm bioluminescence, and cheeky alpine parrots that steal your belongings any chance they get. It seems every kilometer you cover and every vista you visit offers another awe-inspiring moment. The place is magic and mana incarnate.
This place—heaven to anyone who has built their ego and reputation on drifting—should have been the pinnacle of traveling for me. It should have felt like coming home. But, standing before some of the most impressive landscapes I've ever seen, it came as a great surprise when I felt nothing. There was no sense of wonder—no oh-my-god moments, no take-my-breath-away experiences. At most, I shrugged like a bored kid at Gettysburg and found myself longing for a book to read or an empty page to fill. I found my thoughts drifting back to Montana.
When I first started seriously traveling nearly 6 years ago, I told myself that I wouldn’t stop until I felt homesick. And I never did...until now. New Zealand should have been my ideal destination, but all I could think about was returning to a place I spent my adulthood avoiding. I wanted to be playing video games with my little brother, to be working in my parent’s office, to be mischievous with my nephews and niece, and to be writing. My God, to be writing—I’m not sure I’ve ever missed something more (besides maybe professional wrestling). I take this as a good sign I am finally on the right track.
I also take this as a sign I am getting older. Traveling used to invigorate me; it used to make me feel important and give me self-worth. I loved the hardships and the stories that came with it; I loved meeting random strangers that gave me temporarily reprieve from loneliness. But now I find myself sluggish, more apt to complain, more ready to relinquish the pride of never getting a hotel room or surprised at my disinterest in trying to set a new record for days gone without showering. And, as for the strangers, I don’t really enjoy their company anymore; every question becomes monotonous, every interaction surface level—I once again long for my books in their presence, for my communion with the dead, for the comfort of literary companionship.
These days I feel less interesting as well; strangers ask fewer questions about my life, give less of an effort to unravel the trail that has led me abroad. I think it’s because I’m less radiant than I used to be; wanderlust has left my eyes.
And this isn’t to say any of this is a bad thing; this is to say I’m recognizing a tectonic shift happening at a crucial moment in my life—I can feel myself closing the rift zones that my youth once tore through me. I am ready for something simpler: I want to improve the craft I love and miss, I want relationships that last, and I want to foster creative community in my hometown. For the past four years I’ve looked to nature for truths and answers and solace, and that is where I always found it. But that time has come to pass, at least for now; these things no longer fulfill me, no longer guide me down the path to a healthy mental equilibrium, and I know it’s time for a change of habits.
We don’t get to choose, I have come to learn, what inspires wonder; it chooses us. But we do get to choose how we approach the world, whether positive or negative, fearful or brave. I don’t worry that my wonder is gone and nonexistent; it has simply relocated. And I feel it calling to me from the stories resting on my bookshelf.
It’s just a shame that this revelation came during my trek through the prettiest country on the planet, during my adventure across the adventure capital of the world. But some of life’s greatest lessons come at the most inopportune times—and that, to me, is the whole point of traveling.
Graduate School Update: I have been rejected by 3 so far (Vanderbilt, Ohio State, and the University of Wisconsin) and waitlisted by 1 (Louisiana State). I still have 9 more schools to hear from.