When I read the old pieces that I’ve written over the years, I can’t help but feel like I’ve lost something absolutely precious. In a world quite literally ruled by profiles and numbers, writing is one of the only havens from the chaos. To actually read your own thoughts, perceptions, and current perspectives on things that are so specific to the time, age, and situation you were going through at the time of writing, is a unique experience. One that changes you. You live to lose. You live to start again. Reading and realizing what you had and didn’t at the time teaches you a lot about yourself.
I read my travel journal from my time abroad in England, a standard, black, freckled notebook with notes on the literature assigned and a few essays written in certain places. Reading them is absolutely heartbreaking. The excitement that throbbed underneath each piece felt like my own organ was waiting to be unfolded within the pages. I felt like I had discovered what was missing for the past few months. I miss who I was like an old love. The one you can never really let go of. God, do I want her back.
My essays were personal and incredibly detailed, down to how the air smelled in Stratford and how the cobblestone streets of Oxford permanently dented my Converse. I can still feel the stones in the arches of my feet if I think hard enough, meeting the bone curve like a yin and yang pattern. A conflict of spirits united at the core. I long for that feeling of disconnected belonging. The feeling of understanding I was a tourist but not feeling like I really belonged anywhere else. It was right there, right then. Nothing out of the moments that were happening every second.
When I was in London, I was going through a very terrible mental patch. Life patch, too. My life felt like the can of Redbull filled with a homeless man’s urine that I kicked on the main strip in London, late at night. It drenched my fresh jeans that I had saved for my London days, tarnishing them for the rest of the trip. My life felt messy, useless, and a pain for anyone to handle. People who interacted with me seemed to get their jeans ruined, and the guilt hit all at once. Yet, if you asked me if I would go back to that moment, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. I’d kill to be standing on the street laughing after I realized that some random man’s piss was seeping into my skin. At least it was a new experience. Plus, it was terribly funny when it happened.
I’d volunteer to sit for hours in the coach, watching the English countryside race by like scenes in the film. The ones where they’re fast forwarding to a new life or the protagonist is dreamily looking out the window as he travels far away from everything he’s ever known. I’d listen to the Beatles on repeat, plan out my future tattoos with strangers, get my fortune read by a lady painted green, and re-meet the kids on my trip, just to feel that anxious, thrilling energy again. I’d laugh at the scrawny boy wanting to start a podcast and strutting with his hips like a peacock, as my tour guide nervously confessed she was afraid of gay men hitting on him. I’d roll my eyes at the boy who believed women shouldn’t vote and who wore New Balance white shoes from 2002 and sunglasses that were custom made to fit around his existing lenses. I’d spend more time with the sweet girl who secretly listened to funk music and ate bread really obnoxiously. I’d re-learn how to properly drink a Corona with the boy who wore Hawaiian shirts, halfway unbuttoned, khakis, and Ray-Bans, even when we were going to ancient churches. I’d try to sneak a full order of chicken nuggets into the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with my wild roommate who hid hers in a bush outside. I’d ditch everything I have now to go back. Even for just a day.
I’ve learned many things from traveling. If you want to shave your legs in London showers, be sure to stretch before you get in. Chances are, you’re going to have to swing your leg up on the wall and hook your toe on the shampoo rack. You have two minutes before you lose circulation. Best of luck.
I’ve learned that most things in life are not like the stories. But some are. Some people will change your life. Some places will shape you. Crazy things happen on the daily, you just have to be in tune to them.
Mostly, though, I learned that life is not made for you. Nor are you made for it. Adaptation is survival, and change is inevitable. Therefore, the only way to ever really live is to change. Force yourself to go new places and do everything you are most afraid. of. Talk to the boy, sleep with your windows open even if it’s freezing, tip the street performers even if they’re male strippers (actually especially if they’re strippers), get your tarot cards read, stay up as late as possible, drink when the opportunity presents itself, wander to the streets that smell like weed and have men in togas lounging, do it all.
The realization of how small you are in comparison to everything else in the world is humbling. It will grant you a perspective you’ve never seen before. It is overwhelming at first and will probably trigger a few existential thoughts, but liberation follows. Very few things you do will impact the world on as great of a scale as we like to imagine they do. Disheartening? A little. But it makes life feel a little less scary. The world is greater than the zip-codes we confine ourselves to and the people we chose to share ourselves with. Even if it is just a day trip to the closest city, leave. Even if it is just a relationship that has lost its spark, leave. Even if you are just a little unhappy with where you are in your life, leave. Make a change and start again. There are no rules on changing. Only, if you don’t do it yourself, life will do it to you.