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Coming back 22 August 2011

Posted by uggclogs in Life, Travelling, Travels.
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Travelling is amazing. And interesting. And fulfilling.

I love travelling, and I intend to keep doing so for as long as I can.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to travelling, which are largely based on the personal relationships that you have around you – friends, colleagues, acquaintances.

The first downside is obvious and glaring: travelling means leaving places and people behind. It means saying goodbye to good friends and loved ones. Sometimes, you do not know if you will ever see them again. And sometimes, you don’t. Leaving a place can be emotional and teary, partly because of the memories and people left behind, and the uncertainty about things to come.

I was not there for the passing of my grandmother two years ago. Being far away meant that I had to make that choice: will I go now, or will I go for the funeral? Will I go at all? These are terrible choices to have to make. For one of my grandmothers, I chose to wait for her passing, and then flew back for my parents, to be there for them. For the other one, I chose to fly back slightly earlier, to catch her just before passing away, and then being there for her death and her funeral. But the flight was so long, that I did not know if I would make it in time.

Being so far away meant that for every visit in the five years or so leading up to their passing, I would say goodbye as if it would be for ever. In the cases of my Duracell bunny grandmothers that meant saying goodbye often. And it takes its toll emotionally.

The second downside to travelling is that every moment has to matter. Going back to see family and friends, you try to fit everyone in to a tight schedule. You want to connect, immediately. You need to make those memories. You must say yes to all opportunities. Being back with family for one week sometimes means you feel you cannot just sit and hang out, watch TV, read a book. Because time is prescious; you feel that you must fill it. It all must matter.

And seeing parents, cousins, friends, aunts and uncles as you race around the neighbourhood can be exhaustive. I know many people that come back from family holidays utterly exhausted. So the solution is to let people come to you.

I normally tell people that I will plonk myself down in the cafe I used to frequent (Nicholl’s and Co., here’s looking at you, even though you no longer exist) from 2pm until 6pm and that I will go for dinner across the street at the pizza place afterwards, and that they are welcome to come and see me there between those times. I do reserve some time for those most special people on another day, and limit myself to that, socially.

Obviously, this means that you will lose some friends, but, honestly, when I last went back after five years of being away, and told all my friends where I would be, only two of them could not make it either to the cafe, or to come to me in some other way. Their excuses were (and I am not kidding or exaggerating): 

“I am in a pub ten minutes away drinking with my mates, I don’t want to leave, so come to me!” (I was in the cafe with loads of friends) and

“I don’t think I can come to you that early on that day, because I will probably go out drinking the night before and will probably be hung over. Can’t you come to my house, it’s only an hour away?” (emphasis added by me)

Needless to say, sometimes, you separate the chaff from the wheat in this manner.

But the most surprising thing about travelling is the impact it can have on the people that stay behind. I know this to be true, yet it still surprises me.

After travelling for a year in her youth, my mother was asked what it was like to be back by her eldest sister. “Boring” my mother replied, “nothing has changed.” Her sister became annoyed and angry with my mother for saying this.

You see, when travelling, you meet yourself. You see sides to yourself that you have never before encountered. You learn that you can be resilient or tolerant, you can be spontaneous or uncomfortable, you start seeing more points of view, and question your own beliefs. You push your boundaries, and find the ones that you cannot cross. You lose your temper and find yourself. Sometimes, your opinions are cemented, other times, they are completely toppled.

For example, when I was fourteen, I thought I was awkward and, socially, a bit of a recluse. Through school and my peer group, I had been conditioned to believe that I was not interesting and had little to contribute, so I generally tended to shut up in groups of people. I was told I was too smart and uncool. My grades were too good to be accepted as one of the cool kids. I had no or few friends, and made due.

Then, I went to France.

For a whole year, I was the exotic exchange student. Certainly quirky, and different, but fun. And I soon made a lot of friends. It was only when I counted my friends and came to 65 (notice that this was prior to FaceBook) that I understood that it was not necessarily me: maybe my surroundings just had not let me blossom. I was able to make friends. And they liked me. (*shock*)

Making these kinds of discoveries, and understanding yourself, seeing the world, makes you grow.

And, to use my mother’s observation – it makes everyone else look like they have not changed. Obviously, this does not count for everyone, but some friends and family will fall into this category.

Even if they have changed, they are still on the same trajectory as they were before. In the same job, surrounded by the same people, and with the same problems to complain about. To amuze themselves, they are still doing the things they were doing three years prior, and expect you to do the same. They are not really necessarily interested in you and your experiences. Sure, they will ask “how was it?” and “did you enjoy it” but once you have told them “great” and “I loved it”, they have done their duty by you as a friend, and they want to talk about themselves and their lives again. The lives you once fit into.

Unfortunately, having spent a year abroad, seeing poverty in India, learning karaoke in Japan, sleeping under the stars in Uganda or living Sex and the City in New York, there is more to the conversation than “great, I loved it”. And some people will never understand this.

For some friends and family, you will be forgiving and understanding. After all, you can accept that they cannot relate.

But for others, you will start drifting apart. Even people that you were close to before you left can seem too distant and dissimilar when you return. It is a sad realisation upon your return that even ones that you thought you would never grow apart from will no longer be that friend.

So travel. And see new places. Remember that it will affect you, and it will affect the people around you. And not always for the better.

Luckily, there will be plenty of friends and family that do understand.