What (not) to bring on your travels

One of few concerns I´ve had about traveling is that I would be spending too much time and energy thinking on unresolved issues. Thinking easily turns into dwelling and even obsessing. This is a little bit about the woman previously introduced as M, but mostly about the importance of not bringing bad memories or unresolved issues with you on the road. In other words, today I get a bit personal. 

Literature dealing with travel writing today more or less agrees on it becoming more and more autobiographical – it´s a story told by someone who travels, and this person’s recollection of places, people and experiences. A significant part is also what the travel does to the traveller, the inner experience. If you see traveling as a way of leaving your problems behind, I´m afraid you´re heading for disappointment since the only thing you have to bring is yourself (including your memories and thoughts). Everything else is optional, even if passport and money will make things a lot easier.

In my first blog post, I said that one of my reasons for leaving now was a woman – M. In her last email in May of 2014 she still said she missed me – and then I heard absolutely nothing. Needless to say I wanted to know what happened. To her. Us. I thought she was being inconsiderate and, well, mean, but I did assume she had good reasons. I just wanted to hear something from her that would help me understand. On the long travel days I saw myself  dwelling on M and the horrible question of “why”. I didn’t like what I saw. Dwelling can easily turn into obsessing – especially when traveling on one´s own – and I for one want to spend my energy on other things. The importance of getting some kind of explanation got even greater after reading Paul Theroux’s Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.  He there remembers when he 30 years ago called home to his wife from India and Japan only to realize that his marriage was in danger. This eats him on his lonesome travel, and by the time of his return to England he describes himself as being “exhausted and half insane”. Needless to say, he didn’t enjoy his fantastic travels at all. I´m not doing any comparison to Theroux, but his experience shows the kind of tricks your mind can play when you are far away and you have the time to (over)think. Again, you have to bring yourself along with all that goes with it.

I recently spent a few hours talking to a friend about my need to get some kind of closure in all this. As I was waiting for my train at Stockholm central station a couple of days later, I yet again found myself writing to M. I yet again told her how much she meant to me and that I missed having her in my life – in one way or the other. I sent the message and jumped on the train. As I was scrolling through my Instagram feed a few hours later, I see a recent posting from M in the form of an inspirational quote. 

“Be brave. Don´t settle. Say how you feel. Find your passion. Be true to yourself. Leave the job you hate. Stand up for things that matter. Don´t apologize for who you are. Love every ounce of your bones.”

Now, I generally find inspirational quotes an absolute menace. I usually find them shallow, they say absolutely nothing and they are pure cosmetics. They clog up social media feeds as paper towels do toilets, as spam mail do inboxes. Inspirational quotes are a lot of nothing taking unnecessary space and they are making it harder to see the interesting things. At best, those quotes only say something about where the person posting it was in his or her life at the time of posting. Most of the time though, they´re pointless, impersonal and add nothing.

When I read M´s quote I had my tiny but all-important revelation: she was avoiding talking to me, while at the same time posting quotes saying that it is important to ´say how you feel´. What I realized was that she was saying one thing and doing another – and it wasn’t the first time either. My first reaction was about two seconds of what can only be described as disbelief. Then, for the first time in a long time, feelings of happiness and relief went through my body. And I felt free. Free of her. The history, the ´how´ and, most importantly, the ´why´ didn’t matter anymore. My mind had finally let go of her – just like she had let me go a long time ago. I had finally removed the heaviest piece of luggage of them all.

I think she´ll be pleased to hear this knowing that I won´t bother her again. I, on the other hand, hope that one day I´ll find myself having a beer or a coffee with her, hearing about her settling in Sweden and her experiences of re-starting her life in another part of the world. Stories like that, people like that, interest me. No matter the reason, people who dare to do what she has done are brave, strong and courageous. I wish her all the best with her new life, no matter if that life includes me as a friend or not. At least I know now that she wasn’t what I thought she was, an important revelation in itself. But I will take the good memories I have of her with me as well as other good memories of other people I like. Memories like that make up great travel companions on those long trips and they don´t add unnecessary weight to my already heavy luggage.

On another note, I hope I won´t have to fly home from Manila with the luggage I still have. Not many things get me nervous or upset when I´m traveling. Infections that seem to be spreading is, however, one of them. And I have one of those infections in my left foot since a few days back. I will decide what to do in a few days. Oh well, I´ll just go home, re-boot and go somewhere else for a while. Wherever that is, it´ll be close. The world´s a small place.





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