This funny thing just happened where I was thinking and typed something into Google (“nostalgia for something that never existed”) and the second result was my own blog post. Now, in reading it, I can say for certain that the nostalgia I feel is for something—a part of me—that did once exist.
I’m not 26 anymore. And nearly six years later I can’t help but feel a little sad knowing that I have traveled to places with eyes half-open, I have squandered opportunities in exchange for sleep, but more than that, more than anything, that yearning I once felt? To catch a glimpse of someone’s lived as it’s lived? I can’t say that it’s disappeared but the funny thing about growing up, and seeing more of the world, is that it stops being a mystery.
It seems almost impossible, but six—really, five-and-a-half—years ago, when I wrote that, I’d traveled to just a handful of countries: The UK, Canada, Mexico, Senegal, Morocco, the Netherlands, France, and Hungary. You see, I know this for certain because, where others doodle in the margins of a notebook, I make lists. And the one list that I know I’ll never regret putting to paper is the list of countries to which I’ve traveled.
Last I counted (as my homebound flight from Myanmar was landing in San Francisco and they told me to put away my phone), I’d hit 42. My three-year-old passport has exactly 100 stamps in it (entry, exit, visa, etc). Whereas five-and-a-half years ago I was a novice, I am now well-traveled. And I hardly understand how it happened.
This year alone, I’ve already been to two new countries, and the funny thing about new countries is that that feeling, the one where you yearn for just a brief glimpse into someone’s window, just a quick peek into their well-lived life, tends to return. And it did, with a vengeance, in the Dominican Republic where we drove through winding mountain roads until it felt like we were driving up into the clouds, watched people stare at us from the sides of the road as our rental car interrupted their lives for a brief moment. And did it ever as we ferried across the Yangon river alongside the day’s commuters, to Dala, then wandered the back streets, admiring the orderliness of what might otherwise be described as shanties. Soon I’ll fly to Tallinn, my second time past the former borders of the USSR. And this summer to Melbourne (so I can finally see if the water really does flush in the opposite direction, of course).
…But does it end? Six years ago I questioned whether I’d ever reach a point in time where the excitement stops, the yearning dissipates, and life takes over. I can feel it waning here and there, but end it most certainly has not. See you in six years, I suppose.
One reply on “Nostalgia for nostalgia”
I love travelling too, experiencing different cities and environments, trying to stray from the tourist path to see lives as they are. But I’ve also found that sometimes this mindset makes me treat travel as some sort of mission: I just spent the last week in Abu Dhabi and was a little frustrated at first that I didn’t really know where to go or what to do, and just ended up in the malls (which is what I said I wouldn’t do!)
Then I realised that I was making myself feel bad for no real reason: with just a week in a place I have never been to, where I don’t really know any locals (or even any thing about the city at all), why was I putting pressure on myself to hit the ground running from Day 1? Why was I expecting myself to suddenly uncover all a city’s secrets in such a short timeframe?
And that’s when I started to relax a bit more, and once I did that it was actually so much easier to see and enjoy what was around me.