Travel fades so quickly once you’re back to your normal life. I’ve been back three weeks and it feels like I’ve been back three months already. The transformative moments stay with you forever, but the bulk of travel is easily forgotten. Once you’re back in your usual environment it’s like it all happened to a different person in a different time and place.
Which is why I’ve struggled a little answering the question, ‘What was the highlight of your trip?’
I travelled for more than a month and covered thousands of kilometres over several countries – so it’s hard for me to give a satisfactory answer (while keeping it brief). I usually end up saying something like, “Mexico was amazing – definitely the highlight – and America was awesome too.”
Which is entirely true but not entirely the truth.
I definitely feel the pull to go back to Mexico and would love to spend a month there at some point – but it’s actually not what I idly think about while sitting on a bus to work. I loved the food in both the States and Central America (especially tacos) and I was blown away by the discovery of entire civilisations I previously knew nothing about. However, the overall highlight was actually the same highlight it is for every trip I take: the people. It’s the people I met that I find myself thinking about and talking about all these weeks later.
It was a luxurious month of socialising – firstly with my brother David in New York, who I hadn’t seen in a few years, and catching up with a dozen other friends both old and new. I stayed with people in all the major cities I visited in the States – New York, Boston, Philadelphia – and over on the West Coast in San Fran and LA. Little wonder the US felt so familiar on this trip. It almost felt like a second home…and particularly San Francisco and the East Bay area which was wonderful, and I instantly fell in love with it. It’s where we stayed with our friends Katherine and Gary; we last saw them in Thailand in June 2011, when they left a week before I left. Spending so much time with them again just made me desperately wish that we weren’t separated by an ocean.
Today I remembered how on one of our final nights in Chiang Mai as Katherine dropped me off, she turned to me in her car and said, “Promise me that we’ll live in the same city again one day.”
And then there were all the new people I met on a group tour in Guatemala and Mexico, mostly travellers rather than local inhabitants. I’ve always been turned off by the idea of group travel, which is why I’ve never done it before. I like doing my own thing, for the most part, and I don’t always cope well in situations where I’m forced to spend time with people I haven’t chosen to be with. So setting out I felt slightly apprehensive. We had gone with a tour because we were flat out and didn’t have the headspace to think about how we’d travel through Guatemala to Mexico.
Imagine my surprise to discover how much I LOVED being on a group tour (we went with Gecko’s, which wasn’t too bad). It was total revelation. It reminded me what a people person I am and how much I enjoy meeting new people. However, it was a compressed expat experience so wasn’t very local – including the way we were cushioned from the impact of everyday hassles.
We’d go off on our own during the day and get together at night. By the time we got to Mexico the group ended up being five Australians, three Canadians and a German-American. Also two Mexican guides who were chalk and cheese. It wasn’t always easy being part of a group – especially when it came to finding places to have dinner! – but I was more than happy to compromise. I enjoyed being in the company of other travellers and it’s strange how quickly you can bond in situations like this. I liked the random mix of personalities from different stages and stations of life, and the little quirks people revealed.
It was good to be out of my Lonely Planet comfort zone and be with people I might not otherwise meet. In the original version of my holiday, I had investigated going up the Pacific Northwest and over to the Western part of Canada. But travelling solidly for two weeks with three Canadian men – Duncan, Paddy and Steve – I probably gained a lot more insight into Canada than I would have if I was simply travelling through. I barely scratched the surface with them though, because Canadians are very reserved people, even moreso than Australians. They don’t give too much away about themselves.
However, Canadians and Australians seem to share a similar sense of humour and we’re both from New World countries, so there was a lot of common ground and we got on great. And the more I got to know the Canadians, the more I liked them and appreciated how considerate, easygoing and good natured they were. I was intrigued by their back stories, which I only got the slightest glimpses of…and now I feel like I have more reason than ever to get to Canada. Just to see them in their natural environment :-)
If you’ve been on a trip recently, what was the highlight of your trip?