Experience is anything but fleeting. And thank God for that.
Since this whole insanity began, I have often noticed my thoughts wandering into the past, back to a reality that is the antithesis to our lock-downed lives.
It's no secret that at stressful times such as these that most powerful of healers sweeps in from the shadows to rescue us from our darkest thoughts. To bring better days from the past to the fore once more and remind us that this time of deep discontent will pass. I am talking about nostalgia, a powerful emotion that I'm sure I'm not alone in indulging in recently. But what has struck me is just where I've “gone” during these nostalgic moments, and it has made me appreciate travel in a way I hadn't before. Because really, I hadn't needed to.
I have never been more grateful for the investment I've made in travel. Not just financial investment, but the investment of my time. During a particularly frustrating lock-down day I can now, at the drop of a hat, close my eyes and conjure up a different reality altogether. Recently I've been transported back to those long, warm days driving the concrete rivers of America, literal freewheeling days on the road. I can bring back the beauty of those deserted highways and clear skies, the dusty motels with ageing clerks, the delicious smell of a roadside diner and empty plains merging into distant mountain ranges that were mine to explore. I can remember the warmth of the sun on the steering wheel and what was playing on the radio, not necessarily the song but the feeling of that music. I can call back the space and the light, the intrepid excitement of not having much of a plan and most importantly the feeling that there was nothing and no-one who could touch that feeling of complete freedom.
There is such currency in these memories that I feel they are priceless. Nostalgia has become my most important ally.
Wherever I am in these moments, I am always travelling. Moving along through an unfamiliar landscape or city, surrounded by people I don't know, caught in a crowd or staring out the window of a train, encountering people and language, customs and costume all entirely fresh. And I think this is why travel provides the most powerful nostalgic relief – the experience is all encompassing, and deliberate. The sights, sounds, smells, tastes, impressions, shocks, frustrations and surprises of somewhere never ventured before. These experiences have engrained themselves more deeply into my psyche than I ever realised.
I have spent much of the money I've earned over the last 20 odd years on travelling whenever I've had the chance. Using every minute of my allocated holiday allowance on city breaks and long haul flights, eschewing almost all responsible money saving habits and blowing the lot on seeing the world. I've always known, but am glad to have reconfirmed these past few months, that this investment was anything but frivolous. There's a common assumption that to spend money on something experiential like travelling or a Michelin starred meal for example, is something akin to a waste. Because it's assumed it doesn't last. You have a great time while you're watching zebras graze the plains of the Masai Mara or you're eating the best food of your life, but ultimately it ends and really, what do you have to show for it?
Perhaps us travellers feel that too subconsciously. We attempt to attach an object, a tangible thing, to an experience. Like bringing home a mass made airport souvenir from a much loved holiday or the menu from that fabulous meal. It's as if we feel we will lose what we have gained by simply living that experience, unless we are somehow reminded by a possession, no matter how far removed it might be (made in China and sold in an Italian airport). As if memory alone could never be enough. But the memories, or more accurately the feeling those memories can repay us with over and over again as long as we have them, are the prize.
I've always loved to travel and explore and now I know why. Because it becomes a part of who we are, and that little slice of ourselves has the ability to lift and inspire when everything seems to be falling apart. What an investment.