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. Totally relatable and you’re definitely not the the only one who gets those feels! Even forgetting the travelling aspect of it all – there’s places & activities in my hometown that I avoid for the same nostalgic reasons. Thanks for putting it into words for the rest of us 😉

  2. I could totally relate to this post! I’m the same age as you and I’ve been doing the expat thing for 5 years now. I’m torn between being absolutely exhausted of never having a real home (and hauling that stupid heavy backpack all over the world) and being terrified of settling in one place and calling it home. How do you pick a “home”?

    I think wherever you are, the people make the place. I don’t return to my former cities if I don’t have friends there anymore because it’s just too sad. Your words about “ghosts” there is so accurate. How can you enjoy your favorite cafe when you’re waiting on your best friend to swing in the door?

    That’s the problem with this life-too many goodbyes. Every experience has an expiration date of sorts. One day when I get too tired of saying goodbye I’ll stop moving. Until then, then benefits outweigh the pain. Good luck with your new adventure! At least you have people who love you in lots of different places, right?

    1. What is a home? For a 87 years old woman, home was a family she never spent time with, children that she brought to this world and hired nannies to raise them, birthdays she did not celebrate with them, school events she wished she could have attended, and the list goes on and on…Now, this old woman has a new home with many memories she created in lonely places, with people that she doesn’t remember their names and doesn’t know where they are, this new home feels empty of family memories that her children don’t want to come to.
      Ps, This woman is my mother, and she still is traveling like a ship with out an anchor.
      I also love traveling but I travel with my best friend, my daughter 🙂

  3. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you! These feelings are natural, or at least I hope they are because I experience them too. I have left little pieces of my heart all over the world in cities I would LOVE to live in! I nearly cried at the end of my recent Hong Kong trip because I was so sad to be leaving. But that’s the great thing about travel. Every new destination has the potential to touch us in a very special way. The tough part is deciding whether to revisit an old favorite or find a new one.

  4. Liz, I’ve been following your blog for a little while now and have truly enjoyed your refreshing honesty about everything! I especially enjoyed this post. It really tugged at my heart strings. I completely feel and understand everything you’re going through. I recently bought my one way ticket to move to Thailand in September and every other minute I’m flip flopping between extreme nausea and extreme happiness!
    I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in the cape after college and loved my experience so much I opted to do it again the following summer and although the second summer was wonderful and exciting and full of adventures it just didn’t hold the same sense of ‘amazing-ness’ as that first summer did. It wasn’t the same people, I wasn’t the same person etc. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, it just wasn’t the same experience. I have been back to visit for a week at a time since then, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly! But I also had to go into my visits with a completely different perspective; I had to view myself as a visitor not a “wash-ashore” (those that live and work on the island for summer seasons but not year round) and maintain a whole different outlook.
    The best advice I can pass along to cope with the nostalgia is to really never try to recreate a moment or experience. Everything can only happen once, so in order to enjoy a place again, it has to be in a different way!
    Keep it up, you’ve really been such an inspiration to me! I’m only working on my 4th blog post so far but I hope someday I can reach as many people as you and inspire those that are contemplating travel!

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