Travelling is no doubt an absolute privilege. Being able to move around the world, trekking the ancient trails, taking part in the traditional ceremonies, eating the food, drinking the wine and meeting the people of a another country, or in my case so far, ten different countries, is without a doubt the most enchanting and enriching experience I could hope to have. But I wouldn't be doing justice to my own travel experience, or the experience of other travellers I have met if I didn't at least acknowledge the naughty evil twin of travelling: leaving.
Before you set off it is all about the leaving: leaving things in order, leaving your job, leaving presents, leaving parties, leaving drinks. And then you have left. Right? Certainly. The first days and weeks are all about the arriving and the new and the excitement. It doesn't take long (for me it took seven weeks) until you really learn that leaving actually means missing.
When you travel you can miss small things like showering without having to wear flip flops, sleeping without ear plugs, introducing yourself without giving a run down of where you you are from, how long you have been travelling and your proposed route. These things are teeny, and in a bizarre way missing these things becomes a badge of honour and a shared joke among travellers you meet. I have spent many a happy hour over a cold can of cheap beer bemoaning how much we missed sleeping in a bed that wasn't prefixed with the word 'bunk' in a room wasn't prefixed with the word '10 bed dorm', with the people I have met along the way.
Then with the leaving comes the big missing. Seven weeks into my travels the father of one of my very dearest friends passed away. I wanted so badly to be there for her, to hold her hand and stroke her hair. She is one of the bravest and strongest people I have ever met and I wanted to be there for her to lean on in case she didn't want to be strong for a moment. I know of course that me being there wouldn't have 'made it better' and even though we were in touch all the time, not being able to support her as fully as I wanted to was the first time I realised what being away from the people I loved the most meant: that I would miss important moments and that the lives of my dear ones would change without me.
This is true of happy moments too of course. My father and sister are both graduating from their Master's Degrees this year, and I couldn't possibly be any more proud, but I don't get to compete with the rest of my family for that elusive 'One Guest Place' for their graduation ceremonies. A dear friend gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy last week. I love that her and her husband send me loads of pictures, but I know I won't really meet him until he is almost a year old. Another friend is getting married and I won't be there to share her special day, we joke though that one of the bridesmaids will carry an iPad down the aisle so I can be there on FaceTime. The thing is, as a traveller you don't get to be sad about these things openly because you have chosen it. Choosing to travel is so wonderful so much of the time that it is easy for everyone (travellers included) to forget that it is like any choice in life: when you choose one option you have to forgo whatever the other option may be.
It turns out that for me choosing to travel has resulted in me losing the person I was in love with. I remember with painful clarity the way we laughed when people suggested that is was 'bad timing' when we met just as I had decided to embark on the journey of a lifetime. We giggled smugly knowing that those doubters couldn't understand how strong our love was. We busily and happily made plans for visits that didn't happen in a future that didn't exist for us. Somehow we went from crazy lovebirds trying on hiking shoes, to me alone in a hostel bar in Buenos Aires crying as I looked at his beloved face tell me over Skype that, despite desperately wanting to, he honestly couldn't handle me travelling any more.
There are times when, even several months later I am plagued by what ifs. But the fact is, like Charlotte shrieks as Miranda in That episode of Sex and The City, 'I choose my choice, I choose my choice'. If I had known that leaving would have resulted in me being broken hearted and alone in another continent, would I still have done it? Maybe not.... But I like to think that I would.
I chose to travel with everything that goes with it, even if I didn't know what it would all mean. Each step of my journey has made me stronger, even if some of those steps have been extremely painful. I am now someone who says 'yes' a hundred times more often than I say 'no' and as a result have done things I couldn't ever have imagined doing. I have placed an offering to Incan Gods at an altitude of 4,500m and I have stroked a perfect blue starfish 20m under the sea. I have kayaked around the coast of New England and cycled around the vineyards of Mendoza. I have climbed both melting glaciers and active volcanos. I have absolutely chosen this choice and I am proud of it. That doesn't mean though that sometimes I don't have a very quiet, secret moment that no amount of whatsapps and FaceTimes and emails and Skypes can fully alleviate, when I just plain miss the people I have left behind.