Why do we travel without our “other half”? What can it teach us about ourselves and our relationships? Will we regret it?
I am the queen of long-distance relationships. Every single important relationship in my life has undergone the test of distance, without exception. To travel is to move on – in every sense – and practice has made me almost perfect at that particular skill; by the time I had reached the age of 18, I had conquered long periods of separation from friends, family and even my parents. I thought I knew everything there was to know about parting ways, until I met him in a city that I had been forced to moved to, knew nothing about, and had no intention of becoming attached to. That’s where the trouble started.
Independence is as much a part of my identity as my own skin, and it’s the character trait that I value above all others. Homesickness was (and still remains) an unfamiliar concept. My best friends are the ones who I may not see for days, weeks or even months … but when we pick up again, it’s like we never left. So when my first real, long-term relationship eventually had to undergo the long-distance treatment, I didn’t even blink; I’d been unknowingly preparing for this for my whole life. He panicked and Googled and asked for advice from any mutual friends who would listen but I was quiet in my confidence.
For the first time, travel wasn’t letting me escape like it used to.
I cried for the entire five-hour drive when I eventually had to leave Sheffield and move to London. I drank, I went out, I listened to Fleetwood Mac, I stayed up eating chicken nuggets until 2am, staring at my laptop and waiting for Skype to load. My piggybank was being emptied every other week to find some spare change for train tickets back to the North, and my weekends were booked up months in advance. My life in London became a mess. Solo breaks in Paris didn’t help: whose idea was it to put the world’s most romantic city on the other end of a train line that terminated opposite my flat? For the first time, travel wasn’t letting me escape like it used to. After all, you can’t escape from yourself; those little pieces of insanity follow you everywhere.
But summer brought luck and generosity in the form of two plane tickets, so I took him to meet my family in India. We flew through five hours of turbulence so extreme that it had me, the plane whisperer, praying in my seat. Later we were detained in Qatar overnight, our first joint travel scar. The whole trip was perfect in a wonderfully unexpected way. Since then, we’ve been able to join each other on two more family holidays. Since then, I’ve planned solo trips like a madwoman, determined to somehow “regain” the emotional independence I had lost somewhere along the way. Every single trip was unforgettable, but something was still missing. Rich sunsets over the Charles Bridge in Prague, blue dawns over frosted rivers in Oslo, fallen leaves on cobbled stone in Bruges … even the wild, lonely beauty of Thailand’s central plains carved itself deep into my heart and left me cold at the same time.
The next time I leave, it will be for three long months in Ecuador, four in Patagonia, and another three in Vietnam: different time zones, slow internet connections, no phone signal. And I’ll be alone, having raised money for years to fund a trip that is my travel dream – but ultimately not his. I’m doing it because every bone in my body longs for new horizons, for discovery, for adventure, and yet every time I drop him off at the train station I wonder how much it would cost me to cancel the whole thing. I urge him to be irresponsible, to drop everything and leave with me. I imagine extraordinary scenarios that would allow us to have this once-in-a-lifetime travel experience together. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to accept the reality of it, but I hope it’s not soon.
I am grounded by experiences that I can truly call my own; I know what makes me who I am.
The curious duality of the whole situation is this: if I could go back in time and carefully sew him into travels past, I wouldn’t. Those trips are a part of who I am; they taught me about my own personality, and more importantly, about the people who matter most to me. I have strong, vibrant, valuable relationships because I understand what my life would be without them; I’ve had time to miss them. I don’t allow my relationships to dictate who I become, because I am grounded by experiences that I can truly call my own; I know what makes me who I am.
My trip to South America will carry all of these benefits, on a much bigger scale: I’ll be building on my teaching experience by working with children at an after-school club; I’ll be validating my years of language tuition by getting the chance to talk with native speakers; I’ll be feeding my creative imagination by exploring landscapes and photographing wildlife that I’ve never even dreamt of. I might even climb a volcano. And in the end, whether he and I have spent our year in the same room or on opposite sides of the world, love will come through.