It first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was taking an evening stroll in my neighborhood and I walked past an interesting-looking side street that I hadn’t seen before. As I peered around the corner I was struck with that feeling of, Oh crap, my time here is finite. What if I don’t get to explore that street? What if there’s another street that I don’t even know about that I don’t get to explore? It didn’t matter that at the time I still had three weeks left in my first neighborhood in Paris before moving on to the next, and after that almost three months in my second apartment, and after that another six-and-a-half months left in my life abroad. It also didn’t matter that even my rational self realized that whether in six months or six years or six lifetimes there’s no way I’d ever see every street in Paris that I’d want to see. No, none of that mattered. Instead what mattered was that inevitable, desperate feeling that this journey will eventually come to an end, that I’ll have to leave wherever before I’m ready to return home.
At some point when I travel, no matter how long I’m gone, I start doing the math. As in: how much time do I have left before I have to go home? So, for example, If I’ve been gone now for 100 days, then I’ve crept past the 25% mark but haven’t yet arrived at 30%; that means that after New Year I’ll be approaching the halfway point which means that when I arrive at Cinque Terre, I’ll be at 75%. Which means I’m almost done. It’s completely ridiculous, I know, and exhausting, but it always happens. Yes, I’m looking forward to my travels in Italy in the spring and my travels (hopefully) in Asia in the summer, but I realize that when I get there, the hourglass sands will be slipping away.
This past summer, after my surgery, when I was still in full recovery mode, I took a couple of small road trips, in part to shake the anxiety that I was supposed to be out on the open road and not camped out on my friends’ sofa watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and eating Cheddar Jack Cheez-its, and in part to alleviate my friends’ anxiety of having someone camped out on her butt on their sofa watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and eating Cheddar Jack Cheez-its. So when I was feeling up to driving for a few hours, I booked some cheap hotels and got rolling. The final trip I took was ten days on the Oregon coast. For many Americans, that would be their entire summer holiday, but for me, it was just the amuse bouche to a year-long feast. However, about seven days in, I started to panic: I have to go back to the Bay Area. I don’t want to go back to the Bay Area. Don’t make me go back there!
I had to laugh at myself. The only reason I was going back to the Bay Area was so that I could rearrange my belongings and then get my teeth cleaned and my hair cut so I could board a plane to leave the area for a year. Being in Oregon was simply a distraction from not having a place to live and from the pains of surgery. But the feeling still crept in.
Just this past weekend I messaged a friend of mine about this. A lifelong New Yorker and fellow vagabond, she and her husband recently moved away from New York City. Both freelancers, they’re spending a few months in Florida, and in the Spring they’ll move to Venice, ideally for the long haul. She told me she’s been having a bit of a “personality split.” On the one hand, she’s getting excited about her future in Venice (not only because she’ll get to see me; I hear the food is good, too). On the other hand, she wants to enjoy her time exploring Florida. Getting excited about future travel while in the midst of present travel while simultaneously wanting to halt time so as to not accelerate to the future travel (that you’re, of course, looking forward to) seems perfectly normal to me.
In general, I believe there are two types of travelers: those who go to a place, enjoy it, but in the end are happy to come home; and those who, no matter how long they’re gone, wish the road was endless. Clearly, I’m in the latter category. It’s not about not liking the place I call “home” (though right now “home” is a series of scattered boxes in various friends’ garages) or not finding happiness when I’m there. I have good friends and a good job, and the region where my mail is accumulating is a good place to live. But even after two decades living there it feels like a temporary place for me, and there is little I feel nostalgic about when I’m away. In The Geography of Bliss, author Eric Weiner says that there is “a simple question to identify your true home: where do you want to die?” The fact is, I haven’t a clue what the answer to that question is for me; I think at this point I want to be wherever my last adventure takes me. My mom recently mentioned someone she knows who dropped dead suddenly (of natural causes; I think he was in his 70s or 80s) while traveling in Spain. Sign me up for that. Not on this trip, of course, but sign me up for that in a few decades.
At my core it’s clear that I have a wandering spirit. I thrive in solitude, adventure, and the unknown, and I’ve never had a desire to settle down in domesticity. It is a privilege of my life to have a job that offers me this time and the finances to be able to afford it, but at the same time the decisions I’ve made along the way have cultivated a life where I can travel so freely; I have no real roots tying me down, nothing to stop me from stashing my stuff in friends’ garages and hitting the road. Yes, right now there are things that I miss about the US (crunchy organic natural peanut butter (with salt) and Cheddar Jack Cheez-its come to mind), and I imagine that there would be more things I’d miss were I gone for several years. But if given the choice (and a work visa), I don’t think I’d return. After all, crunchy organic natural peanut butter (don’t forget the salt) and Cheddar Jack Cheez-its can easily be tucked into carry-on bags.
Just in case you happen to bump into me at baggage claim.