The Goodbye Traveler

by Keith Savage · 34 comments

Post image for The Goodbye Traveler

The goodbye.

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.”

Do you?

Listening to: Saxon Shore
Drinking: Balvenie 15-Year Single Cask

Original photo by Mikey Da Photographer via Flickr under Creative Commons

MarcelloNo Gravatar August 4, 2010 at 9:56 AM

I always say “see you later” instead of goodbye.. always works out better that way

Keith SavageNo Gravatar August 4, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Fair enough. I think if you make it a meaningful “see you later” then you’re achieving the essence of this post’s message.

Chris @ Chris AroundTheWorldNo Gravatar July 15, 2010 at 9:48 PM

I like this philosophy. When I backpacked through Europe in my younger days, I took a very cavalier view toward some of the destinations, mostly because I assumed I’d be back. Little did I know how tough it would be to jaunt off to Prague or Greece once I started working! I’m now more like Kelsey – I try to spend my last day or so soaking in the essence of the place, trying to wring the most out of the experience.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 15, 2010 at 9:55 PM

I feel this practice is the least courtesy we can do for the place and for ourselves.

ClaireNo Gravatar July 7, 2010 at 7:44 PM

The concept of appreciation is the ultimate key here-and I was reminded of it just this week. We were on our honeymoon and one of our stops was the Grand Canyon-an absoolute awe-inspiring sight if you’ve never been there. This stop was near the end of the trip and we were there for sunset. I was snapping away with the pictures and grumbling inside to myself about how crappy my camera was and how the light needed to be better and how there weren’t enough pinks and purples and how I would probably never be there again to photograph it. Then I stopped short, demanding to myself to wake up and realize…and APPRECIATE where i was. sunset at the grand canyon! a spectacular sight, no matter the crappy camera or the lighting issues.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 7, 2010 at 9:39 PM

Awesome story – glad you didn’t let that moment slip by you. And you’re correct, appreciation is at the very heart of this post.

AndiNo Gravatar July 5, 2010 at 3:34 PM

Ahhh, this is the WORST part about traveling for me. I HATE saying goodbye to places and people with a passion. What comforts me though is knowing that if I didn’t say goodbye to the last place I was at or the people I was with, then I wouldn’t have found the new place/people.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 5, 2010 at 3:47 PM

It also makes it that much sweeter when/if you return. Thanks Andi!

FarnooshNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Hi Keith, while I think that we will have flying as a privilege for many more years, I do take the time to say goodbyes or rather, au revoir in literal sense, to places. Most of my travels are with my husband so we do not say goodbye to people as we do to the place. One last look at Sydney Opera House. A few moments of just silence to remember the Paris streets and the sight of la Tour Eiffel. One last climb up Victoria peak to look over the magnificence that is Hong Kong. A pause before leaving the London tube for what may be the last time. Oh yes, I say goodbyes, some very tearful, some very reflective, to every place. And I think it’s extremely important to do so to put some closure on that current trip, whether we return or not…..
Great post!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 5, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Hi Farnoosh – that’s exactly the type of goodbye I’m talking about. It’s the moment of silence that helps us consciously appreciate the fullness of the experience. Hope to see you around here again!

Raam DevNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 2:59 AM

I think it’s important to remember that although we may be leaving a place, or those we met at a place, they’re not gone. They will still exist after we leave. It’s true that we may not return, but if we’re constantly keeping a larger perspective — a global perspective — then we can still feel connected to a place — and to the people — even after we’ve left.

After all, we’re not leaving planet Earth… and in the bigger picture of things, Earth really is a very small place!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 11:27 AM

Hey Raam – our travel technology really does make the Earth feel small from a distance perspective. Depth-wise, looking at cultures, the Earth is enormous and never fully within the grasp of any human.

This is a good reminder. Thanks Raam!

LaurenNo Gravatar July 3, 2010 at 10:07 AM

A great perspective to have and one that people are afraid to admit. I especially love your last paragraph and the “live deeply” sentiment. Great post. Thanks Keith!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 11:24 AM

Thanks Lauren. It can be tough to accept you might not return.

AudreyNo Gravatar July 3, 2010 at 3:12 AM

I agree with the concept of traveling like you’ll never return to a place, but want to add the caveat: when you are traveling in that country, make sure you don’t overdo it so that you actually enjoy and experience that place. We’ve met so many people in South America who were racing because they had to get “everything” done on this trip. They got burnt out. So, enjoy the moment, but be OK with not seeing everything on your original wish list.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 11:23 AM

I agree with you Audrey. My main thrust is actually to slow down and consciously appreciate every moment. First and foremost, understand that you can only ever see a slice of a country.

SofiaNo Gravatar July 2, 2010 at 6:27 AM

Travel as though you’ll never return, live like there was no tomorrow.
Living in the moment is the most powerful thing, yet it can be so hard to do.

I really enjoyed reading this post, thanks!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Exactly. That’s a good summary Sofia. Thanks!

EricaNo Gravatar July 2, 2010 at 1:21 AM

On our last night in Japan we had our goodbye dinner – this is usually when we splurge on an amazing restaurant. There is this AMAZING restaurant in the Roppongi district called Gonpachi in which we toasted the night away while eating phenomenal food. Not only was it a “goodbye” but a “thank you”.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Cool, I like the idea. A send-off meal.

JoAnnaNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 9:50 PM

I like to believe that I’ll return to all the places I loved when I visited the first time, but there are so many places that I want to go that I just don’t think it’s realistic to believe that I’ll return to all of them. So, with that in mind, I try to live my travels in the moment and appreciate every moment I have with a place. Leaving somewhere and returning home can be just as difficult as leaving home was in the first place.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 11:20 AM

It does make us feel better to believe we’ll return to a place, especially one that we love or feel like we haven’t seen enough. The reality is too stark, however, and I don’t want any regrets.

Lauren QuinnNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 9:43 PM

Totally agree. I often say to myself while traveling—“Ah, well, I didn’t get to that, but I can always come back.” The reality is that I, as of yet, have never gotten to go back. Regretting the stuff you didn’t do, anticipating the stuff you’re going to do: it’s a great way to totally piss away the present moment.

Traveling like you won’t come back is like living every day like it were your last. And you know what they say: you keep doing that, and one day, you’ll be right.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 12:38 AM

I really like the last couple of sentences there. It’s true that the kernel of this post is a different take on living each moment in the present. For me, that’s a very hard thing to do; perhaps it’s difficult for others, too. Posts like this aim to make it a little easier.

GrayNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 4:16 PM

I always travel as though I’ll never return to a place, which is probably why I do too much on vacation. I always hope that I’ll return, but you know, life is short and unpredictable. We just never know.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 12:36 AM

Yes, that’s true. When I was in Scotland last year, I went with my entire nuclear family. It was my parents’ first trip to Europe. Sarah and I planned the trip and you can imagine how much we wanted to show them. In the planning stage, we have to just believe we’ll return or we’ll be on a race the entire vacation. Once there, however, adopting “the Goodbye Traveler” mindset is the way to go.

KelseyNo Gravatar July 1, 2010 at 12:47 PM

This is actually rather akin to how I travel, even to the extent to where I actually plan my last day and my departure to be as appropriate a goodbye as possible.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar July 4, 2010 at 12:33 AM

That’s really cool, Kelsey. I like the idea of preparing the goodbye – at least the idea is in your mind.

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