I have been thinking a lot lately about momentum. When it comes to long-term travel, momentum can be both hard to attain and difficult to stop: seeing the world makes me eager to get out there and experience more of it, even as the constant hustle and change of life on the road make me long to settle back down. Nobody warns you ahead of time that for every adventure you have, every Wonder of the World you see, there are a million pangs of fatigue and discouragement. Six months in, I’ll go from wanting to do this forever one moment, to wondering if I should just call it a day and head back to “real life” the next.
The thing is, as much as I bristle at my memories of real-world monotony, of a static lifestyle, of commutes and monthly rent checks and alarm clocks that went off at exactly the same time every morning, there are elements of my old everyday life that I can’t help but be nostalgic for. I miss having my own guitar, and a room where I could spend hours perfecting my barre chords without disturbing anyone. I miss BYOB Thai dinners with my closest girlfriends, and Wednesday-night yoga classes on my own mat. I miss eating frozen yogurt with my roommate while watching guilty-pleasure T.V., and sneaking out of the office for extended, gluttonous lunch breaks with my most food-obsessed friend. I miss having a job where my opinion was asked for and valued each day, where people had faith in my competence and my ideas. Most of all, I miss my sister: it’s funny how I can dedicate so much time, energy, and money to becoming a more worldly, well rounded person, and yet I can still feel so incomplete without her around.
It’s especially easy to reminisce about these things, to let the little holes in your heart inch together into one gaping crater, when you come to a crossroads in your travels. I’ve seen the bulk of New Zealand, I’ve held down two jobs here, I’ve ridden buses and boats and motorcycles and elephants across countries I’d never dreamed of seeing. And now I’m back in a tiny, deep-winter country wondering what’s next. Is there enough left for me in New Zealand to keep me here? Is there enough back in the U.S. to make me return already? Or is there somewhere else I’d rather be?
As tempted as I am sometimes to call it quits, to pull out my credit card and book a spot on the next flight to San Francisco, I don’t think I’m there just yet. Yesterday, I sat down and did something I’d been meaning to do for a while: I made a list of travel memories I don’t want to forget. Not the big ones — riding my first motorcycle, hang-gliding, learning to surf, the kind of “Aha” moments that make it into this blog and will be presented to my grandchildren one day as evidence that I once was cool. No, this was a list of the fleeting experiences, the tiny moments where I caught myself smiling and had to remind myself that not everyone was lucky (or ballsy) enough to be where I was at that exact point in time. The experiences that are small enough to forget, even though they’re the ones that have made my trip unforgettable.
Laughing hysterically over boxed wine and Tim-Tams with with Hayley inside our tiny caravan in Arrowtown. Floating on my back in the Pacific or the South China Sea at 4:00 a.m. with friends I didn’t know that afternoon, while someone played Sublime on the ukulele back on shore. Staying up all night playing guitar with some cute guy I’d just met in Australia. Watching “A League of Their Own” on my laptop outside a Malaysian shopping mall while waiting for my night bus from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. Haggling over the price of cassette tapes to play in the outdated Nissan Sunny my friends and I had driven to Lake Te Anau.
They’re small moments, to be sure, and ones that might not mean a lot to anyone but me. But they’re significant in that they’re what’s made this whole experience my own, in that I don’t want to forget them. And after making that list, I’ve realized that I’m not ready to stop having them, either.
I’m just not done yet. I want to celebrate my 30th birthday under an uninterrupted canopy of stars. I want to experience Melbourne like a local. I want to meet those new strangers who, six months from now, I’ll have trouble believing weren’t always in my life. But most of all, I want to keep having those little moments, those minor epiphanies that start with an involuntary grin and end up making this whole journey worth it.
I’m not sure what’s next for me. I don’t know if I’ll stay in New Zealand, if I’ll head somewhere else, or how long I’ll be at this. But eventually, I know, I’ll be ready to trade in those little moments for familiarity and stability, reunions with old friends, a lease and a fulfilling job and a new guitar. And when that time comes around, I’ll be more than ready to go home.