I am a person who says that I don’t like change. It makes me uncomfortable, particularly if I’m happy with the way things already are. I like routine, I like schedules, and I love when things go according to plan.
So it’s interesting, I think, that I feel so strongly that I’m meant to be a traveler. Travel, almost by definition, is the experience of change, new things, and unexpected schedules. Walking off of a plane, into an airport I’ve never been in before, reading a sign in a language I don’t understand, and smelling food from a popular coffee chain I haven’t yet learned about – it’s thrilling. However, I am also somebody who gets bored after immersion. What I mean is this: I’ll completely involve myself in an activity, or an idea, because it fascinates me. I’ll develop a routine around it, I may obsess about it, and I’ll learn as much as I can… until I get bored of it. Sometimes this takes a day, sometimes this takes a decade. And sometimes I’ll go back to it, when it feels new again, or like there’s something else I can gain from the experience that I haven’t before. The point is, I don’t like feeling stagnant. I love, more than anything, feeling excited and like I’m about to uncover a secret.
For two months this summer, I felt that way every single day. I woke up unsure of what I’d be seeing. Sure, I had an itinerary. As I’ve said, I like schedules, and so I planned my days, sometimes down to the hour. But within those arrangements were where the magic happened. I booked a day trip to Neuschwanstein, and mom and I fell for the little shopping village we stopped in for a coffee break on the way up the mountain. I sat in a dusty, smoky bar in Killarney, listening to an Irish band cover U2 songs, clinking my Edelweiss beer against Marsha’s glass, somebody who felt like a best friend in that moment but who had been a perfect stranger only a week ago. I went to Paris for my fourth time, on the last day of the trip, and wandered down a street I’d never been on, feeling for the first time the quietness of the city that everyone romanticizes, and not just the hustle-bustle of the tourist capital of France. I was in a constant state of electrified nerves and emotions. I didn’t want to sleep because I didn’t want to miss a thing (Cue Aerosmith here). I asked questions of the waiters when I dined alone because I didn’t want to miss out on a connection. I was in a blissful state of intoxication the entire trip, constantly experiencing the “new”.
When my parents picked me up at the airport, I walked across the familiar road leading to the Departures parking lot. We drove on the Richmond connector, I watched the skyscrapers across the field slip in and out of the clouds, and I sobbed. In the final days of my trip, in Belgium, I had felt ready to go home because I was tired, but not because I was done. I don’t know if I’ll ever be done with traveling, particularly through Europe. But I had just spent 4 days in Amsterdam, making friends with Nancy and Jessica, and then another 5 days in Belgium, becoming closer than I thought was possible in such a short time with Danielle and Larry. And now, they were all gone, either home or to a brand new country to experience something I wasn’t a part of. It was time for me to do the same. I had new things waiting for me at home. But as I drove home from the airport with my parents and my sister, I listened to them chatter away about familiar concepts, like my dad’s soccer team and my mom’s coworkers and my sister’s job with the city, and I felt uncomfortable with the comfortable. I believed that I had made a mistake in saying that I was ready to come home. If you may recall, I said there were things I wanted at home. Things like a place to call my own. In the backseat of my mom’s car, I believed that within a month, I’d already be planning my next trip away, desperate to once again feel like everything is magical.
Flash forward a few months. I’m sitting in my car, parked in an empty lot, rain pulsing down on the windows. Two friends sit with me, liquor on their breath, mint on my own, and secrets on everyone’s lips, in each other’s ears, circulating around the car in safety because there’s nobody else around to hear them. In this moment, it’s hard to remember ever feeling like our stories were so safe. It’s impossible to believe that anything will ever spoil this new, promising friendship. It’s a release from the heaviness of my deeper friendships – friendships that now have loaded histories, with complicated expectations and memorable missteps. Old friendships, where everyone has let you down at least once, vs new friendships, where it doesn’t seem like anyone ever will. Everything just feels new and exciting and promising, and it relieves the burden of an empty passport page for a while, because that same craving is being satisfied as when I visit a new city. That same part of my brain that seeks out adventure is being fulfilled, just in a different way. Just like travel – few experiences are disappointing, simply because they’re new, and don’t have a promise attached to them.
Even though we know that someday, we’re going to get into an argument with these new friends, or feel at home in this new city, because that’s what always happens when the novelty wears off… in these moments of inebriation, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so alive. So I’ll continue to seek these moments out. And it becomes rather easy to abandon the familiar in search of the magic.
In school, I’ve begun to study a new idea, called Learning in Depth. Essentially, students are given a topic of study when they are in kindergarten, such as apples, or trains, or butterflies… and they will spend the next 13 years (and beyond!) of their education learning everything there is to know about this single topic. It’s so that when they graduate high school, with a surface level understanding of so many topics of interest, they have something they can lay claim to; they have something they’re, fundamentally, geniuses on. I imagine that the first day, month, even year of this project, they’re thrilled. Everything is new, so why wouldn’t they be? They get to learn and explore and feel excited about something every single day. It’s that intoxication I’ve been talking about, and the novelty of “new”.
But of course, eventually, they’re going to get bored, aren’t they? They’ll know every brand of apple in the world, and every possible colour. They’ll know who invented the first ever train, or different butterfly migration patterns. And they’ll probably want to switch topics, because they don’t feel excited anymore. Here’s the kicker: they don’t switch topics. Instead, they have to dig a little deeper. Students need to look at something they think they know inside and out, and find something exciting about it, over and over and over again. And that’s something I don’t know if I’ve ever actually practiced.
So here’s my new goal: I want to find the magic within the familiar. I want to look at something I’ve known all my life, and find something to be excited about inside of it. I don’t want to feel like I don’t have to talk to a friend for two months because “we know what we mean to each other” as we explore new friendships. Does that sound bad? It doesn’t happen on purpose, and I’ve always been proud at my ability to “keep” friends for years and years and years. But it’s too easy to drift apart that way, entirely unintentionally. It’s too easy to find new friends because we are in a better vicinity with them, maybe, or because we’re concerned that building a bond is harder than maintaining one. I don’t want to feel like I’m ready to board a plane every time I don’t feel totally satisfied with the way things are in Vancouver. Not only is that a silly notion – but man, it’s expensive, too. Instead, maybe I’ll be able to find something new to love about my own city, instead of dreaming about what I COULD love elsewhere.
It’s going to be an interesting shift in mindset – but I think it might be a good shift to make.