After writing about travel exhaustion, it only seems right to balance out that post with some notes on the opposite sentiments. The small moments fuelling the fire. The sensations continuing to take my breath away. The feelings that make travel addictive.
I mentioned in the travel exhaustion post that remembering why you travel is key to battling the fatigue, but why you go can often be an elusive question. It is something I get asked a lot and never feel that I can answer thoroughly. That is because most of the reasons are so small, so personal, so simple, that their beauty seems diminished when spoken aloud.
the sensation of new air as you disembark
In general, I love the feeling of motion. Whether it comes from a bus, a train, a plane, a car, a rickshaw, a taxi, a scooter, a horse, or something in-between, I am infatuated by being in motion. The seconds (or minutes) of preparation before the journey begins, the purr of the engine starting, the anticipation of a slow build-up, the moment when all of it comes together, and you go.
Trains are my favorite way to travel, but planes have their distinct pleasures. Preparation for take-off is a lot longer, which allows the anticipation to accumulate until you feel the nose of the plane tilt up, notice everything become quieter, feel a sinking sensation, and have no choice but to let go of all control.
If the departure is wonderful, it is nothing compared to the sensation that hits you when you step out of the train or disembark from a plane. A new air hits your body.
Of course, it is all a combination of nitrogen and oxygen, but there is something distinct about the air in each locale. Carrying the breaths, the sweat, the ambiance of its inhabitants, it strikes you with the intent of updating your senses to verify that you have appeared somewhere different from where you began. And your breath is now infused.
Sensing history & envisioning those who came before you
Our brains crave stories, and the best ones can be found in history. There is no greater way to bring these narratives to life than observing the settings of those tales with your own eyes. Most humans, I would argue, want to discern and appreciate what came before them, which is why we flock to ancient ruins, stare at antique spoons, congregate around notable buildings, and taste traditional history. It connects us with those that came before us, in turn teaching us about who we are, how we got here.
While sitting in an Ancient Roman arena in the center of Paris, I was electrified with the notion that ancient Parisians also used to watch shows and sports while sitting on these stones. My brain went into overdrive imagining what they saw here, and what this place meant for those individuals that came before me. Erected around the 1st century AD, those Parisians could never have visualized what the surrounding area would grow to become.
But their history remains valued and protected in the center of it all, enabling us not to lose touch with them.
Saying basic words in a new language
I am good at learning languages but tend to be awful with accents. It takes me a long time and many repetitions of said syllables before I can wrap my tongue in the ways required to produce the appropriate sound. Over and over again I will recite a phrase, attempting to commit it to memory in a way that doesn’t offend the locals. Most of the time I fail.
In fact, I am surprised that the French authorities even let me enter the country based on the ways I have butchered their language with my “jaaamepellllleee genniiiiiifer” and my renditions of the children’s nursery rhyme “aaaaaalouetterr gentille aaallllouetter” (this one in case you were confused).
It is one of my party pieces.
All jokes aside, I feel a responsibility to learn some basic phrases in the local language whenever I am in a new country. Granted, I forget them a few weeks/months later, but during the time I am there it is essential to know how to say “hello,” “thank you,” “please” and “goodbye.” People tend to appreciate the effort genuinely, and it usually works as an ice-breaker or is at least met with a smile.
As a native-English speaker, it can be incredibly easy to fall back on using English at all time. After all, a significant portion of the world has far greater English skills than I do in another language.
But, out of respect for the person I am speaking with and their country’s culture, as well as the fact that it is just a pleasure to learn new words and other ways of communicating, I always attempt. And, when I get it right, it is a childish pleasure.
Random magical encounters with strangers
I believe in magic because I witness it happening time and time again. It flickers across faces and down through veins as a connection between two strangers comes into existence. Whether it lasts 30 minutes, three days (a long-ish time in backpacker life), or 30 years, that linkage can seem like wizardry.
All there is in this world is connection. The entire universe is one, and we are all individual parts of that whole. Nothing can exist without the rest, and each component can only be defined in relation to another. From the energy that swirls as atoms that then rises to molecules, forming galaxies, stars, planets, mountains, rivers and the bodies of all living beings, we are all part of the same whole.
You don’t have to be traveling to experience these magical encounters with strangers. It can happen anywhere, at any time, with anyone — you have to be open to it. However, on the road, it can seem more whimsical because you are removed from your comfort zone, existing in places with others with whom you may not initially think you have anything in common.
Most of my closest friends and the people I have the strongest pull towards I met under the most random, craziest circumstances; and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
sun + music = feeling alive
I curate my Spotify playlists based on trips, and I have been doing this exclusively since 2013. For the duration of the trip, I will add songs to a long playlist that I listen to on repeat. (My playlist from my four months in Europe last year has 202 songs!) That means, I can go back and listen to the songs I sat in Beijing studying my characters to, I can get back into my Mexico City vibes circa March 2015, I can almost remember the bumps in the road in Ukraine based on that particular playlist.
Plus, I have been listening to the same sleeping playlist everywhere I go since 2013 – that one can bring up a significant amount of emotions.
Music is such an integral part of my solo travels. I have my songs for walking around big cities, my albums for road tripping, my artists for working in coffee shops, my tunes that link me with people and places far and wide. The only time I am not listening to music is when I am listening to a podcast, speaking with someone, or trying to figure out a word for my writing.
Clearly, I am not the first person to ruminate on this exceptional power that music possesses, but it still blows me away. And, I am at my purest form of happiness, when the perfect song comes on, and the sun is shining on my back — utter bliss.
expanding your knowledge
When traveling, I learn at least one new thing every single day. This may seem like an outlandish exaggeration; but, it is genuine. I mean, how could I not? From overhearing (okay eavesdropping on) conversations in local cafés to visiting all varieties of museums, taking the time to do thorough research on places and asking lots (and lots) of questions, I expand my knowledge.
Additionally, there are more subtle ways of ensuring your education never stops. Personally, that entails me walking around with my eyes wide-open and my notebook in hand, so later I can reflect on what I see, hear and feel through writing. I have said it before, but the only way I make sense of things and cement my learning is through the written word. This might not necessarily be the same for you; however, I urge you to find a way to turn the knowledge you gather into something more concrete for you to tap back into as you continue to blossom.
All the little bits and pieces build on top of one another.
For most travelers, new experiences are the rationale for wandering, and I am entirely in that camp. They make me giddy and power my enthusiasm. On the one hand, learning, tasting, hearing, seeing, reading, understanding something new makes you a more well-rounded person. On the other hand, it keeps you humble because you know that for every new addition of knowledge to your repertoire, there are infinite more for which you need to make room.
What are some of the simple pleasures that you enjoy when traveling?
Let me know in the comments below!
Vintage dress & earrings, Thrifted boots (last seen here)
Photos by Mel Costanzo
Originally published July 20th, 2018