Manuela Boghian tells the story of how she got it together to go travelling in the USA for three months.
When I wrote this article I was travelling on the Seattle – Fargo train. I was on that train for about 38 hours. My phone died so I was guessing the time after the daylight and the loud announcements made from the restaurant wagon, inviting people to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I got fond of the long hours I spend on the train — that’s my time to unwind from the big city life, to read leisurely and to ponder on the meaning of everything. The train swings on the tracks, keeps me warm and safe and takes me to where I need to go. It shows me peaceful lakes, deep woods, mountains, snow, oil rigs.
A year ago, I was dreaming about getting to Seattle. And New Orleans. And San Francisco. I was writing to some of my friends in the United States: “I’m thinking about coming your way”, but I had no idea how I would do it. I was only thinking about how great it would be to travel on my own, go on that backpacking trip I’ve been fantasizing about. Take some time off, travel, write.
Then Rupert asked me to read the manuscript of his first book, “Nine Months in Tibet”. “I wish I could travel like you did”, I told him. I admired his courage, his love for the rough life, the ease with which he would get into a stranger’s truck and the lightness of his backpack. He didn’t care about travel guides and not having money didn’t send him into a panic attack. He would always find a way to emerge from difficulties.
“Well, why don’t you go to the States?” asked Rupert. I had many answers: “I have a job, I don’t have enough money, the visa is so hard to get” and so on. It just seemed impossible.
But I wanted to travel to the US: be on a different continent, ride through the desert, go down the canyons, listen to jazz and blues and swim in the Pacific. When I told Rupert about my my travel dream he believed in it much more than I did.
As I spoke and thought about it more , the idea grew within me. It also helped immensely that when I told my boss was understanding and I could go away for three months and come back to my old job.
The preparation of the trip came down to three things: money, visa and itinerary. And once I decided I will do this trip, it all came together:
- Money. I saved up for a year. I gave up the room that I was renting and slept on my friends’ couch (it was comfortable and my friends are very nice). I spent less on drinks and expensive festivals. I didn’t plan any other trip for the next year, though I had the opportunity to travel anyway with my work. I made little jumps out of my comfort zone and, above all, I knew my US trip was worth it.
- US Visa. I was really freaked out by this. I heard stories that the visa is really hard to get and when I searched google it seemed like a complicated, long and frustrating process: people getting rejected with no explanations – that could be me! I spent months researching it and panicking some more. When I actually started my application, the whole process was over in a week. And I got a visa for 10 years. The visa interview went smoothly and I wasn’t asked any tricky questions. The main thing the embassy people seemed interested in was my plan, my finances and what was my job?
- Itinerary. This was the best part as you get to imagine whatever you want. I started marking a map on my desk, like a commander preparing a battle plan. I wrote to friends I wanted to visit. Some invited me to stay, others took me on long rides, and some offered to help in all kind of ways. Whenever I was feeling down, I just had to look again at my itinerary and do a little thing that would take me closer to my trip: send an email, research train prices, check weather, concert schedules, look at pictures.
Another important thing was to remind myself constantly how important this trip was for me. I heard lots of sarcastic remarks and pessimistic opinions after deciding I want to go travelling to the US, which made me question my own reasons for doing it. I would hear: “It’s a waste of money”, “It’s very dangerous for a girl to travel alone like that”, “US is a terrible country, you should go to Indonesia or Thailand instead”. But you know what: lots of people around me dream about travelling adventurously. I actually did it.