It takes you 10 times out of the country to realize there’s no place like home, to feel all right about going back, and to decide – at least for the time being – you’ve seen what you needed to see and experienced what you needed to experience.
1. Your first time out of the country, you are not fully able to process just what’s different. Yes the bathrooms, yes the food, yes the street signs. Maybe the language and obviously the currency. But you’ve taken other field trips with your classmates, and this trip is kind of just like those trips on a bigger scale. You’re pretty far away, but you’re going home soon enough, so this is totally temporary. Your bed back at your parents’ house will be there for you to sleep in within the week, and so for this first time out of the country, you’re just along for the ride, and you’re honestly taking for granted the fact that you even crossed a border.
2. Your second time out of the country you fall in love. With freedom, with the boy you sat beside on the bus from the airport, with the coolness in the air coming off the water, with the accents of the people in the pubs, with the idea of being connected to those people thanks to ancestry dating back a few generations. You drink the local beers, you dance your best jig, you stay up till all hours of the night not wanting to miss a minute of this epic excursion. You cry when they put the news on at the bar one of the nights you’re out and you see that something awful has happened back home, and then your spirits are lifted by that boy from the bus and the locals at the bar who sing drinking songs and tell you not to worry, this too shall pass, we’re all in it together. It is life. It is this big wide world.
3. Your third time out of the country you just chill. You’re still so young, you have so few actual stresses, and yet you’re craving a cerveza on the beach, soo bad, mannn. You just need to, like, unwind, and walk through a rain forest holding an umbrella ironically for the photo op. You need to pair the cute new cover up you bartered for with a bandana over your messy hair. You need to “forget” to put on sunscreen until it’s too late, and then drink fruity drinks out of yardlong plastic sippy cups so you don’t feel the burn and you can forget that you’re going back to school work and so much angst over boys and grades and your parents and siblings. You forget to remember how lucky you are.
4. Your fourth time out of the country, you get the picture, or rather you get the sense that you’re walking through a scene out of one of the fairy tale picture books you grew up reading. There’s magic in the air and in the wine and in the food and in the history – this is what “they” mean by ancient. You’re reverent as you enter a walled city, you’re wistful as you throw a penny in a fountain over your shoulder, you’re tickled pink as you try and succeed in speaking the language you spent years studying. You realize you need this, and though you say as much, you can’t quite articulate what you mean in saying it. You just feel it in your bones – the necessity to experience as much of this as possible, the fact that you’ll be back.
5. Your fifth time out of the country, you’re all about filling up that passport book with as many new stamps as possible, so you hop from one incredible city to the next, and you know what questions to ask so you will end up seeing the coolest places each city has to offer. When it’s cold you warm yourself up with big steins of beer. When you have a down day you seek out museums of history or art. When you master use of the public transportation you pat yourself on the back or on the backpack. When it’s time to go home, you hardly look or feel American anymore. You’re certain your worldliness will blow everyone back there away. You’re ready to reconnect but you realize you really did not mind how thoroughly far away and out of touch you felt while you were gone.
6. Your sixth time out of the country, you leave for love. You put your credit score and your heart on the line, because it’s worth it. You would and you do go around the world with and for someone you trust would do the same for you, and together you two venture into the vast unknown. You consult guidebooks and you pack lunches, and you make days and weekends and weeks of it – soaking in every sunset and sunrise, opening up in the great wide open. You pose with exotic animals, you swim in new oceans, you make friends with fellow free spirits, and you ring in the New Year a dozen or more hours before your friends and family back home. You’re older going home.
7. Your seventh time out of the country is a mistake. So much for lucky number seven… You think you should have saved the money, you realize you could have saved the time, you have no way of saving yourself from the inevitable heartbreak when, toward the end of the trip, that boy from the bus on your second time out of that country tells you this is when your time as travel buddies and partners-in-crime and lovers and best friends ends. And you find yourself broken half a world away from the rest of the people you love, and you are reminded of just how tangible a distance can be and how long a flight back home can seem when its spent tired and teary eyed.
8. Your eighth time out of the country, you’re on a mission. You’re in search of yourself in whatever corner of the world you feel you’re most likely to find it. So you only book a one-way ticket, because you don’t know when or if you’re going to want to come back. You have a loose agenda and a plan to take in sights that range from the picture on the packaging of a box of hot chocolate to the inspiration for your grandmother’s kitchen. You journal and read like mad as the countryside whizzes by you out the window of the train. You hike in flip-flops because, in spite of the guidebooks in your bags, you are in the moment and swept up in the excitement of the open-endedness. You meet long-lost cousins, you face your fears, you gain weight from all the cheese you eat, and on your twelve hour layover between the last minute flights you booked home, you pick up a book that will change your life.
9. Your ninth time out of the country, you’ve come to reclaim some of the territory you first charted back when you were a freshly minted globe-trotter. You take a whirlwind trip that packs a lot of punch. You’ve got just three to five days to celebrate how cool it is to see a landscape again with new eyes having grown and changed since the first time you explored it. You almost give your heart to a guy you meet just as you’re leaving, but then you remember you’ll need it still to set the course of your next adventure with.
10. Your tenth time out of the country, you walk past the people in first class on your flight and realize that in the grand scheme of things, you’re all the same. You’re all little fish in this big pond, little kids on this big playground called Earth. You all have potential to make a difference and be the world to one or any number of other people. You’re all ships passing in the night, you’re all related somehow or other. You’re all going home eventually. And as you eat frites or you swim in the baths, or you find just the right filter for one last instagram post before you leave, you realize while we all share this enormous play ground, you’re one of the relatively few people to have been blessed with the chance to try out the swings, the jungle gym, and the monkey bars in corners all over the world. And you’re sure you’ll have a hankering for more international travel in due time, but in the meantime, you’re looking forward, if not to settling down, to settling in back home.