The Road Less Travelled
[Wanderlust: a strong desire to travel.]
You often hear people speaking about wanderlust in such a way that you would think that it’s an infection or disease. Admittedly, I have been one of those people, especially after having just come back from a trip. I would go as far as to admit that I even suffer from wanderlust whilst I am travelling. It is serious. However, it wasn’t until recent reflection that I realised that wanderlust was the symptom and I needed to find out what my cause was.
[Escapism: the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities.]
This of course leads to some serious questions such as why do I love travelling so much? Without a doubt it’s for all the generic reasons; to explore new cultures, cuisines, art and the beaches! Oh, the beaches! But trying to decipher how much of it also has to do with escapism isn’t so simple. And if so, what degree of escapism is it? We all like to escape our daily lives every now and then but it would be naïve of us to believe that’s all it is.
As I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love for the third time, I recognise so much of myself in her words now more than ever. A woman seeking healing, connection to a higher element and clarity. And pleasure. It almost seems like she was running away from her troubles but it’s a reminder that sometimes you have to step away and give yourself space to process everything. Like Elizabeth, I too, after a devastating break-up, longed to be as far away as possible. Back then my “far away” was Brighton all alone on my 24th birthday. Although I had always been quite the solitary type, that was a new low.
So I guess that at first it was pure escapism. It was a mix of me wanting to know that there was something out there other than the pain I was feeling and my own way of strengthening myself. Distance refuelled my spirit. Whilst it wasn’t quite the life-changing trip, it did let me know that I would be okay on my own thereon.
Less lonely trips to my natal island of Mauritius, Paris, Bordeaux and Barcelona soon followed and were both light-hearted and enlightening. Paris is to me what Rome was to Elizabeth Gilbert, well except I am yet to spend four months there eating my life away (dreams can come true kids). Rome was Elizabeth’s rehab and the culinary over-indulgence was her method of therapy. Driven by curiosity and fascination of its language and overall culture, her journey to self-discovery started there. She discovered what she liked and didn’t like. What made her happy and what didn’t. What took her breath away and what simply didn’t. It was in Paris that I discovered my love for art, architecture, quaint family-friendly towns, churches (not to be confused with me wanting to attend mass) and the joy of getting lost (geographically). I remember spending my 26th birthday there and just walking for hours. From Sacré-Cœur right down to Opéra. In awe of the French conversations all around me. The many patisseries. The cobbled little side streets. I revelled in the feeling of not knowing what was around the corner. Paris has a certain je ne sais quoi kind of charm. You walk the streets with this internal warmth and smile, never really being able to pinpoint why.
To relish a scenario which would panic most was a clear signal to myself. GIRL, YOU ARE OKAY. It was no longer WILL BE, but present as ever – YOU ARE. I AM. I AM OKAY. But it was also a discovery of what I found thrilling. Some head for rollercoasters. Bungee-jumping. Speed racing. Surfing. Me? Put me in an unfamiliar city and I will make that ground my home. It was a challenge I gladly put upon myself over and over again. In places such as Nice, Strasbourg, Amsterdam and Bergen (Norway). Finding my way around without a map brings me such satisfaction and above all; self-validation. We don’t try to impress ourselves enough. It’s always for some sort of external audience. Always for external approval and acceptance. But our biggest critics aren’t the ones that we come in contact with on a daily or not-so-regular basis, it’s when you go home and close that door. When your public-facing layer slides off and it’s just you. That is the voice who will most of the time tell you what you have done wrong. Who will let you know how you are not where you are supposed to be. You have to find something that will tell that voice loud & clear: STFU. I am the one out there, living, doing things. THIS IS WHAT I CAN DO.
Last year was the most gratifying and revealing for me as a traveller and as a healing-clarity-deeper connection-seeking human being. It all started with me quitting my job of three & a half years and embarking on a solo two week multi-city trip to Italy. It was really either a multi-city trip around Europe (Switzerland & Austria have been calling my name for a while now) or focus on one country. I had always wanted to visit several cities/towns in Italy and this was the perfect opportunity. Thoughts of the food, the architecture and the art, oh the art, lit a fire in me I didn't know existed. I decided that I would leave for Elizabeth's rehab a few days after my exhilarating exit from what some would called 'place of employment'. It had been a challenging time there and I began to run out of patience and grace. So I needed something that would both excite and rejuvenate me. I started planning two months in advance. In hindsight, the rejuvenation process was initiated the minute I started booking flights, hotel rooms and train tickets. And as I began to read about the cities and towns that I would be visiting and began studying their maps, what was masked as anticipation went up a notch. I soon realised that I could possibly come back from this trip a different person. That particular thought was scary but in the same way thrill-seekers may look at a larger than life roller-coaster. It's that explosive meeting between curiosity and adrenaline.
As you can imagine, my excitement had soared by the time that I descended upon my first stop - Rome. My brief italian love affair kicked off as soon as I boarded the pre-booked coach that would take a group of us from the airport to the city centre. In that moment I felt so far away from home and so glad for it. It wasn't because I was trying to escape anything, quite contrary actually. I wanted to zone in on what was brewing inside of my mind. I saw the trip as a great vehicle to tackle each pestering thought and emotion that had been badgering me for however long. Without the constant buzz of my phone and infinite distractions. As days went by and I moved on to the following cities and towns, I found my internal voice intertwining its narrative into the art I would see. The buildings I would admire. The food I ate. I would compare a certain emotion to a dramatic painting, itself ablaze in so many emotions. I would let each sip of wine stir inside of me. Beyond the purpose of tasting. I would look at the complexity of a gothic church and think about my own character traits. What I allowed to project and what I left internalised. The outside and the inside. I found similarities in everything around me. It provoked important conversations I had to have with myself. It propelled the opening of doors that needed to be walked through. And as I did so, I became a lighter being. I even smiled at strangers (so long bitchy resting face). It soon hit me that each country I had previously visited and the one I was currently in were subconsciously chosen for a reason. They must have had traits which aroused those of my own.
Whilst I didn't necessarily come back from Italy (what I call a #tripofalifetime) a different person, I definitely became a more open one. I let myself feel and think as freely as needed be. I learned that I didn't have to wait til I was miles away to process anything. I was already surrounded by things to which I could relate. The narratives no longer needed to meet in the middle, they were already one. London, my home, was itself an emotion, a part of me, a constant pestering thought...and I continuously left it behind. The most important thing Italy did for me, was renew my love and appreciation for my city. A city with its own alluring culture. Architecture (still less grand than that of other european cities, IMO). Art. And the following I will say lightly; cuisine. In the consequent months, I went to endless galleries, museums and exhibitions. Tried different restaurants. Spent more time in places which I felt akin to (heeeey Shoreditch). When it came time for a family holiday in Malaga, I did nothing but enjoy what it had to offer. The sun, the beach and the food. Nothing more, nothing less. It was about relaxing. Which was the opposite of my following trip to Dubrovnik with a group of friends. That was about adventure. It became apparent to me that as different places had different things to offer, my experiences had to match that. I was reminded that architecture and art are in everything. Not just in museums and buildings. So, from the swimming pool I admired the spanish apartment complex that my family and I were staying in. The view of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic sea from atop Mount Srdj (no, I can't pronounce it either) I found to be pure art. The colours. Textures. Shapes. Symmetry. All merged yet standing on their own, in this frame. My very own eyes. Projected in the wilderness of my mind. As I sit here, typing these words, I smile. Knowing where I have been and petrified by where I am going next. Hello, curiosity and adrenaline.