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“I am capable of more than I imagined”: On the Road with Elizabeth Glanzer

This is a traveler case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

After experiencing many travel misadventures around the world, I love hearing other people’s “silver linings” stories. This one (and other stories, too) comes from Elizabeth Glanzer in Los Angeles.

Introduce yourself!

I’m a therapist and work with teens and young adults who feel misunderstood and out of place. I study psychoanalysis and neuroscience every chance I get.

Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. For me, it pulls everything together and shatters blind spots. People, culture, art, and “normal” are all relative when I go abroad, and I appreciate the ability to see how someone else lives and thinks.

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What inspired you to travel?

Growing up in the Midwest, I never traveled anywhere until I moved to California for school. I felt out of place in California for being what felt like the only person who hadn’t been out of the country.

After graduating from my MA program, I went on a month long Enrichment Voyage, visiting ten countries in Central and South America. It was the most amazing experience of my life.

For the first time, I could finally let go of who I was “supposed” to be. I was able to be more authentic in a foreign environment full of strangers than I had been back home. I was hooked.

Tell us a story from the Enrichment Voyage.

A few hours outside of Cartagena, Columbia, we hiked up a super steep mountain of dried mud. At the top, I realized the mountain was actually a volcano, and all the mud inside is soft. I climbed down a ladder into the mud. Somehow, even though I couldn’t touch the bottom of the mud pit, I didn’t sink. Here’s what I looked like at the end:

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In the mud pit, workers rub warm mud all over you and kind of push you around because it’s hard to move. Afterward, I walked over to a lake, and local women dumped buckets of water on my head to wash the dirt off of me. In four minutes, the woman washing me had ever speck of mud removed from me – even my hair. It was definitely a hilarious and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Where did you last go?

Bangkok and Singapore.

How did you pay for that trip?

For the plane tickets, I used bonus points from opening a Chase Sapphire credit card, and for the rest of the trip, a refund from my tax return. I don’t have points banked because I spend them as soon as they add up to enough to buy me a plane ticket somewhere.

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Do you have a memorable story from your time in Bangkok?

I got on the plane with a friend in Singapore, but disembarked the plane alone in Bangkok. It was my second time out of the country, and I was standing in the middle of a country in the midst of riots aiming to overthrow the government.

I Googled “Hostel” and booked the first one I found. Admittedly, I was scared.

But the initial panic slowly gave way to confidence. Once I was settled in the hostel, I found myself living out the belief that all I really needed to survive and have fun was a passport, money, an unlimited amount of time, and of course, WiFi. More importantly, I realized I was capable of navigating a foreign place, doing more for myself, by myself, than I ever thought possible.

After a few hours, this confidence built up so high it was the ultimate euphoria. I was alone in the world. Continents away from anyone I knew and anyone who knew me. No one could find me, even if they wanted to, because not even I knew where I was.

That was a feeling I’d searched for my whole life—and it was so freeing.

Nothing mattered except right now, in the present moment. Any need I’d had to escape was gone. I had escaped. The need to disappear was gone. Because for all practical purposes, I had disappeared. I had officially made it to nowhere.

Did that euphoric feeling last throughout your trip?

Not quite. The following evening I got caught in the riots. I walked for two hours trying to get to the train, but there were so many people that I kept getting disoriented. I was lost in a very pure feeling of fear, and had no one to share it with and no one to help me.

I was the only person who could save me. Which was strange because it was a feeling I couldn’t remember ever feeling before.

The third day brought yet another set of feelings. This time it was a deep loneliness. I’d always wanted to embrace an empty craving like that, but hadn’t ever felt it before. This was the pure feeling of abandonment. Literally thinking, knowing and feeling alone in the world. The polar opposite of what I felt the first day, but complementary all the same.

The highest high and the lowest low. Both in raw form. So amazing and so awful I didn’t want it to end. I had reached two points I had been aiming for for years.

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Tell us about an encounter fresh in your mind.

A friend once told me, “You get anxiety in new situations because you’ve never been challenged. You don’t know how much you’re capable of. Someday, I’m going to drop you in the center of the Middle East with no money and no phone and tell you to find your way home.”

He must have decided Thailand was close enough.

It’s been a year, and I have to admit, he was right. I survived Bangkok, and actually can’t imagine not thinking I’d be able to survive almost any other foreign experience. I am capable of more than I ever imagined.

What has surprised when on the road?

Singapore. I was completely shocked by how safe and clean it was.

Who knew there’s a place in this world where a young female can go running in the dark, at 5am, through back alleys, and talk to the “creepy” men who are more than happy to give directions as if we were standing in the center of Beverly Hills at lunch time?

I had a great time there.

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The great debate: aisle or window?

Window! I bring a cheap pillow and lay up against the side.

Where are you headed next?

For the next big trip, my brothers and I are going to Carnival in Brazil, then we’ll wrap around to Argentina, Chile, and end in Cuzco, Peru.

Neither of them has been out of the country before.

Follow Elizabeth on her site, LA Teen Therapist or via Twitter @awesomeshrink

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