Memories of Travel, and coming to terms with the end of a long-term backpacking trip

6 Aug
We can look out of the window of this train again, but we can't live the exact same experience we lived the first time.

We can look out of the window of this train again, but we can’t live the exact same experience we lived the first time.

Whoever we are, there are occasional stretches of time one experiences, where there are certain moments in life that give us strange emotional epiphanies, and thoughts swirling in our heads that we can’t really put into words. As if, deep down you feel a certain way, but you can’t really describe how. For me, it is hard to understand what it’s like before and after these times, but it is one of those times now.

For the past three months, from May Third of 2016 until now, I’ve been backpacking around Asia. I plan to devote several future blog posts to travel advice, but today I’m going to talk about emotions, and coping with the end of a trip. I spent two months in China, and one in Southeast Asia, divided among Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. And the moment of a realization that I’d known all along, yet never truly thought about, brought a feeling upon me that I can’t quite put into words, as I sat in my hostel dorm room in Phnom Penh with my brother, trying to figure out when we would pack for our overnight bus to Siem Reap. This was the end. It was over. After one more stop in Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, it’s done. Gone. Me and my brother will be flying to Manchester, England where we will see our family. And even if I do the same backpacking itinerary again, it will never be the same.

By this, I’m not saying that I’m assuming every place I visited is going to change drastically, although, this is Asia and very rapidly changing. I’m saying that I will change in ways that will mean I can’t experience the trip the same way again – I will never be able to go back to the point in my life in May 2016, where I stepped off that plane in Beijing Capital Airport, ready for the greatest adventure of my life. I will never have those exact same thoughts, same anticipations, and same feelings that I did when I landed in Beijing that night. I think future trips will be valuable too if I backpack this region again (which I definitely hope to do). But I will not be the same me. This trip has created a treasure trove of memories, which I must hold onto and cherish, as the Cambodian nation has done with its ruins of Angkor.

I doubt I’m the only one who has had these thoughts at the end of a major trip. To those who have struggled with a feeling similar to mine, here’s my advice: Plan future trips, because the travel bug never goes away once you’ve caught it. But also, embrace the fleetingness of your memories. Know that you’ve had a collection of experiences that you will never have again, but you can remember fondly. And if you do similar trips, remember that you will have whole new experiences then too. Just because travel isn’t new to me anymore doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting.

Maybe you can’t travel abroad again in the near future due to various circumstances. Maybe this is your rare chance in a long time, and you loved every minute of it. In that case, still, cherish your memories. Your trip may not last your whole life, but if you keep reminding yourself of them, the memories of it should.

I’m also looking forward to embracing new classes in my life at home, reuniting with my college pals, and just seeing how things go. There will be times of stress, in which I want to go back to the younger me, before my trip, that didn’t ever see an inch of 2016 China, and had no idea of the extent to which I’d appreciate the great places I’d go and people I’d meet. Once those moments pass though, they pass forever. Let’s cherish them while we can, and remember them fondly for the rest of our lives.


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