Travel and the Issue of Nostalgia

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Travel nostalgia

So things have been quiet here on the lil’ old blog.

The past few weeks have been incredibly overwhelming, and I haven’t been able to find any semblance of a spark of motivation within me to write. Or perhaps I should clarify, write something that’s not crap.

I would be lying if I said that my only excuse for not publishing anything was that I was too busy. For me, the issue goes much deeper. Since quitting my job and announcing that I am moving to New Zealand, my life has been one giant emotional upheaval. Don’t get me wrong, I am so incredibly excited about all these new changes in my life. Finally I feel like I am happy and following my dreams, doing the right thing after years of uncertainty. But considering the fact that I’m borderline OCD and have the tendency to overanalyze EVERYTHING, I can’t help but reflect upon what I am saying goodbye to.

Travel nostalgia

Travel nostalgia

You see, ever since I got back from Jordan, I have been dealing with the mysterious, complicated issue of nostalgia. Why I can’t be a normal person with normal feelings, I’ll never know. No matter how hard I try, I will always be incredibly emotional; feelings that are normal for everyone else are amplified tenfold within me. I can’t help it. Can’t I just be happy that I am moving to a place I’ve dreamed about for ten years and that’s that?

I think it all boils down to the fact that I feel torn in two about the life I have chosen for myself.

I love traveling more than anything in the world. Getting to discover new lands, following my dreams to far-flung destinations, experiencing cultural differences and standing in some of the most beautiful places I could ever dream about is beyond gratifying. For me, to travel is to live.

Travel nostalgia

But at the same time, I am looking for a home. Tired of packing my life into a backpack and carry-on bag, the other half of me hates this nomadic lifestyle I have carved out for myself and would love nothing more than to buy a house somewhere, a rock to begin building my life on. I hate that I don’t have a home anymore. I hate that I can’t buy furniture or towels or even books because I have nowhere to put them. I hate that I only get to see my best friends and family maybe once a year, if I’m lucky. I hate that I hate living out of a backpack. But if I were to change my lifestyle now, who is to say I would be happy settled in one place? See, talk about conflicted! Have you ever felt this way?

The way I see it (and what I tell myself when I get homesick at night for the home I don’t have) is that I am only 25 and I have my whole life ahead of me to settle. Right? Just a few more years of bopping around the world, I hope.

But back to nostalgia and the topic at hand.

Travel nostalgia

Do you ever travel somewhere, and it pulls on your heart so much that you think to yourself, oh yes, I could live here – I never want to leave!

Well, I must be a travel whore because I feel that ALL THE FREAKIN’ TIME! Like all the time, I’m not exaggerating. Logroño, Spain – check. Julian Alps, Slovenia – check. Western Massachusetts – check. Soho, NYC – check. Oxford, England – check. Anywhere in Switzerland – check. New Zealand, where I haven’t even been yet – double check! The list goes on and on. What the hell is wrong with me?

When I feel strongly about a place, I get so attached to the point where I get massively sad when it’s time for me to leave. Since I made the decision to up and move for a year to New Zealand, I’ve been overcome with feelings of nostalgia for all the places I’m leaving behind. It started in New York City.

Travel nostalgia

Travel nostalgia

I hadn’t been to the city for almost 2 years, after splitting up with my ex to travel, so going back brought back a whole lot of memories, good and bad. New York was a city I hoped to live in one day, that I was even planning to move back to when shit hit the fan a few summers past. Needless to say it was weird and difficult going back.

But the hardest part was leaving New York City to head up to Western Massachusetts where I went to college, and probably the only area of the country I could really envision myself settling down in one day. As soon as I got off the highway to visit old friends, I was hit over the head with a feeling of homesickness. I spent as much time as I could visiting old friends and old haunts, but when the time came to head down the road to my alma mater in South Hadley, I couldn’t do it.

Travel nostalgia

It was raining cats and dogs, and I was sitting in my jeep after grabbing a coffee at one of my favorite cafes in Amherst. Surrounded by anxious college kids prepping for finals, I sat and worked for a bit before I was scheduled to head over to Mount Holyoke. Dripping wet in the front seat, I literally couldn’t bring myself to make the drive over. I was overcome with nostalgia and longing for my old life. Like an total nutcase, I started to cry like the emotional mess I was. Luckily, since it was finals week, this behavior didn’t look too out of place.

College was equal parts amazingness and equal parts hell for me, but I know without Mount Holyoke, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have incredible memories of my four years in the Valley, and with this sudden, dramatic change in my life, I wasn’t ready to go back to the one place that truly felt like home to me. Not when I couldn’t stay.

Travel nostalgia

In fact, I realized quite a few things that afternoon. One of them being that I avoid returning to places I truly love. Over the years, I have been exceptionally good about NOT going back to places I’ve spent significant time. I only have been back to Cordoba and Salamanca, Spain once or twice, and left as fast I could. And I lived in both places for a year. Any normal person would be thrilled to go back, right? Instead I run the other way.

While I was sitting in the rain in my car in an overpriced parking lot, I had an epiphany (yes, I did just write that).

I think the reason I have so much trouble going back to places where I have such wonderful memories is that they are just never the same for me. Why?

Travel nostalgia

Travel nostalgia

Because more often than not, the people I shared those experiences with aren’t there anymore. Or they have moved on, while I am still stuck in the past: “hey guys remember that one time we…..”

Yeah, I’m that person. Shoot me now.

For me, the destination is only half of the reason I fall in love so easily. The other half are the people I get to experience it with. When I went back to Salamanca for the first time a year after I left, no one who I shared that time with was still there. It made my return very bittersweet. Like as if I was walking a ghost town, filled with strangers. It didn’t feel like “my city” anymore.

Travel nostalgia

Travel nostalgia

Deep down I knew how sad I would be if I went to Mount Holyoke knowing that all my college friends weren’t there with me. Maybe that’s why I am always looking forward at new places to see instead of wanting to go back to places I’ve been and loved. It’s like I’m running away from it. Sweet Jesus, that can’t be healthy.

But is that to say if I were to move back to Massachusetts, Córdoba, Salamanca or Logroño, would I be happy? Can perfect experiences be repeated? Or would I just be holding onto a memory and be that annoying person who’s always reminiscing about the good ol’ days?

Travel nostalgia

Can you relate to this? Please tell me I am not the only one who feels this way! Do you avoid going back to places you’ve lived and loved? Have you ever gotten a case of the travel nostalgia? Do you have any tips for me to get over this? Or am I just a pretentious dbag with no right to talk about this topic at all since I am not even 30 yet? Pipe up!

Wowza, I really didn’t intend for my return to blogging to be quite so dramatic and philosophized. I’ll make up for it and let my next post be about when I fell off a camel in Jordan.

Travel nostalgia

Travel nostalgia

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129 Comments on “Travel and the Issue of Nostalgia

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  1. I’ve been following your blog for the past year or so and didn’t know until now that you were a fellow MHC alum. All of a sudden, the sky has lifted and I understand why I like your blog so much (besides my love of travel). We Mount Holyoke women stick together. 🙂

    I’m a bit older than you (class of 94) and with kids, my traveling days are limited and have changed, but I’d like to think I’m still a traveler at heart. It *is* hard to go back, and yes, I’ve also resisted returning to my old haunts. Its never quite the same. The people you are sharing your adventure with are integral to that experience, and even if you did go back and still find them there, all of you have changed so much that its never the same anyway . But … you have an amazing blog, and those memories are being recorded for posterity. Keep adventuring for now! Some day, you might settle down, you might not. Everything is an adventure waiting to happen. Do it now, while you don’t have the strings holding you down. This is more than likely the margaritas in me talking now, but keep on with your adventures, and keep moving forward. Plus, New Zealand and glow worm caves and hobbit holes are awaiting you! I am pea green with envy, and look forward to being an armchair traveler on your future adventures.

  2. Hi Liz,

    I can totally relate to EVERYTHING you just said. I always feel like this. I thought it was just me! I’m so nostalgic. It particularly resonated with me when you said about going back to places you’ve been and your friends aren’t there any more. If only we could capture those precious moments in time and relive them whenever we wanted, that would be the dream.

    I don’t think there’s a way to get over it, and I think you’d have to be a robot not to feel like this, it’s a lovely characteristic and you have every right to be nostalgic, 30 or not! 🙂

    I have a habit of going back to all the places that I’ve been and then I sometimes feel disappointed as it’s just not the same but I constantly have to remind myself to live in the moment rather than looking too far forward or too far back. See it through different eyes. Count each experience as separate. Sometimes you miss the new adventures going on around you when you’re missing the ones in the past.


  3. You hit the nail on the head Liz! Travelling is a lot like relationships and I think a lot of us have committment issues, itchy feet, self-sabotage good places just as much (if not more) as we do with other halves! I’m awful, I haven’t been back to the same places since I was like 16 but I have a big fear of missing out syndrome and I don’t want to ruin the amazing memories I already have. I think it’s a natural thing and (massive cliche alert) if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be and I will somehow find my way back wherever it may be!

  4. I feel like you did a really good job of putting some sort of hard-to-explain feelings into words with this post! I really relate to it. I’m about to move from the Outer Banks to London (after growing up in NY and living for a spell in New Zealand), so I get what you mean about loving to experience new places but starting to get disillusioned with not having any roots anywhere. I actually have a blog post half-written for when I make the big move, and I have a couple of the same exact images you used in it (the “I’ve left my heart in so many places” one, esp.). You’re so right that the people you’re with make your experiences, so keep those connections strong and you can always get that feeling of “home” back 🙂

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