For the last few months I have divided my time between Florida, Seattle, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and The Netherlands. The urge to travel is something that I have felt woven into my soul for years, but unfortunately something that I haven’t had much of a chance to do until recently. But as I come down from my European backpacking high and plan where the hell I’m going next, I wanted to attempt to figure out what is is exactly that I learned by leaving everything that I’ve ever known behind, stuffing my life into a backpack, and finally buying the ticket. As I have paraphrased relentlessly, you lose a part of yourself when traveling and find something that you never knew was there. I believe that, on some level, I found the truest version of myself that I have ever come to know. It was nice finally meeting me.
The memories of Europe feel like a dream despite being only a few weeks old. When I go through the photographs I took it’s like looking at the memories of an entirely different person. It’s strange the things that we remember but even stranger are the things that we forget. The entire time I was in Europe I said countless times that it was as if I was watching the world through someone else’s eyes. In fact, every new city that I found myself in I audibly said, “You’re in [blank],” as a way of reminding myself of the reality I had stumbled into. I don’t think I’ve felt lighter than when I heard “Paris” or “Italy” at the end of that sentence. I didn’t even know my mouth could make such a sound.
I managed surviving with the contents of a single, modestly-sized travel backpack, filled with my signature (if not cliché) plain black t-shirts, a couple pairs of jeans, and basic toiletries that anyone may need when away from ‘home.’ I also had plenty of Pilot G2 pens, a fresh Moleskine journal ready for me to bleed into, the pair of shoes on my feet, and enough cologne and pomade for five men. Now, I believe that the most important people in your life have been put there for a reason, almost as if you’d met them in a previous life and The Universe was doing Her part in returning you each to one another for some unfinished business. Above everything that I carried on my back, with me I held – for the first time – a sense of control that was entirely foreign to me, but at the same time remarkably familiar. I think I was simply being reunited with my true self. We had some great conversations.
From Barcelona to Paris, my brother/ travelmate Harman and I had not a care in the world. Sometimes we didn’t book our bus ticket for the next day until midnight. Once we hopped a train for a spontaneous trip across the French/Monaco border and ended up playing the slots at Monte Carlo. And we barely even planned on stopping anywhere in Italy other than the coast, but found ourselves in Milan for a few days that turned into some of the best nights of the entire trip, thanks to a group of fellow travelers we almost never met. Nearly everything was chosen on a whim – all we knew was what city we were trying to get to and roughly when we’d like to get there. But everything else came as the wind blew.
We ate fairly basically, relying on cheap supermarkets, bakeries, and complimentary breakfasts to tide us over until the night. Most days we’d buy a Metro ticket, get off at a destination of our choosing, and roam the streets of wherever we ended up. No plans or itineraries, the only thing looming over our heads being the time bombs of pre-booked return flights, something that I feel will be one of the heaviest regrets of my life, at least until I am able to return to the impossibly sunny coast of Cinque Terre or the streets of Paris that are soaked with the romance of a time gone by, once again. I have always thought there to be a distinct separation between surviving and thriving, however when jumping from country-to-country every few days, you begin to realize just what it is you need to feed your soul on a daily basis. And I’m not talking about the different types of baguettes that I ate – almost exclusively – for three weeks.
Both mine and Harman’s favorite memories of our trip came when surrounded by cheap wine, new friends that quickly became old friends, and the lamp-lit streets that we followed late into the night. In Barcelona, devouring cheap empanadas at midnight. In Marseille, staying out until 7 a.m. to catch the sunrise over the city from the parking lot of the cathedral that was only accessible if you hopped the fence. Those Milan nights, filled with gelato and wine from a plastic bottle and talks about life out on park benches until three in the morning.
Pasta, rhubarb ricotta gelato, and learning Australian slang in La Spezia. A beer tasting in Frankfurt that never saw an empty glass. And finally, a climatic night in Paris that I am certain to revisit for the rest of my life. One in which a group of strangers all agreed to become lifelong friends – even if only ever seeing each other through the screens of their phones but not so secretly planning to cross paths again in the near future, and sitting under the towering monument for which The City of Lights was given its name, feeling as if one of those old black and white movies had come to life right before their eyes.
There is a sweet serendipity of life that brings people and places together. One must simply open their minds to the chance of it all in order to come alive.
Coming back to Ohio (for hopefully nothing more than a few days to regroup) has made me realize that I don’t need all of those records and novelty items that inhabit my shelves, or all of the clothes that I never wear, or some huge place of my own to store everything that, previously, I thought I needed in order to feel comfortable. With just one bag to stuff my life into, cheap bread and cheaper wine, and souls that I hope to know for many, many years to come, I’ve never known myself more authentically than these last few weeks in which I got a glimpse at the truth of life.
Traveling makes you fearless and shows you the difference between what you truly need and what you simply want. There is no harm in wanting, either. But sooner or later you come to want what you need, and that’s where I believe that sweet serendipity of life shows itself most vibrantly.
You can’t run away from yourself but you can run away from a version of yourself that you didn’t know you were trying to escape in the first place. All you need to do is pick a destination and buy the damn ticket. Everything else will fall into place. Jump and the net will appear.
Watching the ink dry in my Moleskine is like watching the wet clay of my soul set as I attempt to mold it into a sculpture of what I hope to become. It’s a somewhat comprehensible string of thoughts that I will turn into a book of some sort when the time is right. If I’ve told you what I plan on calling it, you belong to the few. If we’ve crossed paths while traveling these last few weeks, you can count on playing a part in it all.
Compressing and analyzing three weeks of European travel is not something that can be accomplished in one short blog post. It can barely even be put into simple words, but I will try my damndest. My soul cannot wait to go back and discover even more about myself, getting closer and closer to the truth.
So as they say, you lose a part of yourself when traveling and find something that you never knew was there. I think I know what I lost – a version of myself that I wasn’t proud of before hopping on that plane to Spain. As for what I’ve found? Well, I don’t know everything yet – probably never will. After all, if I knew everything about myself what reason would I have to get back out on the road? But I do know that I all I need in my life right now is some good bread and coffee, cheap wine, a place to sleep at night, and new friends to share my soul with. Destined to seek whatever it is that I am looking for in life, wherever that may be. Never settling for one place or time, drifting from moment to moment and memory to memory, seeking that sweet serendipity of life, collecting all I can about love and life and lust and loss, never necessarily belonging, always simply passing through.