In April 2016, I started crashing on couches in unfamiliar places; the idea being that traveling alone with no agenda or companions would throw me outside my comfort zone and challenge my definition of home. Thanks to the help of some long distance friends, I’ve been able to visit cities all over the world and learn a few things along the way.
Working at a travel company definitely has its perks. The greatest one, of course, was the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world and explore Tanzania in all of its natural glory.
As someone who’s never actually camped, this experience pushed me outside my comfort zone a bit. Granted, this wasn’t your typical camping experience, nor was it true couch surfing. It was Thomson Safaris-style glamping, and my tent was equipped with a queen-sized bed and the finest linens you could imagine.
But hearing unidentified creatures eating grass on the other side of the canvas and listening to the growling stomachs of animals just inches from my head at night was a little concerning for a city girl like myself. Put simply: these weren’t the sounds of nature you hear on playlists for troubled sleepers.
After that first night, I talked to my guide and asked which animals I had heard. Once I learned they were harmless zebras and elephants, I was able to sleep much more soundly the following nights. I wasn’t going to die. Knowledge is power, people.
It was outdoorsy, natural experiences like this one that made my time in Tanzania so special. I was disconnected from technology for two weeks, and I’m aware of how privileged I sound when I admit that it made me feel vulnerable. It was only in that moment of not having my phone that I realized how often I used it to avoid awkward situations, waste time, and escape loneliness.
Total disconnection turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I was able to experience every moment in its fullest form and notice details I would have otherwise skipped over.
One of the most memorable moments of my trip was visiting a Maasai boma and learning what life was like for the people who lived there. The entire home couldn’t have been bigger than my living room, and there were about 12 people living under its thatched roof. We were given permission to take photos, so I started documenting what I saw.
When the children noticed I was taking pictures, they ran up to see what I had captured. They pointed at a picture I took of them and asked to zoom in on each of their faces. That’s when I realized that, aside from these interactions with tourists, they don’t get to see their own faces.
It seems small, but that experience has stuck with me ever since. When we look in the mirror, it’s usually to criticize our appearance. We’re typically in a rush, struggling to get ready for work or a night out. While we’re staring back at ourselves, why don’t we simply acknowledge that we’re lucky to have these amenities?
Tanzania wasn’t just beautiful and serene. It was eye-opening. And I’ll never look at myself in the mirror the same way ever again.