In my senior year of high school there was a perfect storm of bad scheduling and back luck that landed me in a remedial humanities course. The class was made up of meth heads, the occasional ESL case and general space cadets of the highest caliber. Instead of learning normal humanities, as one may expect from a humanities course, we were basically babysat until the 50 minute period was over. Sharp objects and anything that could be rolled into a joint were locked up.
Because we were, on average, mentally seven years old, every morning we spent the first fifteen minutes of class writing in our journals. Or at least the solid 50% of us who were literate wrote in our journals. The other half haphazardly tried to copy the smart kids’ journal ‘answers’. I oscillated between finishing up my AP Calculus homework and trying not to lobotomise myself with a well-placed pencil up the nose.
One day I walked in and our journal question was up on the board, in big loopy letters:
If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
Being seventeen years old, and having much better things to do with my time (like, sleep or learn humanities), this question made me loose it. Did he seriously want me to waste valuable moments of my life writing about how it would be cool to be invisible to the police or to be able to spit fire across a room to light someone’s cigarette? Because no. Just no. So I left, and after some minimal negotiations for my freedom I never returned to his class. I never wrote about any superpowers.
…and in a galaxy far, far away (i.e. here and now)
I’ve now been on the road for three months. Or five, if you count the two months in France before I officially ‘left’ Sweden. Or eleven years, if you count the stints in Sweden and Canada as being away. To be honest, it is all getting pretty blurry.
But at any rate, I have been in Asia for the last three months. That is three months of selecting my breakfast from a menu instead of the fridge, three months of depositing my dirty undies at a shop and picking them up clean the next day, three months of taking my shampoo to and from the shower with me, three months of wondering if I was sleep talking the night before and if it disrupted the strangers in the room.
My business is up and running, and I spend a little time on that each week. But otherwise I am traveling: moving and seeing. It is, I will be the first to admit, the perfect life and I’m not sure I will ever want it any other way. However, there is one aspect that I never anticipated from my travels that lack a bound end date. I feel pressed for time.
Sure, time was a constant stress back in my “normal” life. Back when I was doing my PhD, teaching, trying to maintain a normal relationship, grocery shopping, making dinner, packing lunches, going to the gym, feeding the cat, hopping around Europe for courses and university visits, Skyping with my family on the other side of the world, going for beers with friends and Godknowswhatelse that normal people do.
But now? How can I possibly feel like I just don’t have time to keep up? What am I even trying to keep up with?
The tortoise and the hare, but without a winner
When I took my first big trip – a five country Euro-tour spanning five weeks just after high school graduation in 2004 – I was bit hard by the proverbial travel bug. Turns out there is SO MUCH TO SEE! Upon returning home I resolved to take it a *little* slower next time, realising that three days in the Netherlands, six days in Germany and two days in Austria just didn’t cut it.
So when “next time” came I took off to Europe with a different mindset. I dropped my bags in Sweden before popping down to Portugal for three and a half weeks. Just that one tiny, itty-bitty little country, and nearly a month! And what happened? I didn’t get to see everything. And I still felt like all I did was sit on a train and watch the countryside zoom by.
Now I’m here again, this time bound by a series of month-long travel visas and my own waning energy.
I only have one week left in the Philippines. I didn’t get to the rice terraces and backpacker Mecca of Sagada since I had no idea that Holy Week exists, let alone that it would result in every bus to every nice location in the country being fully booked till Easter. So instead I headed south. I’m just a stone’s throw from Donsol where I could go snorkelling with whale sharks. WHALE SHARKS. Like, the most amazing monsters that aren’t hammerhead sharks that I am dying to see in real life. It’s even on my manageably short to-do list for the year. But, to be honest, I don’t think I’ll go.
And I have a number of other spots on my Filipino shoulda, woulda, coulda list. I’ve even skipped Palawan, which was one of the main locations that inspired this trip in the first place.
Today I am in a banana-leafy green town in the shadow of the world’s ‘most perfect volcano’ and I didn’t manage to go up to the roof to look at the peak today, let alone climb it. And tomorrow I probably won’t either. I’m really hoping for torrential rain like we had yesterday, just so I have a valid excuse to sit inside all day.
The ‘things undone’ of course give me anxiety. How can someone come sooo far, and then not see what is right there? What kind of a failed traveller does that anyway?
And this brings me back to Portugal, to the beach near Porto where I found myself just a week into my trip, on a sickly, muggy day, staring out at the grey waves. I was feeling extremely guilty that I was just sitting on a relatively industrial beach doing nothing when I could be seeing… something. I don’t remember what it was I felt like I should have been seeing, just the guilt it provoked. This was further compounded by the deep feeling that I was actually enjoying being on the beach. It was all wrong.
I expressed this sentiment to the guy on the next beach towel over. I forget his name, but I remember he was a 30-something Australian career backpacker. My impression of him was not entirely flattering – he seemed a million years old and a little weird to me, sort of like he had checked out from the rat race, or rather been rejected by it, and this was his second choice. He had that leathered, long-term tan and frizzy uncut hair, and may have even been one of the type that gave up wearing shoes fifteen countries ago. This might be exactly what I seem to the 21-year-olds I meet along the way now, though I sure hope not.
Strangely his response stuck with me, and I have often repeated it to myself and others. These words echo in my head at the airport after many a trip.
“You know, you always have to leave something undone. Otherwise why would you ever come back?”
Eternal weekend of the spotless mind
On that note, today I’m doing what normal people do on the weekend. I’m doing NOTHING. Or rather, I’m catching up on the stuff that takes so much more time than you think – emails, blogs, chatting with friends and family, watching TV, reading – all those mundane Sunday afternoon activities. Because this isn’t just travel… it’s real life, too. And I’m trying my best to not even feel guilty about it. I’ll be back in the Philippines some day.
But deep down I have finally realised I want one super power.
If I could have any super power I would like to live “four for one” days. For every normal person day, I would like to have a high energy travel day and explore the volcano, another day to sit at a food-stand and make local friends or to relax on the beach and work on my tan, one day dedicated to my business and science work and a final day to sit on the sofa with my best friends, watch TV and drink beer.
Thank you, Mr. Dawson, for marking me present for those 80 days I never showed up to your class. I think it improved the quality of life for both of us.
Allison. First period social studies, LWHS, Dawson, Rm 227. 11 years late, via South Luzon, Philippines.