Everyone knows the curse of traveling—the wanderlust that sets in, making you want to jet off to a new destination before you’ve even touched down from your most recent adventure. But there’s another strange symptom of traveling, one that I experienced stronger than ever on our trip to Argentina last month. The act of traveling always uncovers memories of past trips and adventures. During our two weeks in Argentina, an unexpected flood of memories of my first trip to Europe createdthe backdrop of my mind. It’s like our journey to Argentina opened up the door to a room in my mind marked “Europe 2006” and I haven’t been able to close it since. It was May when my best friend Allison and I took off for a three-week tour of nine countries. A little taste of—well, not everything, but the big stuff, like London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam…Our first time in Europe and we ordered the sampler platter.
This flood of memories revealed the glaring juxtaposition of that trip with my most recent one to South America. My European adventure was a graduation gift. I’d just finished college, and the world was wide open, offering its experiences like fruit ripe for the picking. I remember the two speeches at my college’s baccalaureate service mentioned the thrill of the great wide unknown that lay before us graduates. In her speech, my friend Lindsey likened it to the sensation of skydiving—the delicious terror that comes right before jumping out of a plane, and the surprising feeling of floating, instead of free-falling, the moment you step out into mid-air. I clung to that image because it resounded so deeply and truly in my heart as I flung myself out of my college years and into the rest of my life.
When I think back to that trip to Europe, which we embarked upon only two days after my graduation, I remember it almost as if I leapt off a cliff and into that airplane that flew me to London. It was a trust-fall—I was leaning back, letting myself fall into the arms of the great wide world and convinced it would catch me, and care for me, and make all my wildest dreams come true. (I was so trusting, in fact, that on one of our first nights at a campground bar in France, I put my drink down and when I came back, complaining it was gone, my friend Allison—a year older and quite a bit wiser—grabbed my arm and said, “Never, ever, put your drink down in a bar!”)
The thing is, I can’t get back the feelings of that trip. The first night in Paris, we were driven around for a night tour of the City of Lights. At the Eiffel Tower our bus dropped us off, the guide giving instructions to come back in an hour. Dusk was just settling as we walked straight toward the elegant landmark, and when we were still a few hundred yards away she lit up in a ripple from the bottom to top, and sparkled like all the dreams I’d ever had.
Our picnics, our parties, even our pit stops were fun and exciting and full of new people, new music, new foods. I came back completely changed, I felt, and totally ruined for a non-traveling life. Just a year or so later I had the opportunity to go to Israel with a group of young adults like myself, and that experience was similar—the fun, the excitement, the openness. A few months later I traveled to Australia for a 6-month program, and the next year spent several months in Norway. Those trips were a little less wild, to be sure, and a year after coming home from Norway, when I went to Italy for an immersion course with my grad program, I felt much more grounded as a traveler. But still, there was always a different me that emerged from these trips; traveling tended to shake things up inside and make me come back with the contents of myself rearranged and refreshed.
This trip to Argentina, though, everything was different. I felt so much older, and so much more grounded. All of my other trips I had been single, now I traveled with my husband of two years. It was a fantastic trip, and we saw beautiful sights and had so much fun, but things didn’t thrill me in the same way. It was a bleak realization as I draw ever closer toward turning 30 in July. How much of my love of travel was connected to my love of being young and free, with life and time at my disposal? What else is different for me now that I’m older, and wiser? As I say goodbye to my twenties, what have I lost and what have I gained? What else, besides the thrill of youth, can I never get back?