“There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro
Travel means many different things for different people. For many, it is their two weeks of vacation, a weekend escape, or a winter break in the tropics. For others, it is a far-off dream that they hope to fulfill in retirement or fond childhood memories of family road trips. Travel means something very different for those who choose to live in, rather than visit, their destinations.
Long term travel allows you to immerse yourself in the culture and perhaps the language. There are more chances to meet locals and explore a place beyond the tourist destinations. Conversely, long term travel is more emotionally taxing; culture shock, loneliness, and homesickness, however minor, are inevitable.
The hardest part of months-long travel, for me, has been knowing what I am missing at home. While I have been away from home, a family member I love dearly has fallen gravely ill, and I am filled with emotions of guilt and regret for not being there. Another loved one has cycled in and out of the hospital from surgery complications and is currently back in the hospital fighting an infection. My niece was born. I have missed time with my Grandma that I will never get back. I will miss the first Christmas since I was a child where my brothers will be together in my province for the holiday.
I didn’t anticipate that while I was travelling, life at home would go on without me.
Ultimately, long term travel is not travel as we generally understand it. It is, instead, life elsewhere. Life, then, is a series of choices, and travelers choose to pursue their life in a different location. The melancholy ache of adulthood is learning that any choice we make forces us to sacrifice other possibilities.
After experiencing life-changing, exciting, perspective-altering, adventurous, difficult life, travelers return home to well-meaning comments like “that sounds so fun,” and “did you have a blast?” Our responses are hollow or stilted; the answer is always yes, of course it is yes. But it is also no. Can the complexities of life be summed up with the word “fun”?
The knowledge of what I am missing at home does not dampen my joy, but it traces a bittersweet cast over it. When I look back on the life well-lived, I don’t believe that I will have regrets. Many years from now, when I reflect on my time in the Philippines, I will smile as I remember snorkeling among purple corals and graceful sea turtles and the flavors of intensely delicious mangosteen and caramel-like chico. I will remember the wonderful, friendly, generous people I met and being called “Ma’am” daily. I will remember thinking I might die the first time I drove a motorbike. I will remember snorkeling at sunset with two new friends among thousands of sardines and night kayaking with glittering fireflies. At times when life feels dull and adventures are hard to come by, it will be my memories that sustain me.
There may be another life I might have had, but this is the life I choose.