This one goes out to those of y’all who are facing an ending, the inevitable moment when you’re staring down the barrel of that final ride home. Whether it was a drawn-out study abroad program, or a quick but intense trip that’s coming to a close, you’ve got a heap of new experiences you’re leaving behind. Ahead is a puddle of warm, comfy familiarity. It’s bittersweet, isn’t it?
Every time this happens for me, I’m not quite sure what to do. Should I go out and hit one last “must-see” landmark to feel like I got the most out of this place, or should I meander around my old haunts? Am I happy to see my home, or sad about what I’m leaving behind?
Whether you, my new friend, have just started a trip where the end feels worlds away, or whether you’re at home planning an upcoming adventure, this is something every traveller has to grapple with eventually. We have to figure out how to say goodbye, over and over again, and how to hold on to the vividness of all the experiences that went on in a place that’s so hard to leave — wherever that place may be for you.
Y’all know what I’m talking about. Strap in for some feelings. Well, some practical tips, too. But more importantly, feelings.
Using your words
By far the worst part about preparing for your flight home is having the corresponding realization that the memories you made may fade with time. It’s like the longer you sit in that cramped seat, waiting for the fizz on your diet coke to finally subside, you’re barrelling farther and farther away from the zing and freshness of everything that just happened to you.
It’s the same if you’re driving away, biking away, walking away, or riding a horse and buggy back to the homestead: no matter what, you want to hang tight to what you learned, saw, heard, and felt.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could save things from our brains just as they were when they happened? It’d be like a flash drive you could stick in your ear or nose or something that would reboot original memories whenever you’re feeling nostalgic. Somebody get Bill Gates on it. I can pay him the $3.25 in cash I just found in my pocket, plus a spare euro and 20 Moroccan dirhams in the bottom of my travel bag. I think I might have a 20 pence coin, too. Does he accept baked goods?
Until that’s available, we’ll just have to work with what’s already available to back up these memories. Y’all already know about travel journals, I’m sure, and as much as I’d like to be ~edgy~ and ~cutting-edge~ enough to tell you to throw it in the trash!, it’s actually my preferred method of freezing time. What can I say? I like to write, I have a lot of feelings, and I crave quiet alone time.
It’s perfect for me, but it doesn’t have to be perfect for you.
You can record voice memos throughout your trip, then save them on something like Google Drive or iCloud, or film little videos with your phone that you keep private on Youtube. These don’t need to be polished or professional or in any way “good.” Write down all the dumb details that may seem unnecessary to someone else, cherish the “um”s and stutters in your voice memos, keep the bad camera angles and unflattering lighting.
These aren’t necessarily the moments you’re curating for social media, they’re the documentation of your own experience, which is infinitely important and deeply personal. Of course, if you want to throw these up on Instagram later, feel free! Sometimes I do take rough journal entries and edit them into blog posts.
Just don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself in the very beginning.
Of course, if you’re currently reading this at the end of a journey, thinking oh God I haven’t been doing any of this, I’m going to forget everything because Julia said so — don’t worry! And don’t put words in my mouth like that. Frankly, how dare you.
It’s never too late. You can record something right this minute, just a big old release of verbal, written, and/or visual brain vomit. It can be messy, out of order, too long, teary, giggly, whatever, as long as it’s true to you. Do it, and report back to me. How did it go? Did it feel weird? It might have, but I can guarantee you that every time you return to it, there’ll be another detail you’d forgotten. It’ll be a joy to rediscover that.
Using your senses
Y’all read Tyler’s post about beating homesickness, right? If you haven’t, I forgive you, but here it is if you want to go catch up real quick. I’ll wait.
The techniques Tyler mentioned to face homesickness can be flipped around to hang on to all the less concrete aspects of a trip away from home, too. What did you eat most often? What did you hear, touch, see, smell? Make note of these things, and use them to prove yourself wrong later on when you think you’re too far removed to relive past adventures. As you may, say, whip up biscuits and grits for your host parents when you’re missing home (my signature), you can make crêpes in your hometown grandma’s kitchen, remembering as you accidentally flip one off the pan and onto the floor the silly fun of that one Erasmus crêpe party that got shut down by the student housing supervisor.
Right next to the playlist of the childhood jams you made to beat lonely jetlagged nights, make sure to add a new one, which can obviously include songs local to wherever you’re visiting, but also general music that you just couldn’t stop listening to at the time. For example, Lucius came out with a new album when I was in a French pastry program, and I listened to one particular live performance so many times within those two months that I cannot hear “Dusty Trails” without feeling like I’m back in Yssingeaux, staring out our tiny kitchen window at the castle-turned-cooking-school on the hill.
As for the rest of the senses, y’all get it. Tyler already did a great job talking about those. You can touch a souvenir, see your pictures and videos, or smell fried food that makes you feel like you’re waiting in another tipsy line for a midnight churro. These are the aspects that go beyond just being able to remember this time in your life, they’re what make you feel it, like no matter how much time has passed, it can all come rushing back.
Okay, then, here it is. You’re home now, or you’re about to be. What typically happens for me is that the first few days are a happy mess of hugging family and friends, eating all my old favorite foods, and reveling in the lack of a language barrier, but then, inevitably, things even out and simmer down. The travel hangover is very real. Soon enough, the amount of people asking about your trip will thin out, and then those that are left may not have much interest in a response any deeper than, “it was great!”
Sometimes I even have an issue with those who really do want all the details because so much happened! It was good sometimes! Then so lonely I cried myself to sleep! Then so wonderful I couldn’t believe it! Then a little boring! Then a bit dangerous! How can you possibly narrow all that down to one conversation? So I flail and babble and hope the listener got something worthwhile out of my rambling, enough to maybe go on their own travels to see what I’m talking about.
Still, even as things cycle back into the old routine, you’ll never forget that it happened. You did learn German even if you’re not getting to use it right now, or you did learn to make perfectly identical French pastries even if you don’t have the equipment to recreate them, or whatever it was you did — it really happened. It was all real, and it was all worthwhile.
So hang on to the memories, read over your journals, scroll through your pictures, sniff a jar of sea salt to go rocketing back to your favorite pebbly beach, and look forward to the next time, when it’ll be just as indescribable all over again.
Do y’all have other tricks to stay close to past adventures? If so, tell me all about it in the comments, because heaven knows I’m no expert.
Happy travels, friends!