But before all that, Paris.
Some saved up air miles and all of June off proved that we had a little bit more wanderlust left to shake off. What better way to end a career break of traveling than a week or so in Paris.
The flight there would count as our 26th plane ride in 8 months and mark the remaining pages of my passport. It would also be le grand finale of our big experiment in long-term traveling and career breaks.
It still amazes me that it all turned out so beautifully. The luck has been so good, I almost whispher it.
Nothing reminds us more of how “worldly” we’ve become than on our fourth day in Paris, when upon leaving Deux Magots, one of the restaurants where Hemingway used to enjoy hot chocolate, Jeremie calls out Dave’s name. The last time we saw him was in Luang Prabang, Laos, where we spent nearly a week wandering markets and eating on the street with fellow travellers. He bunked with us on the pit stop from Chiang Mai to the loading dock at the border of Thailand and Laos. He’s Parisian and in broken English, he tried to explain to us what he did for a living, only for us to interrupt him midway to say, “you’re a TV news editor?!” Small world. It was funny to hear the same work complaints, only in a French accent.
Later, we would have a drink in a cool little street in Bastille and talk about the months between our travels.
Now that he’s back, he told us that he sometimes has to remind himself that he was gone at all. His life as a traveler and his real life, existing in different time lines.
We often feel the same way. We know the traveling changed us but to show proof, to show something tangible is difficult.
But one thing always reminds me why we made the trip and why less than a couple months later, we’re yet on another one.
It was the arrival.
I’m not talking about the airplane landing, grabbing of luggage, going through customs, going to the bathroom to freshen up, arrival. I’m not talking about the shoulder-heavy, joint-stiffness, dehydrated feeling from sitting in an airplane for most of the day.
For me, that all seems to dissolve with street-level arrival. The first whiff of a new city. The shiny-ness of a place at first sight. The wide-eyed wonder of discovering something new.
It is this same feeling I get as we arrive at Gare du Nord after taking the RER from Charles de Gaulle airport. Hauling our luggage, we walk onto the street, take a long sweep of the cafes and breathe in the atmosphere. Wow, we’re in Paris.
Wandering St. Germaine with a friend who lives in Paris, buoyed by the energy of taking in a new place, I say, “I love the world.” I’m aware that I sound like a tween, making simplistic proclamations akin to saying, “I love rainbows.” I also know that it’s easy to say the world is beautiful in a splendid quarter of one of the world’s best cities, browsing beautiful bookstores and eating giant macarons. But I felt the same thing, walking up those steep steps at Annapurna, encountering the daily lives of the locals. Or listening to a French traveler tell me stories from his town, sitting at the tip of a slow boat going down the Mekong.
If I carry only one true sentiment from the entire trip, it is this: the world is such an amazing, fascinating thing to observe. There is too much to see not to go and see it.
At this moment, walking down the prettiest of Paris streets, the importance of traveling is very clear. But Jeremie is also right. Sometimes, the traveling feels like a slight detour from the regular timeline of your real life, somehow so separate from everything else that you doubt its existence. Were we really gone for 5 months? Sitting in my backyard, clothes neatly put away, It doesn’t seem like it.
I know the memories will become even more distant as the work begins to really churn, daily routines taking over once again.
So for now, we savour this last trip, letting it soak into our bones long enough to always remind us to never stop taking detours.