A journey’s bookends: anticipation and reminiscence

A traveler's bookends - Chris Carruth dot com
Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were
, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
–A.A. Milne

Anticipation and reminiscence are two often overlooked aspects of our travels – the forgotten bookends our of journeys.  It’s easy to forget, in our haste and excitement, that the dreaming and scheming, as well as remembering, is as much a part of travel as is the actual experience.   I recall being in my mid-20’s and spending hours researching (read: romanticizing) my new Korean home and the ESL position I was soon to take.  Daydreaming about the land of the morning calm was just as potent an antidote to the day-to-day banality I felt I was drudging through as was the eventual time I spent living there.  The pre-departure habits I developed evolved into the rituals that I still observe today.  Xe.com for currency rates.  The U.S. State department for warnings (often unheeded) and national background information.  Various language resources to make the inevitable linguistic awkwardness less so upon arrival.  And, of course, using seasonal weather reports to inform my clothing choices.  I looked at scores of photos and read voraciously on the history and  culture and foods and language.  The mounting excitement I felt in the weeks leading up to my departure and the release I experienced when finally boarding that plane…that was as important as the months I spent toiling and exploring the tiny Korean peninsula.

And, on the other end, we have the return.  Coming home with outlandish tales of newfound amateur immigrant status and narrowly averted debacles.  Stories of food markets, raw fish, majestic sunsets, vulgar rubbish piles and soju soaked Saturdays.  In sharing our experiences we’re, in no small way, reliving our travels.  We subject friends and family to photos that will always mean more to us.  Paul Theroux can be quoted, “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.”, yet I’d disagree with him and say that we need to recall our trials and travails as well as  our triumphs for this allows us to view our experiences as a whole and not in some reductive, simplified manner.  Returning home calls for an honest nostalgia, if not for posterity’s sake, then simply to better appreciate the good times.  And how can we begin to appreciate the bitter without the sweet?
I’ll leave you with a case in point:  Homer’s 8th century classic, “Odyssey” is compromised of 24 books, yet the journey itself is a mere 4 volumes long (1/6 or 16.67% for the mathematically inclined).  What’s in the other 20 books  you ask (aka the bulk of the Odyssey)?  That’s the build-up, the anticipation, the planning, the return; that’s life happening.  The takeaway is that traveling doesn’t start when we set down “in-country” anymore than it ends when we board the final plane home.  The vagabonding spirit is conceived deep within us, when we become pregnant with the desire for emotional, mental, spiritual or physical adventures and, so long as we remain inwardly and outwardly curious, it never dies.
Okay, enough waxing philosophically about anticipation and reminiscence – what about you?   What is your story, what are your rituals?  What is your favorite part about planning travels or coming home?

Posted by | Comments (10)  | February 6, 2012
Category: General, Vagabonding Life

10 Responses to “A journey’s bookends: anticipation and reminiscence”

  1. Nanoonka Says:

    I think you mention a great point! In my previous travels there were moments of downright misery that in hindsight I seem to look back lovingly on. Granted London is a cold, bleak, and miserable place during the wrong season for a traveler with a very tight purse- not to mention it being a bit “sketchy.” While I was there I loathed the dirty floor in my hostel-like accommodations while secretly laughing somewhat madly internally at the literal “water closet” I had paid extra for when in the end I had to steal toilet paper from the community bathroom. But in hindsight, it was all part of the experience. The bad turned to good as while I wasn’t necessarily having the perfect dream-like vacation I was feeling alive, all senses firing. I was actually doing it, I was actually there. Thousands of miles away from home in a foreign land, with a foreign government trying to count my foreign currency as quickly as a I could to try and pass as a local-and failing miserably at that. I know of no other place a 4-pack of Duracell batteries cost’s 8 pounds! I got swindled, and not even by a local-but by a another foreigner who had set-up shop in my vacation destination. It’s all part of the experience and those moments, which seem so frustrating at the time, end up being the bread and butter of the stories we share and the fuel to the fire that drives the engine to travel. In all the places I’ve gone so far I have to say that I have had one ritual- a good cup of coffee and a good spot to people watch, to view the world going by so strangely and yet so familiar. To belong and yet to be so different. I had no idea that the excitement, anxiety, and joy I felt after finalizing that first ticket from JFK to Reykjavik was only a drop of water in the ocean of emotions and experiences my future travels would bestow upon me. Let the tidal wave hit me once again. 🙂

  2. Chris Carruth Says:

    “To belong and yet to be so different.” Well said. That feeling is hard to capture at “home”, but all too easy to find in your travels. Thanks for sharing your memories on London. It’s a fantastically diverse place, one that I wish I could devote more time to (Next time I’m there though, I’ll be sure to bring my own sun…)

  3. Rolf Potts Says:

    For as long as I can remember, maps have provided an intoxicating focus to my travel daydreams. As Rosita Forbes noted: “That is the charm of a map. It represents the other side of the horizon where everything is possible.”

  4. Pier-Olivier Says:

    Each time I am with friends with whom I traveled it is indeed as nice to remember the crazy stuff than it was doing it (usually the bad like getting arrested in a bank xD).

    In retrospect I will document my next travel better because I am sure we don’t remember many many funny things that we did! (photography helps but it ruins a bit of the moment when you have to take it out imho)

  5. GypsyGirl Says:

    Daydreaming keeps one’s spirit fresh! When I was a teenager, looking back through photos and journal entries of my first travels became distracting to my ‘back home’ life. Which in retrospect is why I decided to indefinitely explore. Pooh’s view of the world is wonderful. Chris, have you read either of Benjamin Hoff’s books, The Tao of Pooh, or The Te of Piglet?

  6. Jessica Rawlins Says:

    “The vagabonding spirit is conceived deep within us, when we become pregnant with the desire for emotional, mental, spiritual or physical adventures and, so long as we remain inwardly and outwardly curious, it never dies.” I often feel when I’ve returned I’m always itching to relive my travels with others and plan another trip somewhere immediately. Well thought piece. Esp the Winne the Pooh quote.

  7. DEK Says:

    The trip anticipated and the trip remembered are completely different and independent experiences, resembling each other only in that most of the people we know will be only politely — and briefly — interested.

  8. Chris Carruth Says:

    @Pier – I’m going to steal from Thoreaux, “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect”. As for photography, it can take away from the moment, but I’d challenge you to move beyond the common snapshot and try to conceptualize a scene or capture that decisive moment. Shooting a quick pick of the Taj Mahal might take away from the moment, but if you walk around the grounds, study the angle, the light, the people…if you study your subject and look for that great shot, you can immerse yourself on a whole ‘nother level.

    @GypsyGirl – Long live the daydream, that killer of the unrelenting banality!!! I’ve heard of the both books, but haven’t read them…guess it’s high time to bump them up on my reading list 😉

    @Jessica – I’m glad it resonated with you. And I can relate, the moment I return home, or to whatever resembles a quite corner, my mind turns to those recent travels. And invariably I add the memories to a personal high-light reel that I often relive in my head. Photos and journals help slow down the moment.

    @DEK – You’re on to something there. The romance (or anticipation) and reality (and by extension, remembrance) of a trip are often two completely different things. That said, different doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad. You’re right on about the disinterest though. I often don’t speak of my travels unless prompted and once those floodgates are open…it’d be easier getting Pandora back in here box.

  9. GypsyGirl Says:

    @Chris, You should! Pooh is the ultimate Uncarved Block. Next time you come to a bridge play ‘pooh sticks’ and toss one in for me too 🙂

  10. Ted Beatie Says:

    Like Rolf, one the first things I get when planning a trip is a map. Sure I’ll research on Google Maps, but it’s the weatherproof foldout tyvek map that makes me really start to feel like a trip is real.

    Coming home, well, indoor plumbing that isn’t self-flush and can take TP is always a thing to look forward to 😉