Though I’d been dreaming of going back for years, I didn’t expect to return to New York City in 2021. But ever since I left Colombia (again) in August, things haven’t been exactly going to plan (in a good way) and I’ve been relearning how to embrace the unexpected. That’s how I ended up on an Amtrack train travelling north from Florida to New York.
For over two weeks, I exhausted myself walking the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, from the West Village to the Upper West Side, through Central Park and across the bridges, from Chinatown to the Lower East Side, from Little Italy to DUMBO, from the East Village to Chelsea, from the Staten Island ferry to Wall Street, from Times Square to Coney Island. I went shopping at thrift stores, ate way too much, spotted plenty of rats and trash bags crowding the sidewalks, and met locals on the subway and in bars. I think I made the most of my time in New York, where the feeling of relative normalcy made me feel alive again. I also got my second COVID vaccine dose in Brooklyn and even experienced a historic hurricane and the twenty-year anniversary of 9/11, events that will shape my memories of my time there.
There are a million things I could say about this city, write it love letters and poems, gush over its diversity and charm, its energy and beauty, its architecture and food scene, and I probably will. But this post isn’t so much about travel itself but about the things that have been going through my mind since I started this new nomadic journey. And it’s a lot more personal than anecdotes about awful bus stops and super-long train rides.
Since arriving in New York, I’ve been thinking a lot about success— how it’s measured, perceived, and how it affects our quality of life. Is success defined by how much money we have in the bank or by our address? By the clothes in our closet or the restaurants we frequent? Or is it measured by how much we enjoy our day-to-day life? Most of us would like to think it’s the latter, but can we really, fully enjoy our life if we’re constantly worried about money or the goals we haven’t achieved?
I believe success is subjective, it’s not something that can be measured against a set of rules and points, and it’s easy to compare ourselves and our lives to those we see through the filters of social media and personal narratives. Which leads me to conclude that success is really the feeling of fulfilment, regardless of what that looks like for each of us, of going to bed at night happy with our choices, of not being plagued with regrets.
For years, I said I was the happiest person I knew. And it was true, I was happy, I was! But I think, more than the fact that I was visiting amazing places and befriending wonderful people, I was deliriously happy because I was running away from thinking about these things—success, fulfilment, achievement. I was living in the moment, which is a beautiful thing that has filled me with unforgettable experiences, but it doesn’t really add up over time. Not in a tangible way, at least. It wasn’t until I sat still for a few consecutive months that I started to see that and wonder what I wanted my life to look like looking forward.
I loved the first part of my nomadic life and all the years I spent based in Colombia’s Caribbean coast, back when I was chasing summer all over the world. And I don’t regret those years, not at all, but now I think I was seeking fulfilment not within myself but through external stimulations, places, and people that distracted me from thinking about how I wasn’t actively striving to achieve everything I’d dreamed about before life jilted and jaded me to the point of absolute indifference about the future.
But this time, I’m travelling with purpose, and as I get older and the future becomes more inevitable, I know I do want to achieve these things that I once happily traded for hedonism and adventure, even if those dreams have changed and evolved as the years pass. And there are days that I wonder if it’s too late, if I wasted too much time, if it’s still possible. But New York, the City of Dreams, reignited my desire to make my dreams come true. Because it’s never too late and I refuse to spend the rest of my life regretting the things I didn’t do.
After a few bouts of self-doubt, New York (and those close to me who have calmed my anxieties and convinced me to believe in myself) has reenergised me, inspired me, and given me the boost I needed. And I’m sure I’ll doubt myself again and tell myself I’m crazy for pursuing my wildest ideas, but after all these years of following my heart, I don’t know how else to live my life.
Follow along on my blog and social media @LauraRepoOrtega and keep me company on this new journey, wherever you might be and wherever I may end up.
All photos shot on iPhone