I love a good travel memoir.
You know the ones. Often coming-of-age-esque, these tales follow their protagonist as they discover the world, and their place in it. Or – at least in travel memoirs – where their place ISN’T. they discover a certain fluidity about themselves, realizing that they don’t need to call a particular place home, as long as they can keep finding comforts around the world.
When I was planning for this trip, I was curious what I would find out about myself. After all, that’s one of the most cliche reasons to travel solo, isn’t it? To *find yourself*. And here’s the thing- I already know myself pretty well. I didn’t think a trip around Europe, via cruises and trains and planes and busses, was going to teach me anything new. I already knew I love to travel.
I love the feeling of going out in a new city at night, trying to find a non-tourist bar and letting yourself get lost in the accents and flirtations of the locals. I love the calmness of a cross country train ride, with a cup of tea and nowhere to be until you get there. I love walking through pedestrianized streets, ones with height limits on new buildings, forbidden renovations and anything else they can do to preserve the original feeling of the ancient city. I love buskers in the middle of town squares. I love hotel beds. I love, maybe most of all, the lack of stress presented in travel. How immersed I am able to get in whichever place I am, with little worries about anything else. It’s a change from who I am in my day to day life, with anxieties about nothings that keep me up at night.
I already knew these things. So what else could there be? Would I, as so many others before me had done, find something so triggering that I cancel my plane ticket home, defer my education program, and stay?
As the days, and weeks, flew by on this trip, I got the chance to experience more than most people get to in a lifetime. This is not a brag about the destinations I visited- although those were plentiful and wonderful. After all, I got to walk the halls of royal castles and stand where famous kings once stood. I got to sing Do Re Mi through the Lake District of Salzburg. I cruised a mere 100km away from the Sahara Desert, aboard the most technologically advanced ship at sea. I sang in front of over 500 people, and more excitingly, got a huge laugh at my impromptu comedy act. Two weeks later, I sang on a stage, BLOCKS away from where the Beatles performed in Liverpool on a regular basis. I visited Auschwitz. I walked through Anne Frank’s house. I pulled my own pint of Guinness in an Irish bar, my own glass of Heineken in Amsterdam, and learned about more customs and traditions than I’ll ever remember. And so much more. But when I talk about experiences, that’s not necessarily what I meant.
I got to spend a week in some of my favourite cities with my Mom. A few years ago, there was a time when I didn’t know what my future with my mom meant, or how far it would extend. To go from standing in fear in a hospital waiting room, to standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower, showing her Paris… You don’t know what it means to be able to say we got to do that together. The luxury of TIME is ever present.
I spent an uninterrupted month in Europe with my grandparents. I got to see them as the complex and wonderful people they are, and not just as the people who spoil me rotten and love me unconditionally (no matter how many times I turn on the air conditioning after I know they’ve fallen asleep!). I saw grandpa get SO excited when we learned about horses at the Irish National Stud, or when we toured Old Trafford Stadium. I watched Grandma marvel at the Scottish highlands, turn her nose up when royal gardens didn’t meet her standards, and wander on ahead to shop, always trusting grandpa would follow along behind. They took me into the privileged lifestyle they’ve been lucky enough to acquire through a lifetime of hard work, and together we enjoyed the perks of Diamond lounge, first class trains and fancy hotels. And we learned about the world together. How many people get to say THAT?
I met amazing people from every corner of the world. From South Africa to Sydney, Mexico to Manchester, my trip was full of character. Karaoke comrades on the boat, friends with whom I explored and escaped, people who, strangers only hours before, became my drinking buddies and confidants. I’ve always known I’m a friendly person, but now I know that even in a city where I don’t know a SOUL, I can make a friend. And if I don’t? I’m comfortable enough with my own company to sit alone, have a meal, wander around a museum. BUT, more importantly – I’m a lot more independent than I give myself credit for. I learned that, when every comfort, every familiar person, is removed from an equation… I can take care of myself. I can find my way around a city, get myself to a train on time, and take care of my belongings without my dad there to watch my back. Some people will never be entirely on their own for longer than a day. I had 17 days strung together.
I recognized some traits of mine that were tougher to face. Previously easy-going, almost gullible, and accepting nearly to a fault, I’ve lost a bit of that quality. Once or twice I found myself giving attitude to a waitress because the kitchen was out of potatoes, even though that’s not her fault at all. I can be DIFFICULT… I have given up what I want to do in the past so many times that now I will fight to do the things I want to. But I’ve always HATED both those sorts of people. The kind who puts blame on the wrong person, the kind who has to have things their way, and the kind of person who will believe anything they’re told. In trying to become less gullible, and less of a push over, I am beginning to represent the sort of person I hate most… The person I always was trying to avoid being in the first place. That habit is getting nicked in the bud immediately. Though there were only one or two moments when it was evident… That’s enough. Before I came on this trip (and a few times during it), I was told I need to stop being so nice, because I’m going to get taken advantage of, or scammed. But I learned that being naive, and being kind, are NOT the same thing, and I can be one without the other.
So here they are. Some of the things I got to experience, some of the lessons I learned… And there are so many more, too. Surely this is why people seek out the nomadic lifestyle, right? Imagine getting to ALWAYS do this sort of living. The type of romanticized living where you can say yes to anything and everything. Where there are no papers due, no dishes to wash, no gas money to be paid. Had I finally *found my inner traveler*?
No. Because instead, something else solidified itself within me. At first a quiet voice, it boomed loudly near the end, with the knowledge that I am READY to go home, because there are other things I want more in life. I just didn’t really know that I wanted those things until I was away from them for so long.
I want a place to call my own. Somewhere I can decorate the walls with pictures of my travels, trinkets of my journeys, and photos of my best friends. I want to set down ROOTS. As I traveled, I witnessed many different kinds of relationships, and friendships, and was able to observe the traits I most want to find in my own life, and my own relationships. I want to wash my own laundry. I want to have a big savings account, work hard for my money and set up my future. There are things I need to take care of that I’ve been putting off, for one reason or another, but cannot wait any more.
In ways, I have become brainwashed by the movement of the millennials, where we do what we can when we can, in the “age of 20somethings” because “who has their shit together, anyway? GO BROKE AND SAIL A BOAT!” And this trip majorly reversed a lot of those blossoming ideas.
So… Wait. What happened to me? Shouldn’t I have received the opposite effect? And by feeling this way, does that mean I didn’t enjoy myself on the trip at all?
No. Of course it doesn’t. Some days, it actually scared me, how easily I found myself dreaming of the possibilities of living in Amsterdam, or Galway, pulling pints for a living, finding roommates and traveling on weekends. For SO long, I’ve regretted not going abroad during university. Not au pairing for a year when I was 20. Not spending MORE of my money on travel. I’ll tell anyone who listens how as soon as I get my teacher’s degree, I’m moving to England to work there instead.
More frequently, though, my mind wandered somewhere else.
It wandered to my dad’s birthday party, where all my loved ones were celebrating, and I was in a pub halfway across the world.
It wandered to the movie nights my friends were having, the memories being made that I wasn’t a part of.
It wandered to my dog, Bogger. Did he wonder why I’d left him? Would he remember me when I got home?
It wandered to my dwindling bank account, and what might be left of it when I finally got home.
It wandered to the customs I’m not willing to give up. To the comforts I didn’t even realize I cared about, like driving myself around, or Costco, or the Greek restaurant down the street.
And it wandered to my future. A future that, before I left home, appeared foggy. One I was hesitant about, because I was so nervous I was making a wrong choice somewhere in my meticulous planning, but couldn’t see it.
Now, I can see it taking shape. It’s a future full of change, the thing I hate the most, but am learning to embrace for the sake of my happiness (and that of those around me). It’s one where I continue to see the world, but in less of an “all or nothing” type of mindset. I came to this after meeting all kinds of people. I recognized the deepest parts of myself within another person, sometimes. I left pieces of my heart in cities that will make it impossible to come home entirely whole, but rather, re-shaped. I was in a constant state of awe at how other cultures differ from my own. I learned that in any part of the world, I can find somebody to challenge me emotionally, or intellectually, or most hopefully, both ways.
And now, I will return home, and maybe I won’t do so much meticulous planning that I forget to live in the downtime between plans. Like I learned with my mom, I have TIME. I don’t have to have it all figured out, and I certainly don’t need the ominous *TRAVEL* to figure it out for me. But I do need a home. I do not have the same fluidity to me as I can recognize in true nomadic wanderers. I am EXCITED to get home, back to work, and start saving for my next big goal – one that, for the first time in 8 years, has nothing to do with travel. And that’s okay! So this may not be the travel memoir I’d expected… But I’d say I’ve come a lot closer to “finding myself” than I even realized I needed to be. And I’d say that’s an even better takeaway.