I’m on a long train and in the mood to write a lot.
Long-term solo travel is great for figuring out what you really care about in the world. Living out of a backpack for a month really changes your perspective on the usefulness of material goods. In thinking about what I truly miss, I know a lot more what I really need in life.
It is also important to learn that you can live without people you love or without things you really enjoy. As important to me as friends and family are, I know I can do fine without them. And that is great. Many people might read that as callous, and maybe it is, but I truly believe that if anyone is ever so important in your life that you really truly can’t live without them, that is a serious problem. Our happiness should never be based around others. Sure, other people can always improve our life, but one should not require others. But if your entire world revolves around another person, or even persons, what is going to happen to you if they leave?
So what do I really appreciate? Let’s start with things first. A kitchen with a fridge full of delicious food like blueberries, cheese, chicken, kale. I would love a great salad full of fresh vegetables topped with chicken and my homemade balsamic vinaigrette. A computer and the internet. While I haven’t exactly been deprived of a computer, erratic internet quality is no fun. I really truly appreciate the ability to ask Google pretty much anything whenever I have a cellular signal. I like the ability to easily keep up to date on world events. I feel quite disconnected. I have no idea what is going on in the world right now. Hell, I have no idea what is going on with Europe. It’s interesting to see video of Angela Merkel and other European leaders meeting but having no idea what they are meeting about because I can’t speak German. A good book.
What about experiences. The feeling of drinking a protein shake after a particularly exhausting workout. Talking to friends over tea. And while on the subject of tea, the experience of having a perfect cup of tea. London can’t come soon enough because of that. Family dinners with the extended family. Cuddling with my girlfriend. Eating sashimi. Glimpsing Vancouver through the trees while hiking in North Van. Completing something challenging and worthwhile. Time alone to think. A good political conversation with someone I disagree with.
What don’t I miss. Movies. Television. Video games. Not that I will never watch a movie or a play a video game, but I just don’t care that I am missing television shows that I might like. I don’t really care that I have only played a few games in the last two or so years. Having lots of clothes. I have never really had lots of clothes compared to other Canadians in a similar socio-economic situation, but I’ve still usually had considerably more than 5 shirts, 3 pairs of underwear, 4 pairs of socks, one pair of shorts, one pair of pants, pajamas, and a pair of shoes. So far I just haven’t cared.
It’s also rather liberating to stop caring about what others think so much. I’ve always had rather strong empathy, which I suppose is good in that it is a rather important emotion in keeping us from doing bad things, but I have always struggled with worrying about how others feel about me. In this I mostly mean in small situations, like having a random stranger think you are foolish. When travelling through other countries you quickly learn that you will constantly look like a fool. And then you learn that it doesn’t matter. One example is that in most grocery stores in Europe you have to weigh your produce before going up to the cashier. I have never seen that in North America. So I go up with some apples and bananas, un-weighed, and the cashier just stares at me like I am the biggest idiot ever. Somehow, I managed to live, learnt my lesson, and the world keeps turning. Something like this happening is a daily event.
It’s amazing the joy you can get from other people’s joy. I love talking to someone and seeing their face light up when the subject turns to something they clearly love. Seeing happy couples or friends having a great time chatting over coffee. You would almost think that being alone would make me jealous of these things, but instead it just makes them more vibrant.
I love seeing the subtle little differences between cultures and the vast similarities. While writing this I am on a train blasting through the Netherlands. I have already seen hundreds of people riding around on bikes. In Rome, almost no one bikes. In Spain most people take an afternoon siesta off work, where they eat a late (and long) lunch and then have a small dinner hours past when we would eat. The French tend to eat some small pastry like a croissant for breakfast, while the germans tend to eat cheese, deli meat and other things. But despite all these small differences, people seem to be fundamentally the same. Most people go to work, spend time with friends and family, and just want a happy life.