As anyone who moves to another country knows, one of the guaranteed side effects of your change in time zone is going to be your friends, acquaintances, and even strangers constantly telling you how “lucky” you were to “get away.” Of course the initial reaction can be a touch of resentment at the implication that your arriving in this new land was simply a result of falling into an airplane/ pile of money, and waking up magically in the apartment of your dreams. As we know, it’s most often through a lot of hard, tedious work, patience, mountains of bureaucracy, and being at the bottom rung of everything for a while until you get adjusted to your new culture, language, and space. But for people who dream of living somewhere else — people who have a need to explore, learn a new language, or have always dreamed of a particular city, there is nothing more rewarding. And while when you’re boarding the plane with no return ticket and no clear idea of how you’re going to suddenly construct an entirely new life for yourself, things can be incredibly intimidating, no drug on the planet could possibly replace the thrill. It’s wonderful.
But even just to take a trip to a new country you’ve always dreamed of is an undertaking in itself — even if you plan on having firmly in hand that mythical return ticket so many of us have yet to procure. Sure, riding rickety trains from city to city in Eastern Europe, whittling your own walking stick in the Himalayas, renting a tiny bungalow on a beach in Thailand, drinking wine and eating good bread under the Eiffel Tower — these all seem amazing. They seem like some kind of dream. Yet they seem so far away. They seem somehow unattainable — that there are too many things standing between you and the foreign joy you’ve so long imagined. Paperwork, plane tickets, finding a place to stay, learning those cursory phrases that prove to be much more indispensable than you could have anticipated — not a one can be left off the list. Personally speaking, though I have known since I was a little girl that I always wanted to go to Paris and had learned to speak the language before setting foot in the territory — I had many false starts for my big trip. Even when I didn’t plan to live there, I just wanted to visit, there was always something that stood in the way — some reason I couldn’t justify it. Even when friends in Paris would offer me a place to stay, tickets were at their most inexpensive, and the weather was perfect — something happened and I didn’t go. By the time I finally made my first trip, it felt like I could finally exhale after holding my breath for years. I had done it; I was here.
And now, I hear at least once a day from someone — whether here in France looking to finally see the U.S., or from friends at home who won’t use my offer of a couch in my apartment to convince themselves it’s time to finally see Europe — that they just “can’t go.” The timing isn’t right, the money isn’t there, they have to get a new passport, they can’t find anyone to go with, they can’t get vacation time, things are just not going to work out right now. And these are often the same people who’ve been talking for six straight years about how much they want to go and travel — they are the ones who actively want to get out. I’ll have the same conversation over and over with friends — often friends who are at the peak no real responsibility/ a decent amount of disposal income combination. Friends who have jobs, sure, but have vacation time to take if they plan ahead of time. It goes like this, time after time:
Friend: Ugh, I’m so jealous of you. I want to see Europe so badly. I really should go. I want to come to Paris and drink coffee at those outdoor tables!
Me: Well, you should come and visit! I can come get you from the airport and you can stay with me!
Friend: Yeah, but the tickets are so expensive.
Me: Well, if you buy them now, they’ll be about 550 bucks round trip for the early summer — which is the best time to come, I think.
Friend: Yeah, but I don’t think I can get time off of work.
Me: Why don’t you talk to your boss now and see what time you have available this summer, and then go off of that?
Friend: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ll let you know.
Cut to them not getting back to me, and them starting the next conversation with me a few weeks later with “Omg how is Paris ugh wish I were there.” And this is almost universal — the exact same justifications, the exact same desire to go, the exact same reasons why it will never work. Year after year after year. And granted, I have had friends visit with me and they’ve always enjoyed the city — and it always helps to have someone to show you around and help you figure things out, not to mention the free bed. Not everyone has talked themselves out of it. However, most of the people I’ve seen here from the States are people to whom traveling in general is an indispensable part of life, something that comes at the top of their leisure spending priorities. In fact, I recently had a conversation with a friend about this very topic — one who is what I would refer to as a “travel addict.” He said,
I don’t make that much money. I mean, I make enough, but I stay in hostels and couch surf and always live on the cheap when I travel. I buy tickets way in advance for off-season times and I try to find places where I know people I can stay with or who can show me around. When I’m home, I don’t spend a ton of money on going out or shopping for a few months before I travel — it’s something you can save for if you want to. There’s always a way to put the money aside, especially when you’re young and don’t have a family or a house or whatever. Anyway, if I don’t do it now, I probably never will — I couldn’t live with that.
And yet, when people talk to him, they consistently act amazed that he manages to get around the way he does without his parents’ help or a very lucrative job. He is equally bewildered, I think, with how much they don’t realize they spend just going out at night or shopping on weekends. To each his own, of course, but to act as though traveling — especially when you’re young — is some kind of insane luxury that is utterly unattainable unless the stars align perfectly and God hands you a couple hundred dollar bills while no one is looking is ludicrous.
My best friend here in Paris works in the hotel industry, and loves his job. He is the ultimate guide — you tell him someone is new in town, he’ll introduce them to everyone and show them the five best places to go for any occasion. He knows where to get the best croissant — which is different from the place with the best pain au chocolate, it must be said. You imagine he just has a map of the city on the palm of his hand that he checks when no one is looking. And when you ask him about his favorite thing about his job, he’ll say,
When a much older couple comes in, and they can’t do much in their day, so you have to help them find the best things for what they like that aren’t too far apart. They’ll say, “Thank you so much. We’ve been waiting all our lives to take this trip–but it just got so hard to come here with children and the house and everything. We just didn’t come.” Nothing makes me happier than making their trip special and exciting. And they’ll always say, “You’re so young. Go see the world, then come back and build your life.”