When I was younger and looking ahead to my adult life, the one constant I envisaged was travel. I fantasized about becoming independently wealthy (or dependently wealthy, I wasn’t particularly fussed) and travelling from country to country, graciously learning about different cultures and becoming a wandering woman of the world.
Barring unlimited wealth which would enable me to jump freely across continents, I was willing to settle for an international job which would send me throughout the world multiple times per year, as long as I could remain predominantly a free agent and have every weekend and evening to myself.
I admit, my youthful fantasies may have been somewhat idealistic. Especially for a woman who almost broke when she had to drink instant coffee two mornings in a row whilst ‘camping’.
The truth is that back then, I was somewhat narrow minded about my openness to travel. Reflecting honestly, I was arrogant. I was arrogant about my willingness to uproot my life, arrogant about my lack of desire to waste my money buying a home or a fancy car, and arrogant about people who seemed contented without a continuous litany of new faces and experiences penetrating their lives.
In my mind, then, travelling was what came naturally to me; it made sense to me. I could not understand how someone could be happy – truly, happy – never having made their world just that little bit bigger.
So just 7 days after my 18th birthday, armed with a Eurail pass and a credit-card for ’emergencies’, I jumped on a plane and planned to return home approximately three months later. I promised my parents I would be back in time for University, and I was- two years and three continents later. I will blog about many of the experiences I had during that stint abroad over time, as they were life changing in ways both extraordinary and very, very ordinary.
I have traveled many times since then, sometimes to explore new places and sometimes to revisit old places. Somehow one of these trips resulted in moving to the UK to resettle as a legal alien.
So here I am, living a life as an expatriate in London, full of rich and wonderful stories to tell about the places I have been and the people I have met. And yet all I can think about, some days, some times, is how much I envy the people who can look around them and know without doubt that they are home. That they have roots and see evidence of those roots every day. That they belong.
And I feel lost. Displaced. Misplaced.
I recently returned from a two week trip to Vancouver and Victoria; my city of birth and the place where I spent my undergraduate years. In many ways throughout my trip, I felt like I was home. The people and places around me were so familiar, so natural. I felt like I was seeing my shadow again in the first dusk of summer, that I was instantly more complete without ever realising that anything had been missing.
Yet, certain moments would catch me off guard and leave me feeling jarred. I would use a British turn of phrase that was questioned by Canadian compatriots, refer to ‘home’ and realise I meant London, find that favourite haunts had been long ago replaced, and (most dangerously!) look the wrong way when crossing the road. The back of my hand had changed. My shadow was misshapen.
And I felt lost. Displaced. Misplaced.
I felt for the first time that I was not completely home in either country, and longed for a simple life where I belonged without question and would stay put with ease. I longed for everything I used to view with such arrogant disdain, and wondered if perhaps I was the one who had it wrong. Maybe a home-based life penetrated with bits of travel was in fact preferable to a travel-based life penetrated with bits of home.
32 years into this wonderful journey, and I have to admit that for the first time, I am looking forward and yearning for simplicity. I am yearning for roots and ways to find evidence of them around me each day. I am yearning for a home where I do not feel like an alien, illegal or not.
Now, I don’t want to misrepresent myself here. I still love travel. I still struggle to make so-called responsible decisions and to spend money on savings and pet insurance rather than plane tickets and hostels. Well- hotels. I admit that I stopped frequenting hostels sometime around the intersection of the instant coffee whilst camping incident, becoming a working professional, and deciding I had been awoken one too many times by the sounds of strangers copulating- though I wish them well in their blossoming relationships.
I still have a sliver of arrogance about pushing my world to become ever bigger, though I am surprised to reflect as I write this that my world has actually been pushed the most when I am at my most quiet, at home.
But, perhaps because I am getting old and tired and boring, or perhaps because I am starting to value lasting relationships over fleeting ones, I feel my priorities have shifted. I still want to travel, but I also want to stay put.
If I could tell my younger self anything, I would tell her that travelling is inexplicably enriching and that it feeds the soul with compassion and understanding. I would tell her that I want her to grow as much as she can as a woman, that I want her to be a woman who has compassion for the world, and that if she is wise she will allow learning about others to teach her about herself. These are the gifts of travel, and for these I am grateful.
I would also tell her the lesser spoken reality that constant travelling is hard. Waking up in a new city in a new country on a new continent time and time again, and trying to establish roots in each one, is hard. Exciting, yes. But hard. Never completely feeling at home is hard. Always being the foreigner is hard. Sometimes it is nice to be a local. A true local. Not a local alien.
And, finally, I would tell her not to forget her home. She will miss it one day.