A universal truth I’ve found among travellers is a susceptibility to nostalgia and a strong desire to reminisce. I’ve encountered the same struggle, but it’s something I’ve always been cautious toward.
Truth be told, I actually find travel nostalgia debilitating in some ways.
You experience these euphoric feelings abroad, connected to moments that can never be replicated. Because you, yourself, are in a headspace that is unique to that precise moment in time as are the people you’re sharing those experiences with. And it’s this realisation I struggle with.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wish there was a way to capture those moments of complete happiness? I think that’s every travellers dream, right?
There are so many moments abroad that I would love to replicate, to have again.
In fact I have often wondered, what if I returned to Latin America and followed the same route, stayed at the same hostels, visited the same places and drank at the same bars? Would I be able to recreate what was arguably one of the happiest times of my life?
And the answer to that hypothetical is simple, no, of course not. And here’s why…
At the time I had just finished University, I felt free. I had no obligations, no commitments, I was single and open to meeting new people – I didn’t have a care in the world. And I was travelling with three of my closest friends who were in a similar position.
I remember our time in the wine region of Mendoza, Argentina. We spent a day cycling between vineyards. It was autumn, the leaves were burnt red and the temperature was just mint. We joined a group of eight backpackers from across the globe, all around the same age. Most of them had just finished their undergraduates and were taking time off before entering the workforce. I remember stopping at one winery where we purchased a few bottles, grabbed a glass and laid in the back of an old cart, laughing for hours.
We finished that day at a brewery, singing songs like Tracy Chapman ‘Fast Car’ and Oasis ‘Wonderwall’. People we didn’t even know joined in. It was brilliant.
I would do anything to have that day again. To feel the way I felt. But none of us will ever be in the same place, physically or emotionally, again. So it’s a moment that can never be replicated, And perhaps that’s why it was so special, because it was a one-time only offer.
But letting go of the past, often involves letting go of the people.
It’s the people who make the experience – so they’re what you grasp onto the tightest – the one tangible connection to the past, to the experiences that made you the happiest.
I think that’s why we often find unhappiness when we return home and attempt to recreate and or sustain relationships formed abroad.
Now of course this is not always the case. Lifelong friends can be made, but it’s a rarity – because the environment is partially false and not transferrable to the real world.
So maybe the secret lies in simply embracing the impermanence of travel. Accepting that the relationships made, need to be transient, because it’s the short bouts of intensity that make the experience what it is. The environment lends itself to a false foundation, fuelled by the euphoric high associated with travel, making it unique, somewhat fantastical and almost impossible to sustain.
And I think that’s the key. The very reason I can’t recreate the moment I first saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Because it’s not the physical environment that leaves its mark, but the people you’re with, who make it unforgettable?
I can always return to the Eiffel Tower and see it sparkle against the night sky, that physical moment is easily replicated.
But it won’t feel the same.
I shared that moment with someone, who at the time was special to me. Seeing their reaction, sharing in their energy – moments like that cannot be retold, they must be lived.
People evolve quickly and deeply, whereas the material world remains fairly constant in some ways. So realigning the two, to recreate a moment in time, is impossible.
Someone I admire once said we should embrace nostalgia, like an old friend who stops by on the odd occasion but never sticks around too long.
And although we can drown ourselves in reflective thought, perhaps nostalgia is there to remind us to always focus on the present. No two days will ever be the same when you’re travelling. As the experiences you had on Monday, shaped the way you behaved on Tuesday. And that’s just day-to-day?
Consider the personal changes every time you return from a trip overseas. Even if you walked away learning only one new thing about yourself, the impacts that change will have, are profound.
Travel is unique in every sense of the word. It’s a feeling that is indescribable. Indulgent in many ways – an opportunity whereby we sacrifice nothing but meaningless money, as a way of gaining insight into the world, people and most important – ourselves.
But I think part of the ride, is seeing it for what it is. As they say – when the past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say. And now, when I look back on my experiences abroad, I focus more on how far I have come rather than regretting the things I didn’t do or craving the opportunity to relive moments that were unique to that point in my life.
Because I have come to realise that looking back for too long and allowing myself to be in such a vulnerable state to the past, simply distracts me from the now.