This past year I've gone on a travel binge. I don't want to compete with anyone, but I've been to Copenhagen, Malmö, D.C., Amsterdam and greater Holland, New York, Key West, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Chicago, and finally my hometown of Virginia Beach in the last six months.
Some of these I won't actually count as travel destinations, and I will see again, but I can't promise I'll be back to all of them.
I had this curious revelation on my final morning in Copenhagen. It was my first trip abroad, something I had dreamed about since middle school, and I hoped to have many more adventures abroad. Still, my journey's closing was bittersweet.
In that millennial way, I sat on a bench in Nyhavn watching the sunrise (actually, it was gray so there was no sun to see, so I moved on to the Little Mermaid) and was pondering what Instagram to post to commemorate my trip's ending. There were a lot of emotions to encapsulate in a caption (I am judging myself; you can, too) - glee, nostalgia, adrenaline, spirit. But there was one thing I absolutely did not want to declare: I would be back.
Because I wouldn't. Or at least I couldn't promise I would be.
I did love Copenhagen. There are not many better European cities to steal your international travel virginity. But would I return?
This sentiment has only grown stronger with my other trips. I enjoy places, I might even feel myself touching some part of my soul or the cosmos I haven't accessed before, but I won't promise to return.
I am not so grandiose as to have a life goal of visiting every country before I die. I have a lot of places I want to see, but there is no list I'm keeping or stamps I'm collecting. I do want to see Switzerland, South Africa, and the Mediterranean desperately (in that twenty-something, impatient way, to be honest). But I live my life for experiences. Simply stepping across a border is not a check mark. There are multiple cities and regions to see, to feel, to taste. You don't spend a day with someone and say you know them. You also don't stand on soil and say you've experienced it.
I'm getting waylaid. I have no problem with people who do have such a checklist. In fact, both they and I have the same problem: life is finite. There will come a day when it all ends. Or we are inhibited. You can't expect to traverse the Congo holding a cane.
My friend and I discussed this on our last night in the Florida Keys, basking in a tidal pool in Bahia Honda and then chasing the stars in our rented sedan in darkness. There is something magical in Florida humidity. You sweat the moment you leave your AC'd hotel room, but the heat is intoxicating. Maybe it's the vacation days, maybe it's the palm trees. But everything seems better: The water's clearer, The skies whiter, the sunsets more golden, and the clouds grander.
Both my friend and I grew up on family vacations that we revisited every summer. An annual routine was built. My family shopped at the same Piggly Wiggly, hiked the same trails, spent every Wednesday of that one week a year at the state park lake, and there is relaxation in all that. It is Americana.
But maybe it's because we've reached our mid-twenties. The sun has given us some wrinkles. We have our own incomes. (Do I have an income?)
She and I agreed for our future endeavors, as much we loved this place, we wouldn't come here. We won't rule it out, but the next time I sit in a tidal pool, let it be the Caribbean, or the next time I stargaze, pray it be on an African Savannah.
You fall in love with a place. You memorize its roads and skies for a week. You Instagram your happiness and revisit it in a couple Thursdays. But we don't have time to actually come back.
There are so many places to see and experience. If I was to commit to each one I fell for in a day, to say I would come back, I would have no time for my future experiences. It is fine to relive some moments, but I can't promise to relive them all. Perhaps I will be back in Copenhagen one day or see the canals of Delft again, but if I don't, then I will have seen another sunrise (maybe this one with a sun) or another canal elsewhere. And that makes me just as content.