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Learning to Love Again

When that inevitable final chapter of a journey begins, it can be greeted with both sadness and relief. For those of us who have made travel a way of life, coming home can be a bittersweet affair. The joy of seeing the loved ones we’ve missed, mixed with the realization that friends have settled down, gotten hitched and have began to behave like adults in our absence. We find ourselves missing the open road where our days were counted by miles conquered, real estate endeavors consisted of finding the cheapest lodging for the night and the question “just what are you doing with your life?” never seemed to arise.

I have always had a tenuous relationship with my home town of Toronto. There were many things I loved about the city, the multiculturalism, the cool bars and restaurants, the live music scene and above all, the fact that my family and many of dearest friends were here. But travel made me begin to question my bond with Toronto. Was this the place I saw myself living permanently? With so many amazing places I felt drawn to explore, Toronto became my stop-over base where I could recoup, regroup mentally and replenish my bank account between trips and not much more.

I recently returned home after a year of working abroad and traveling the great land of Australia. Coming home felt different this time around. The usual bout of vagabond withdrawal and mild depression which generally followed time spent away never manifested itself. I felt content and decided to stop being a cynic of “my” city and embrace it wholeheartedly. Maybe even learn to love it? Perhaps my new acceptance reflected some deeper understanding that I had been running from something which I had somehow comes to terms with? Or maybe I just needed to stop being a “whinging” (Aussie for complaining) b****.

As travelers, we pride ourselves on being open-minded and embracing different people and places, yet it was so hard for me to openly embrace my own city. I’m sure my friends were getting fed up with my tiresome comparisons of Toronto to other cities I’d visited and pointing out what I though it was lacking. Yea Berlin has the coolest underground bar scene and Melbourne’s live Indie rock is second to none, so what? Where else can you bargain shop in China town, lunch on an authentic Greek gyro on the Danforth, enjoy an evening stroll through little Portugal and wine and dine in true Italian fashion in Little Italy, not to mention find a secluded beach minutes from the downtown core on Toronto Island? Maybe I’ve grown up or maybe after seeing so many places I can finally appreciate my own. My travels are far from over but coming “home” no longer carries with it the usual sense of foreboding. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, I love you Toronto.


Joker Hill, Aurora, OntarioWhenever life gets tedious and boring there’s a little voice that urges me to pack up and get out while I still can. While listening to this voice has led me on some unforgettable adventures, my impulsive travel decisions are not without consequence. Being 28 and essentially penniless, living back at my parents place after a year-long stint in Australia and New Zealand has forced me to take a long hard look at my life and has forced me to face the possibility that it was time to get serious about life. But what does that even mean?

For much of my adult life I floated in a fairly happy state of contentment, I finished school, got a decent job and had a nice boyfriend. After the demise of my long-term relationship I began to question if the life I was living was fulfilling and what direction I was going to take next. Travel offered everything I felt my so-called-life lacked. I was on my own, meeting new people, having fun-filled and crazy misadventures. I finally had stories I felt were worth telling. Being homeless in Barcelona and living in a communal apartment with a bunch of Australian hedonists, sleeping on beaches, volunteering to save turtles in Guatemala, working in 46 degree heat on a vineyard in Western Australia, these were adventures I had longed for and I couldn’t get enough. It took some time to realize that whatever void I was trying to fill was still gaping up at me. Now don’t get me wrong, I saw and experienced many amazing things and grew as a person in many ways, but I was waiting for travel to give me something that I felt I lacked.

I recently watched the film ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ which tells the story of a middle-aged woman who is on a journey to “find herself” through cultural indulgence, spirituality and finally, the love of a man. Now for those of us more based in reality, the road to self-fulfillment isn’t quite so smooth and is often littered with confusion, loneliness and self-doubt. I guess the big picture I was missing was that you can’t find something that isn’t lost. I think the wise old Dalai Lama said it best “Right now, at this moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness”, although he was referring to monetary gains, fame and success, I think world travel can sometimes fall under this scope as well as we are always looking for the next trip, the next adventure to bring us happiness. I feel I need to point out that I feel at my best when I travel. The intrinsic rewards of learning about other cultures and meeting wise world travelers is unparalleled to anything money can buy in my opinion, however the danger of travel to avoid facing myself was a real danger to me and one that I’m still battling with. Here is my conclusion: Self-honesty is the key. Knowing yourself well enough to know when to forge ahead and when to turn back, when to let down the sails and when to let your roots set. That being said, I’ll be sending all my love from wherever it is I end upl.

Why do certain places become “our” places while others are like empty rooms we simply glide through without forming an attachment? Is it the places themselves which leave an imprint on our minds or is it the people and memories which fill those places?

I started to ask myself these questions after a friend asked me if I identify more with Poland, my place of birth or my homeland of over twenty years, Canada. I came to the realization that while both are vital to who I am and I am eternally grateful for the blessings I have received from both, it is difficult to say that I identify with one more than the other. This begs the question; does the length of time spent in a given place determine the level of attachment?

I like to think that “my place” is someplace itinerant which I can bring with me wherever I go. It’s a space within which I can place all the people who I care about and carry that space with me without letting it weigh me down.

In the film “Up in the Air” the lead character Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney, speaks  of human  attachments being baggage which inevitably weigh you down and don’t allow you the freedom  to do as you wish in life. Leading an empty life, void of the components, such as friends and family, which Ryan equates to “baggage”, leaves him with the illusion of fulfilment in constant travel without the burden of attachment. Ryan say’s “The slower we move the faster we die”, in reference to be being slowed down by the holds of attachment, I have to disagree with Ryan. What is life without human connection and finding meaning in our interactions with others? These bonds are the very essence of what it means to be alive.

As much as I love to be afloat and travel abroad from place to place in search of one call “my place”. The place I feel most connected to is wherever I am at any given moment knowing that all those I care for are with me from a distance. Without people, no place can ever be “my place” in this world.

A few days prior to my departure, a friend I had met on my travels in Europe contacted me with the news that he was now living and working in San Fran. This friend is a fun loving, exuberant Irishman by the name of Eoghan. My travel companions and I had met Eoghan and his Aussie posse whilst in need of a place to live in Barcelona. We found ourselves living in the grimiest of apartments in the sketchiest of alley ways but loving every minute because of the great company and spontaneous adventures.

                Since my friend and travel companion, Ana, would not be arriving until the following day and our couchsurfing host worked late that evening, I had a whole solo day to venture the streets of San Fran. I could not think of a better way to spend the day than getting the “Eoghan Patrick” tour of the city which I was sure would include beer and some kind of fun trouble. We soon found ourselves sitting at Dolores Park drinking beer out of brown paper bag and watching masses of hip San Franciscans congregate in the park with their dogs and reminiscing about past travels.

A long walk through the city brought us to the eclectic and distinctly Latin saturated district of The Mission. As it turns out this area happened to be where our couchsurf host lived and would be our home base in the following days…

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Goat Rock Beach, Santa Rosa

Day 1


En-route to San Francisco

Let me think back to where this all began. The seed for the idea of this trip was planted a long time ago, it’s hard to remember when my fascination with foreign places began. I do, however, remember looking at maps as a child and feeling a sense of fascination at the expanse of the world and all the possibilities it held. My Dad had, at one time during my childhood tacked a map above my and all I wanted was to able to stick colorful tacks into the places I had visited. I no longer have a colorful poster on my wall in which to stick tacks documenting my ventures, but I am proud to say that my passport bares witness to more than one border crossing and is somewhat adorned with colorful stamps from all over. I am, however, nowhere near reaching my goal of setting foot on every continent and calling myself a seasoned traveller. Up until this point my travels have taken me to South and Central America, as well as a four months long trip across Europe. At this very moment I am sitting on a flight headed towards the first leg of what will likely be the trip of my life. I will be arriving in San Francisco for a week long stop-over to explore the famously hip city before setting off for our destination, the grand continent of Australia.

Just over a year and a half ago I found myself single and at a crossroads of sorts. The choices laid out before me were job security and setting down roots or putting my life on hold to travel. A friend and I decided on a three and a half month trip to Europe which we told ourselves would be the last lengthy trip on which we would embark as we were both in our mid-twenties and feeling the pressure to settle down. Yet here I am, a mere seven months since our return from Europe, on yet another, and longer trip into whatever lay ahead. I wish I could say that the knot in my stomach was due solely the excitement of being outbound again but truth be told it was excitement dosed with a small helping of fear. Having left my family, friends and life behind without much semblance of a plan, has left me feeling a weightlessness which is both intoxicatingly wonderful and slightly unnerving.

Will this trip be what I expect? Will I return to the life I left behind or will I gravitate to the life of a traveller and find another place on earth to call home?

I can pinpoint a distinct moment on every trip abroad when I found myself on some distant shore looking out across the sands and waves towards a never-ending horizon. I can vividly recall the sense of peace and joy which was encompassed in that moment, and the desire I felt to hold on to that moment long after leaving the sea behind. As with most things in life, great travels must eventually come to an end as one returns to a life of responsibilty and routine. The afterglow from a venture into the great wide world fades with time and though photographs and memories offer a reprive into a happy reverie of past travels, the past eventually settles into it’s place in our memory. Some of us are left with a yearning which is difficult to silence and though the structure of work and the security of friends and family offer some solace, we cannot ignore the whisper of the world beckoning us to return to ride the wave of adventure once more and remember the smell of the sea.

And so the adventure begins…

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