If you’ve been traveling for any length of time then you’ve been asked the same questions a million times:
The questions get tiresome sometimes, but I understand why people ask. To be honest, I ask them, of other travelers, myself more often than I should. People are interested. They’re curious. The life of a traveler is one that seems shrouded in mystery and romance, when really it’s more likely to be dust and exhaustion on any given day. And so we answer: enthusiastically on the days when we feel like world conquers and the last of the free people. Patiently on the days when it feels tiresome. Philosophically on the days when we’ve had too much wine or the news from someplace we love brings sad tidings and we remember a place that no longer exists.
There is one question that I truly cannot bear. Every time it is asked, I’m at a loss. I have no idea how to answer. It stumps me without fail.
How was your trip?
My internal monologue runs something akin to this:
Memories run like old movie tape through my head in a flickering parade of colour, sound and smells: things there really are no words for. I remember a hundred people and a thousand conversations and those handful of life changing moments, none of whom or which can be done justice in a trite answer. How do I sum up the awe of sunrise over Angkor Wat, with the ghosts of hundreds of years of history watching with me? Or the deep meaning of one sentence gifted by an ancient Vietnamese man who took an afternoon to teach our children brush drawing: Life is short, but art is long. How can I sum up the depth of my aversion to Jakarta? Or the absolute relief of sinking into the cool waters of Chieow Laan Lake? Or the physical joy of finding salad in Bali? It’s impossible to communicate the internal lessons absorbed by climbing a 75 meter high tree with no safety gear in Australia, or found on the bamboo floor of a meditation room in Ubud, or standing beneath the killing tree in Cambodia, or lighting incense sticks at the feet of a giant golden Buddha on a sweltering afternoon.
How was your trip?
Great question. Terrible question.
How was your entire year while I was gone? Quick, sum it up for me in three snappy sentences. Can’t do it? Indeed.
And so, I do my best. I can recite the stats and the stories. I can play back the highlights reel; but that’s not really answering the question. I can’t tell you how my trip was, because it has nothing to do with the quantifiable externals, and it has everything to do with all of the things I learned, the ways I changed, and what the world taught me that I hadn’t seen yet. If you have a day, and you really want to know, a traveler can begin to scratch the surface in answer to that question.
More to the point: my journey isn’t over, and neither is my “trip.” Perhaps it never will be, which makes the question a hard one to answer.
There is one voyage, the first, the last, the only one.
— Thomas Wolfe