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.”
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?