conversations with micaela, part 3: do you have any travel regrets?
“Do you remember everywhere you’ve been?” my friend Micaela wrote to me in an email a few weeks ago.
“I’m writing about Barcelona for the blog and though I’ve been (and saw a lot) I barely remember it. I feel like I wasted it, almost.”
Essentially, it felt like she was asking, Do you have any travel regrets?
Sadly, it didn’t take long to write Micaela back – all I had to say was: Where should I begin?
As grateful as I am for experiences like pearl farming in French Polynesia and walking the Camino across Spain, there have been other trips I’m not quite so proud of – trips on which I didn’t work hard enough to engage with where I was; trips that, as Micaela put it, “fall into the crevices of my memory and are gone.”
my travel regrets? let me count the ways…
There was Egypt – where I was too busy worrying about whether a guy on the trip liked me back to observe the new world around me. Moreover, beyond the fact that I was on a group tour, I just didn’t document. Photos, yes, but in terms of actually taking the time to absorb Egypt?
Not at all – the little notebook I now couldn’t travel without was nowhere to be found back then. Can I tell you what Egypt smelled like? Sounded like? What sort of street food there was? No, no, and no – and I hate that.
There was Paris – where my most important travel companion for the weekend was Breaking Dawn, the fourth installment in the Twilight series. Do I regret racing back to my room at night to finish the book instead of soaking up the City of Lights?
You bet I do, but at least it’s now become one of those self-deprecatory stories I tell to friends, about “the time I went to Paris and all I did was read Twilight in my hotel.” Still, I ain’t proud.
There was Thailand – where I spent a week on the island of Phuket, doing little more than scalding my skin to such a degree that the color red paled in comparison. Is it sad that my most vivid memory from the trip is of a woman on the beach trying to sell me fresh aloe, saying, “You look like barbecue”?
Absolutely – a low moment indeed, followed closely by us buying a pirated copy of My Sister’s Keeper and then bawling in our hotel as we watched it. Clearly the idea of “cultural immersion” was a foreign one to me then.
The choice I now have is to either let these “travel skeletons in my closet” (as you might call them) continue to haunt me, defining the traveler that I am today, or I can…
learn to let go of travel regrets.
So what if you too have a few skeletons hanging in the closet of your travel experiences? Start telling your own Twilight in Paris stories to entertain friends, but also don’t let them define who you are as a traveler today.
Our travel styles, just like the way we live our lives, are always growing, changing and adapting. After all, as one of my favorite travel quotes says:
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
It would be all too simple for me to continue to regret my time in places like Egypt and Phuket, but I know I was also learning how to be in the world (as I still am) – working through things like fear and loneliness, and teaching myself to be present in my life.
Travel is a constant confrontation with the unknown – be it what that vendor on the street is selling or where you’ll be sleeping tomorrow – so go easy on yourself, okay?
figure out what it is you regret…and change it.
For Micaela, she regretted that she hadn’t made more detailed observations of her time in Barcelona. So as she set out for her two-week solo jaunt around Croatia and Greece (check out her first impressions of Croatia here!), I encouraged her to write a few notes down every day:
“Even when you’re on the sailboat, just take five minutes here and there and say, “What am I hearing right now? What do I smell? What colors is the landscape? How has it changed from this morning?”
Pinpoint whatever it is that makes you look back on a certain trip and cringe, and brainstorm ways you can change that the next time you travel.
For me, it means continually challenging myself to be present in the moment…and leaving addictive, vampire-inspired bestsellers at home. Twilight can always wait, right?