Varkala, India, December 2018
I spent January 3rd, 2012 to March 14th, 2014 traveling around the world. I visited over 40 countries on 6 continents; some by bicycle, the rest with a backpack.
Throughout the trip, I wrote a lot. I wrote about what happened, what I learned, about what lessons, energies, emotions and ways to solve problems I wanted to impart on others.
Naturally, once finished, one would have expected reflections on the trip as a whole. What did it mean to me then? What does it do for me now? Does it need to be repeated? Is there anything I regret?
It’s been almost five years since I returned, and I’ve written nothing. Why?
Writing about this trip is an exercise in forced nostalgia. It is to sit in a chair—after work, tired—or on the weekend, with the whole of NYC seemingly tugging me towards “what’s next”—the next thing to do, the next thing to learn, the next person to meet—and to deliberately attempt to conjure that pure, sweet, vulnerable, insatiable elixir that ran through my veins during those two years of travel—sometimes dormant, sometimes tepid, but always there, always alive, always ready to ignite the core of my being with disbelief, with profound appreciation, with a raging smile after twenty hours on a bus, with a feeling of camaraderie and admiration for those I’d meet, with a momentary view of the map of the world from 10,000 proverbial feet and the glittering circles I was drawing atop.
And why? Why do I need this feeling to write?
Because that’s what this trip deserves. It deserves perfection. It deserves a reflection that captures that feeling. And if I don’t have it, I shouldn’t write—period.
To complicate matters further, that feeling comes when I’m on the move. When I’m staring out the window of a bus, with the energy one has when going somewhere new, only to dissipate as the ride goes on. That feeling brought by the view of thousands of palm trees leaking down the side of a mountain, by the parallels I used to draw between where I was, where I had been, and where I was going—Guinea! Which looks like Colombia! Which looks like Kenya! That beautiful grapefruit sun—by women and babies plastering me up against the window in the backseat of a car that seats 3, and we’re 7, and the fact that I just didn’t care. Push harder, I thought. We are in this together. And I’m having fun.
At those times, staring out those physical windows, I don’t have my computer. I don’t want to pull out my phone and dictate. And then it subsides.
Next, there’s the fear. What if I can’t capture it? What if it’s limp?
To write about one of the greatest experiences of my short life in a way that doesn’t carry its weight, as I know I, as a writer, can, is a genuinely uncomfortable prospect.
And what do I even write about? Do I make an outline before? Do I just sit down and type? Do I describe the trip day by day? Country by country? Pick the highlights?
It was two years of my life, you know. Yes, I had goals. Yes, I worked towards them. At the same time, the point was just to be. To evolve. To change myself and let things change around me. It was to be happy. It was to take the sponge of the world and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze as hard as I could with the most brilliant of smiles, with a heart pounding of warmth, the thirst for a challenge, a love for big ideas and the addiction to making them real.
What about the people? Do I tell you who they are? Would you care? What would their names mean to you?
And the words? Really, what if I don’t get the words right? Shouldn’t I just wait until I know they’re there? Does it matter how long it takes? The memories won’t go away. They are there forever. A part of me. They keep me smiling. They are immovably, indescribably sweet. They water my eyes, and warm my bones like a small stove heating red tea on a crisp, cold morning. They hit me when I’m walking in New York City. They are there. Reminding me how enthralling life can be.
Finally, what about myself today? I’m a different person than I was when I started my trip. I’m different than when I finished. Should I talk about how this trip made me who I am today? Who I’d be without it?
Almost six years ago, I sat down to write a reflection on the first half of my trip. I put on a song by Sigur Rós, sat alone in a darkened bedroom, and penned my thoughts on my iPhone’s Notes. And I did a great job. I’m impressed with myself. I wanted to “bring it”, just like I want to now. I read this post to a friend of mine a few weeks back, and I cried. Sounds about right.
In that post, I wrote:
“But on a late, rainy night, in an apartment bedroom somewhere in the world and 5 years from now, I’ll sit there by myself, music playing softly, maybe a candle lit and certainly no one yelling, thinking back to all of that life in all of those far-off places, and I’ll simply have no choice but to cry. I guess it’s part of the job.”
That day is today. But with a few subtle differences.
It’s not raining. It’s not late! I’m in a crunchy beach town named Varkala, in India. It’s more than 5 years from then. And there are no candles.
There is music, though. It’s Florence and the Machine. She almost scares me, you know! Scares me because I would listen to her at some of the most poignant moments of my trip. Taking off from Newark to Switzerland on my very first flight! Touching down in the Philadelphia airport on March 14th, 2014, with warm tears sliding effortlessly down my cheeks, in the final minutes of the very best thing I had ever done.
So when Florence is on, it’s time to cry. To think back on those moments.
Varkala. I put myself here. I rented a private room for 6 days with one mission: to write this blog post. To free up space in my mind to think about what I want my thirties to be. Here in Varkala, I am forcing myself to be nostalgic. And still, something like 10 paragraphs in, I still have no idea what I plan to write. What I want to convey. How I want it structured. The tone I plan to take. Seriously, how do I do this?
Since we can’t really write without something to write about, I’ve made a choice. Old blog post by old blog post, album by album. I’ll look. I’ll listen to Florence.
I’ll write. Man, this is hard.