Friday, January 27, 2023

Wander Lust: The Surprising Thing I Miss Most About Travel

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As part of our Capsule Travels week, we’re bringing you some travel inspiration for at home and abroad, and stories about what travel means to us. Here, Emma Clifton realises the unexpected travel aspect she’s missed the most over these past two years.

There is so much to miss about the way we used to be able to travel – the ease of it, the options, the joy; heck, the ability to actually plan to go anywhere, any time. But the aspect of travel I miss the most isn’t the bright lights or the food or the change of scenery, it’s the wandering. The spontaneous, ‘let’s walk down this road, shall we?’ joy of tootling about in a new place. I miss the thrill of discovery.

At this stage, two years into a pandemic and working from home, I am so familiar with my flat that I feel like it is an extension of my body; it’s a wonder I haven’t started talking to couch, or the bookshelves. We’ve given our landlord’s cat a full personality and back story (she cares for neither).

Same with our local area – those daily lockdown walks mean I now have a catalogue of the neighbourhood pets and who parks where. The idea of going somewhere new is as overwhelming as it is exhilarating. Our attitude for so long, when we do leave the house, has been ‘get in, get out’ – our trips to the supermarket a military-like procedure, lest you linger in front of the pasta aisle a little too long and get hissed at by a frantic shopper for dawdling (I am that frantic shopper).

Travel is when you get to wander in and wonder at the world around you, ideally with as little schedule as possible.

My favourite travel mentality was to ruthlessly research for the months leading up to my trip and then leave most days to chance when I got there – combining the joy of anticipation with the crackle of spontaneity. Sure, this leaves room for many a misfire. On my first trip to New York as baby 25 year olds, my friend and I spent hours lost in industrial suburbs, hungry and always, always, always needing a wee.

Heck, it’s how we ended up in an underage night club, because we had done no research on where to go for a night out. But those random events and chance encounters are the magic that travel is made up of – when else in your life do you get to deviate from a route and just see where you end up?

So much of our modern life is about squeezing every little bit of efficiency out of each minute and making sure we’re as productive as possible. Travel is when you get to wander in and wonder at the world around you, ideally with as little schedule as possible.

Remember wandering??

As our world slowly starts to open up, travel is becoming a slightly more comfortable topic of conversation. At a recent lunch with friends, all three of us admitted we were starting to plan a trip with the same hushed language you might use to admit you’re thinking of committing a crime. I mentioned that my best friend was getting married in Hawaii and “hopefully we would make that,” when one of my lunch friends asked if we would be going anywhere else in America while we were there.

For so long, the idea of travel – or any kind of event – hasn’t even been the remotest possibility. It feels like the planning part of my brain has withered away.

Honestly? The thought hadn’t even occurred to me, and I’m someone who sleeps with a map of New York beside my bed. For so long, the idea of travel – or any kind of event – hasn’t even been the remotest possibility. It feels like the planning part of my brain has withered away.

Not to be very Shawshank Redemption but even the concept of hope now feels like a long-lost island as we shuffle through yet another mostly-locked-down month. I haven’t done an in-person interview since June last year, thanks to Auckland’s seemingly never-ending red light and now I’m planning to try and go to America? This little sieve brain can’t handle it.

But it was while staring at that map of New York one night that the gleam of possibility started to come back to me. The idea of heading out in the morning and walking around for 10 straight hours, before returning back to the hotel with the kind of exhausted legs that can only come from full-time wandering. The idea of venturing further afield than just another part of Auckland. The idea of an out-of-office that lasts for more than one day.

In the movie Pleasantville, everything has been black and white for years until new characters come in and people start seeing colour for the first time – and then they can’t think any other way. I feel like my brain has been home/supermarket/home for so long that it’s only now starting to see colour again. And I really hope I don’t ever have to think another way, ever again.

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