This is a rare time of year when my friends are traveling more than I am. I’m stuck in London actually getting work done on my master’s thesis–thus the relative quiet on this blog–while one of my friends is off to visit family in Israel, another is packing for Hawaii, another is on his way to Istanbul, another just got back from Seville, and, if Facebook has not misled me, one more is in Pamplona, watching the notorious Running of the Bulls. True, I’m going to Spain, too, for a few days’ hiking at the end of the month, but all this traveling has me thinking about “traveler’s remorse.”
Traveler’s remorse is simple: you wonder if you spent your time going to the right places and doing the right things, and more importantly you worry that there’s so much left to do. In the words of the friend I’m traveling to Spain to meet, “I long ago resigned myself to the fact that there are many, many beautiful things in this world that I will be close to, but I won’t see…this time.”
Admittedly this is a fairly elitist regret to have. I feel a bit horrible thinking, “Darn it, I never went to Prague,” while friends might be fretting, “I haven’t left property governed by Rick Perry in seven months.” But, when you travel, and especially when you spend a year abroad, it’s an almost inevitable part of the end-game to look back and regret things. It feels silly but it’s hard to avoid.
I don’t actually regret going anywhere. My destinations this year–Morocco, Barcelona, Istanbul, Leiden, Antwerp, Yorkshire, Liverpool, Warsaw, and Krakow–have all been marvelous. In some places (Benelux especially) my only regret is not staying longer. But think of all the places unexplored!
Traveler’s remorse can be crippling. Another friend tells me that when she thinks of all the exciting places in the world she’ll never see, she gets appallingly depressed. I have a small stack of Rough Guides and they can make depressing reading, if you take that view. For example: there is apparently a small island town in Croatia called Rab which has not changed in 300 years, thanks to superb upkeep and an enlightened anti-modernization policy. Some of the streets are staircases, and they’re jam-packed with tiny shops selling fresh fish. Rab looks like this:
In America, of course, that would be a film set, or a specially-constructed resort built in 2006. But it is centuries old, has about 600 permanent residents, and sounds like paradise.
Only,what good does it do me to know about Rab? It’s just one more thing I’m going to miss.
But that is clearly the wrong attitude. Don’t feel bad about caving in to it occasionally. Traveler’s remorse is natural and inevitable; if you don’t feel it there’s something wrong with you. You should learn not to listen, because the remorse just gets in the way, but you should also learn not to hate the feeling. It happens.
What counts is having the right attitude. So I try to say, “some day I will come back to Europe and get a fresh chance at all this.” And then, of course, the right attitude is to make a list of all the great stuff I’m coming back to see. To wit:
– Lisboa and the wineries of Porto
– Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, the Basque Country
– Avignon, Carcassone, Aix-en-Provence, Sisteron
– Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, a loch or two
– The Hay Festival in Hay-on-Wye and the cheese rolling in Gloucestershire
– A few days each in Brugge, Ghent, Utrecht, Gouda, Delft, Amsterdam
– Walking across Liechtenstein and San Marino end-to-end
– Tuscany in wintertime
– Trattorias and gelato shops in Rome
– An invitation to watch the proceedings of the first-ever legal divorce in Malta
– Graz, Salzburg, and a seat in the Musikverein, Vienna
– Getting lost in the Black Forest, where an eccentric Walmart customer once told me that young people could work on farms in exchange for room and board
– Prague, all of it, at least a week in Prague
– Getting my gloom on in the footsteps of Kurt Wallander, in Ystad, Sweden
– Bergen, Stavanger, and the Norwegian fjords
– A restaurant called DOMM in Lithuania at which, according to the Rough Guide, you “tuck into dishes that come with their own MP3 soundtrack or emerge from a cloud of smoke, as if in a magician’s act.” “This is a meal that you will remember for the rest of your life.” As long as they don’t kick you out for laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing.
And there’s stuff in London yet to do, too. Only recently I was re-alerted to the fact that I’ve never been to Hampstead Heath and only cursorily into Hyde Park. Plus, I’ve left some really obvious stuff off both of these lists: Windsor Castle, Oxford, Venice, Greece, and, uh… Paris.
Point is, Europe is big and amazing and full of so much great stuff that even Mark Twain couldn’t make fun of it all. (Note: the link provided is to the funniest, best, and most totally lovable travel book ever written, and if you don’t read it you’re a fool.) There’s a whole lifetime of things I want to come back some day and see. But it’s worth revisiting my friend’s definition of traveler’s remorse: “I long ago resigned myself to the fact that there are many, many beautiful things in this world that I will be close to, but I won’t see…this time.”
Ah, but next time: there’s no stopping us!