The hardest thing about spending a lot of time on the road is meeting incredible people and inevitably having to say goodbye.
I’m rarely in the same place for longer than a week and though England is my home and I love it, I dread the thought of being anchored to a country that is so flawed and getting scarier. I am glad for the freedom I have as a nomad but it comes with a regular cycle of pain and shorter personal relationships, both of which suck. I constantly meet people who I connect with and those brief times replay in my head for years to come, even if I’ve forgotten their name or face- or both. Some of those people changed my life and never knew it, even if they have long-forgotten me.
One rained-off afternoon in a Dublin hostel, my roommates and I ate party rings and watched the Hunger Games on a laptop screen. One of these women was a former soldier from the Middle East, had lost her home in a bombing and been nearly blinded by a terrorist. I confided in her that I felt ashamed of a tendency to cry at the drop of a hat. That I felt unbrave. If anyone understood how to be brave, she would, I thought.
“People freeze, people cry- it’s natural. But you keep fighting” said this woman whose current whereabouts I know nothing of.
I once ran away to Sweden at 4am and with precisely no sleep, went to see a stage musical about HP Lovecraft in Swedish with a beautiful red haired photographer and a group of her friends. I explored Stockholm then met a man at the wrong time and right airport. We shared our life stories on the plane ride home. Both these people are still my friends.
In my second-ever desert, I was taught a semi-secret kind of ‘raver handshake’ by a girl I had just met, with charms shaped like eyes in her hair and a talent for making costumes. It was a tiny ritual of friendship and involved one person giving a bracelet to the other. Mine had a charm in the shape of an axe on it.
A couple of months ago I met a hippy lady on a bus, far nearer my home in Milton Keynes than I thought hippies ventured! 🙂 Without warning or prompting she began to tell me the answers to questions I’d been trying not to ask myself for weeks. Only a few stops- six at the max- and I was at my destination. The bubble of her world separated from that of mine slightly messily as my new bracelet with the charm shaped like an axe snagged on one of the woollen loops of her coat and we had to spend a minute untangling ourselves.
There have been many more but some too soon or too personal to list here, even if I could mention everybody who has been difficult to farewell.
Some of the people I meet while travelling remain in my life today- a few as potentially lifelong friends and some as ‘social media’ friends before I have to remind myself who they are in an age where a lot of us are getting married and/or changing our names. It’s painful coming to terms with the fact that sometimes all you are left with is a moment in time.
It’s easy to say that staying in touch is simple because in theory, yes it is. But if you communicated through music videos and emoticons because you didn’t share a language, or met at a concert and all you have in common is a love of that band, or part of the magic was the group you were in- the games you played, food you ate and inside jokes you shared, simply vowing to talk on facebook is not enough. An intense three-hour drunken conversation in a Berlin fetish club toilet is the stuff of great stories but as I learned, the craziness and support shared by eight people who mostly didn’t know each other does not carry over to a doner kebab outing in the cold light of day no matter how nice everybody is and how good 4am had been. Sometimes, the only thing to take from a moment is the moment itself.
Perhaps it is the knowledge that ‘this too shall pass’ that makes encounters on the road feel so much more intense? Why not go here, do this, feel that? Tomorrow, we’ll be moving on and this exact opportunity may never come again. I wonder if it is easier for constant travellers to do every wild thing we can think of because we already know that whatever we’re doing will come to an end sooner rather than later and we need to cram ten times the living and the feeling in there. If we don’t, do we get what “Fight Club”s Jack would call shallow ‘single serving’ moments?
This particular burble has been a long time coming but because my lack of funds (that is, if I want to keep my home!) mean I will almost certainly be unable to attend certain events (including Wasteland Weekend 2017) unless a miracle happens. I am feeling rather low and missing people a bit more keenly. Yes, Wastelanders now feel like family and from everything I’ve seen online may well prove the exception to the “Berlin kebab” rule, but not being able to return cannot help but make me feel separate.
Don’t get me wrong- there are a hell of a lot of problems out there worse than my occasional bout of blah and I’ll be fine but the nomadic life is often romanticised and while there is something magical and empowering in being alone and independent, I’ve heard this sentiment come from so many different people that here’s my voice too. Add it to the pile. Constantly saying goodbye makes you feel damn lonely.
The cure for it? Time. Adventures. Encounters. Keeping them coming. For me at least, remembering that they happened is a good start and if I haven’t forgotten them then the chances are that somebody out there remembers me too. Touching lives with people is one of my favourite things about life as a traveller and that, more than anything else is what keeps me on the road.
Photo on the right by Jewelled Earth