Powered by Blogger.

On imaginary travel and why I needed to go

It's a week before Christmas and I'm a million miles from home. I'm on a bus headed for a city I've imagined a million times and the sun is trying to rise through the fog.
The landscape blurs as we hurtle along the freeways and the tree line merges into the hazy horizon in the most beautiful way. 
Everything is familiar and everything is new. It's a strange travelling paradox, to explore places you've never been and find vistas that remind you of where you have travelled from. (Don't you love that word vista? It means: a distant view of an area of land or water, but it also means 'A large number of things that may be possible in the future').
Next to me, a plaid clad teenage angel is sleeping, his headphones clicking softly where they are pressed against the glass. The sunrise illuminates the sky behind him, gifting him a halo, casting a glow on his acne speckled face, eyelashes catching the morning light. 
I've been away from home for almost a month now, my suitcase feels as familiar as my bedroom. 
I know I've been more than lucky - my eyes and mind have never been so stimulated. When I lay down to sleep at night, the scenes from the day play themselves over and over in my mind. I silently will them to stick, I pray they commit themselves to memory, that I will have the pleasure of reliving the many days I have spent here, the many things I've seen. The bus lurches to a stop in another nothing town and for a moment there is focus. I can see dew drops hanging on skeleton trees and sleepy passengers shuffle slowly up the aisles looking for seats. 
When you imagine travel you imagine the 'being there'- your imagination inserts you into the postcard picture places, conjures up the sights you might see, puts you at the base of landmarks and tries to imagine your perspective from underneath them. You visualise the streets and the buildings, you imagine the forests and mountains and how the ocean will look.
The travellers mind, in anticipation, projects visions of an imagined place. These imagined places lack the sharp lines and rough edges of reality, the grit of it, the smell of it and the way it feels on your fingertips, but sometimes these visions are the things that provoke you to buy a real ticket in the first place. 

Travelling in your mind is a beautiful thing- in a minute you are transported to wherever you imagine. The journey takes a mere spilt second, and when you get there the weather is always fine. 
In reality the 'getting there' there takes longer than you ever think it will. You never imagine getting there via giant steel trains and dry aeroplanes and crowded buses that smell of chlorine. Even before you board these marvels of engineering there is waiting. So much waiting. A mild anxiety inevitably clings to me not unlike the way I cling to my ticket before any departure. Despite the repetitive nature of checking in and out, of listening for boarding calls and reading signs, the travel nerves never fully settle until I settle into my seat. The intuitive monotonous nature of it should comfort me but it rarely does. 
Then you are suspended in travel - somewhere between departing and arriving, in motion but unmoving, folded into cramped seats and playing music to avoid the sound of the rattly cough coming from the man behind you, silently praying that your nose will quickly grow accustomed to the smell and it won't feel so intoxicating. 
Maybe you find yourself in conversation with the person next to you. There's comfort in the obvious nature of conversations born in transit. Where are you going? Where have you come from? These same questions never return the same answers. We follow some sort of script, asking each other: Are you moving nearer or farther from the place you call home? How long will you be there? What made you want to come here? I collect answers and travellers' stories like I collect ticket stubs. 
Each time I answer the set of questions about myself and the tiny corner of the world I have travelled from, my reasons for coming here become a little more clear to me, although this part I rarely share with the stranger in the seat next to me. 
I tell fellow travellers that I came for the adventure. That I left summer behind because I wanted to wake up to white on Christmas morning. I tell them I am having a great time, because I am. These are all truths, but they are scratch-the-surface truths.
What I don't tell them (but I know more with each passing day) is that I came because I needed to.  More than I think I fully realised at the time. I came because I needed to learn how to let the space between where I am and where I want to be, inspire me and not terrify me. I needed to leave because I wasn't sure about what's meant to come next in my life, but I had an inkling that I needed to step away from it to see it fully. I needed a radically fresh perspective and I'm not sure I would have found it had I stayed. 

I needed to learn how to be by myself again. This one surprised me, because I'm alone often, but I think I needed to learn something new inside about loneliness and self-sufficiency, something solid and safe and secure in my sense of ‘self’. It's hard to put my finger on exactly, but it's there. 
I think I needed my eyes refocused, to relearn how to be inspired in nature and by architecture and remember how to see potential in people, to see something secret and surprising in the eyes of strangers. 
I came to a place I had never been to face challenges I had never met. 
I came because I needed to learn how to be brave.   
That's the biggest one I think. I learned how to stop being such a chicken. To stop letting fear win. 
I learned how to stand firm and grounded in myself (mostly learned out of necessity and inevitability) and I feel braver for it somehow. 
I feel that for the first time in a long time the future might feel more exciting than intimidating.
And so while I sit here, now on a train to Canada I go travelling in my mind. 
It's a funny thing isn't it - to be present somewhere you had imagined and imagine yourself back to where you came from, back to where you call home. 
I think about home, about my urban family that I miss and about what I might have been doing had I not bought a ticket, not got on that plane. I try to imagine the lessons I may have learned in staying, but I fail to do this well.  I am too engrossed in the lessons I'm learning in the going, in the gone. 

My train jolts as it departs another station and I am back in the present, back in motion and not in my imagination. I know that in the following weeks I will be back in that imagined place I know to be real, the place I call home and when I am there I will imagine myself here, back in this cracked leather seat listening to the announcements made in an accent that isn't mine.
But for now I am here, and I'm glad you are too.

Extra Small
You made it to the very end, what a trooper. Here are some extra things you might want to know...
This post was influenced by the writing of Alain de Botton who is my favourite philosopher and his book 'The Art of Travel' is my travel companion
The pictures in this post were taken by me on my handy dandy iPhone. 
I am travelling for 5 weeks in North America, along the West Coast and up into Canada, visiting friends but largely touring solo.
If you want to see pictures you can find them on instagram!  tagged #hansolotrip

1 comment