It’s usually awkward, always emotional, rarely considered a travel perk (there are exceptions), and happens far too often for my taste. Take a second and think about some of the goodbyes you’ve had recently. They should stand out despite the increasing number of social interactions we have each day; real, good old fashioned goodbyes are being cut from our time-starved diet. So which ones do you remember? Maybe it’s kissing the spouse one last time before you jet off on some extended adventure or a tearful farewell at your grandparent’s wake or sending your child off to college. See the connection?
Real goodbyes are powerful. They are a cocktail of memory and emotion etched into our minds by the chisel of anticipated loss, and there’s almost always a backdrop of intensity and adrenaline. Some goodbyes flicker in our minds forever.
I once read in a guidebook that you should always assume you will return to the place you are currently visiting. That way you won’t stretch yourself too thin by trying to see everything at once. While I think this is generally sound advice, allow me to give you some new advice: travel as though you might never return.
Before you get too weepy, let me explain. Inevitably on my travels, I dread the last couple of days before returning home. The trip comes to an end and after a harried flight home somehow I’m back in the office stabbing away at the keyboard, almost as if the trip never happened. Looking back, there is no etching. The days are gauzy or gooey, half-distinct memories in low resolution. I might have said goodbye to friends, family, and acquaintances, but I never properly said goodbye to the place. I didn’t take the time to actually experience my surroundings. I didn’t officially end the story. I didn’t close the book.
Dreading the return home is the exact opposite of what I should have been doing: slowing down, turning off Twitter-brain, and focusing on the information coming in through my senses. Doing nothing, in this case, is committing the experience to memory. I’m at least half nerd, so I think of this as defragmenting my mind.
As I pondered this post, it occurred to me we might be in the golden age of travel. With energy crises, an imperiled climate, and economic depressions, is it only a matter of time before the freedom of flying around the world is severely hamstrung? Will some enterprising soul develop the next leap forward in transportation? I do hate to bring rain clouds, but the fact is that all golden ages end – that there is an ending is actually what defines an age after all. You actually might not return to wherever you are, so be sure to put an ending on your trip.
Rather than setting roots in sadness, being “The Goodbye Traveler” is a mindset that helps increase appreciation of the present. It is the belief that you might not return and it serves as a call to action. To live deeply. To treat the place with the respect due a good friend. To dot the final period and put a blank page at the end. To appreciate. Yes, ultimately to appreciate each present moment. Because you will need to say goodbye at the end, and you don’t want to leave anything “unsaid.”
Listening to: Saxon Shore
Drinking: Balvenie 15-Year Single Cask
Original photo by Mikey Da Photographer via Flickr under Creative Commons