I kiss the English boy goodbye with dry eyes for the first time, and I know it’s because for the first time, I actually believe that I’ll see him again.
We’re thinking November, but I’m crossing my fingers for the unlikely July.
I hitch a ride with his best friend to the bus stop an hour away, where I wait an hour and a half for the four hour bus to London. I’ve given myself a half hour transfer before my two hour bus to Brighton, which turns out to be more than enough time because it’s delayed. It takes me over ten hours to travel 200 miles as the crow flies.
I’m tired of travel—exhausted, really. The hurry-up-and-wait at check ins, the long layovers and uncomfortable bus seats, the worrying and prebooking and getting-to-know-you conversations and the awful feeling of goodbyes that are possibly forever.
My flight home in one week can’t come soon enough.
I stay in London for three nights (which costs about the same as a week in Southeast Asia, sigh) but it only takes one before blowing my nose leaves black gunk from the pollution on the tissue. This city gets inside of you that quickly.
I am lucky enough to have friends in London who take me to pubs and try to talk me into staying. And while the tourist side of England is nice—the central bit is surprisingly compact (and the museums are free) and this might be the first city where there are some historical things that I’m actually vaguely knowledgeable about—I like this pub culture more.
Despite prices and weather and the general lack of British friendliness, I could live here, I think.
I arrive in Istanbul when the protests are starting, closing the public transportation and presenting me with a long, confusing, and expensive journey to my hostel. On the way, I pass fully decked-out police officers with massive automatic guns, riot shields, and armored vans, and I wonder why it is that only America has such a negative reputation when it comes to police and weapons.
If the British toe the line of being too unfriendly, the Turkish are on the opposite end of the spectrum. I am told that tea is an essential part of their culture and never to refuse an invitation, but I am also warned about the blatant womanizing. And so, as expected, this leaves me too often in an uncomfortable position. This might not be the time or culture to try out rejection without using the excuse of having a boyfriend. By day two I am exhausted, and I start sticking to silent tight-lipped smiles every time I’m approached.
I’ve been looking up flight tickets every day, trying to find the right time and location and price to buy. I think I have it almost worked out, this last frustration of travel planning before I find myself back at home, but I’m hesitating. There’s still so much left I want to see.
In the three weeks that I have been holed up with the English boy in his tiny town on the southwest coast, we have fought and made up more times than I can even recall anymore. It’s an intensity that sometimes feels like insanity, but the more that I can’t explain what draws us back together every time—despite our ever-increasing differences—the more I think that it’s right.
England is cold and generally rainy, but beautiful in the outdoorsy way that I came to love on the Camino. A complete 180 from the sprawling strip malls of Houston, I appreciate it while also becoming more and more excited about my return to big city life.
I am putting my travel life on hold soon, starting to look at flights home, discussing rent and direct deposit. I’ll be leaving behind the uncertainty, the excitement of getting off a bus in a brand new city, the loneliness of waking up in an unfamiliar bed. But I wonder if—across continents and cultures and time zones and time off—I can keep him.
I’ve spent the last week and a half in Scotland, staying with a friend I met on the Camino, and feeling like I’m in a home for the first time in months.
I haven’t done much. The weather is colder than I would like, my friend is working typical business hours, and his hometown is quaint (I think that’s the nice way of saying small). But it is luxurious to have my own room, wake up late in a double bed, be treated to fancy family dinners, and be introduced to ready-made friends. Traveling is more stressful than I could’ve imagined, and I am grateful for the temporary return to “normal” life—where we go to movies and eat Chinese take-out and have a big Sunday brunch.
We spent the weekend in the Scottish countryside with his friends from university, and it was lovely. But their chat about jobs and goals and relationships and engagements was also a stinging reminder of everything I’ve given up, and as I repack my bag to head to another cold city alone, I find myself seriously questioning the value of my trade-off for the first time since I left.
What happens if I don’t find what I’m looking for? Right now, my trip still feels like just an extended vacation, and I think this lack of direction is weighing on me. I am making friends, but the time we share is so fleeting that it’s hard to imagine many of them lasting, and the ones that do will feel the strain of thousands of miles. Same with locations—I am becoming less enthused with city-hopping and starting to look into longer-stay options where I can really dig my feet in to a culture.
But really, my fear is in the terrible thought that haunts me every time I finally start to temporarily feel comfortable somewhere: what happens if I get too wrapped up and stay too long, so that by the time I finally get tired of this life, there is nowhere left that I belong and nothing left for me to go back to anymore?
You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted
Just remember on the way home
That you were never meant to feel alone
It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine
Another good time coming down the line
I am finished walking, and back to the type of traveling that I still haven’t completely figured out yet.
But—quite literally—time is money when you are away from home, so last week I bought a ticket and hopped an overnight bus to Sevilla. I was always jealous of those people who were bold enough to travel into the unknown on a whim; now I am one, and this makes me giddy beyond belief.
In Sevilla I rediscovered the joy of sleeping in the same bed for more than one night, and felt the familiar pangs of loneliness—two things I haven’t had since August.
But I also discovered bullfighting and flamenco and the butterflies that come with not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, but that it could be anything.
A new Australian friend who’s been traveling for 10 months kept referring to our hostel as “home.” I think that helps.
One night outside a local flamenco club, a girl from the Canary Islands crossed herself while telling me I was crazy for walking the Camino solo, and that mi madre was also crazy for letting me go… Fair enough, I guess.
But then had another whim, bought another bus ticket, and let everything change.