My cousin, Kimmy, has always been a trail blazer. She is the first one to jump off the abandoned railroad bridge into the Connecticut River every summer, the first one to move across the country on her own, and the first one to dye her hair platinum platinum white blonde and have it actually work (before Kim, there was Kimmy). She has been my motivator, sounding board, and best friend since she was born (just five months after me).
The risk taker quality in her was something I tried to emulate over and over; After Kimmy transferred colleges, so did I; After she cut her hair, so did I (last week); When she pushed for a promotion at work, so did I. It seems like I’ve let her test the waters before I dove into them for as long as I can remember.
When I decided to take my round-the-world trip, I remember the decision being so much more difficult because Kimmy hadn’t done it before me. I considered business school and relocating out west because, well… she had already checked those options out for me and they seemed pretty great. But when those safer options didn’t sit well with my gut, I was terrified at the realization that I would have to do something first. And on I went.
When Kimmy bought plane tickets to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with me in Thailand, I was beyond thrilled. Not only because I was terrified about the idea of spending these holidays on my own, but also because if anyone could appreciate my crazy pseudo-backpacker lifestyle it would be her.
When Kimmy finally arrived, it was such a surreal and overwhelming feeling. Somehow, just seeing her walk out of the arrivals gate in the Bangkok airport made my whole journey feel more real. Well… in actuality, we were running towards each other in a slightly over-dramatic fashion.
It was so important to me that Kimmy got to see what I was doing and to understand it. And she didn’t only understand it, she improved on it. It made me realize that I’ve never gone through any phase without having her there, in person, for at least a small portion of it. And it confirmed that there is absolutely no replacement for a few hours of talking over coffee (or cocktails) with your best friend.
During our time together, I was able to be totally free in a way I hadn’t had the opportunity to be in months. There is the obvious change of traveling solo to traveling with another person – you wouldn’t believe the ease of knowing one of you can watch your bags, or the cost savings of splitting a room two-ways. So many worries that were constantly in my head were given a bit of respite having someone else with me, like walking alone or getting money out from the ATM. It’s funny how ingrained it felt to be alone and then all of a sudden to have a companion I could really rely on. Then there’s the fact that it’s Kimmy, rather than just anyone. The time we had together took me out of the deep, heavy headspace I’d been in since Cambodia. As cliched as it may sound, I believe that we bring out the best in each other.
The “best” that Kimmy brings out in me is someone less fearful, more adventurous, more relaxed, and generally, more confident. She inspires in me the same spirit which led me to take my trip solo. Whereas, Kimmy’s “best” that I can bring out of her is perhaps a slightly more open, vulnerable version of her normal self. We have always complemented each other well, but never better than the ten days we spent together in Thailand.
I was able to do all the things I wouldn’t do on my own, silly as some of them may be. I took her back to some of my favorite places in Thailand and got to introduce her to lovely people, like my friends at Oasis Yoga, the famous fire dancer/bartender, and an inspirational solo traveler and friend, Lisa. We were able to be frivolous and silly. One night, we went out with the intention of having one innocent drink and ended the night scrubbing the body paint from a Half Moon Party off of ourselves in the hotel pool at 3am, only to get caught by other people coming in by motorbike. These are things I just hadn’t done on my own. And with her I finally could.
Best of all, I was able to look at travel with fresh eyes again. It felt like I was back in month one of my trip but with none of the fear or loneliness. Things like hopping on the back of a motorbike taxi were the cause of pure joy to her, and therefore to me. Her first sip of Tom Yum soup reminded me of mine – an experience that can’t be forgotten. Then there’s the art of haggling for a pair of sunglasses and feeling the thrill of getting a great price. I got to show her things that she’d never seen and I got to re-live the pure emotion that comes with that. It was totally intoxicating all over again.
The thing that’s stuck in my mind ever since Kimmy’s visit though was a conversation we had that was quite fascinating. When she admitted that someday she might want to do her own trip, she then said, “I feel like I’ve always been following in your footsteps.” I started laughing and replied, “Um… no I have been following in yours!” It’s funny how our self-perceptions can be so off, so inconsistent with reality. In this case, what’s become clear is that we both influence each other to be better, stronger, and smarter. And, even though this was over three months ago, our conversation has remained stuck in my mind for a certain reason.
I’ve always thought of inspiration as going one way – from one person to another, rippling outwards from the source. However, it’s become clear that inspiration can, quite often, become an exchange benefiting both parties rather than one person’s takeaway from the other.
In past posts, I’ve have referenced people who inspired me to take the leap of faith to travel on my own. Recently I’ve been made aware that, since my departure, I have somehow inspired them all in return. This inspiration has manifested itself in different ways, from planning adventures of their own to self-exploration through writing and other forms. It has rendered me speechless to think that anything I’ve done has somehow had an effect on these strong and smart people. Or on anyone really. It’s made me re-consider what inspiration can be and how I treat it going forward. The ripples don’t just go outwards, as it turns out.
It is a thrilling revelation when you think about it – we are able to make each other better. Endlessly better.