Saturday, October 04, 2014

The Price of Travel

Last weekend, I was a speaker on a panel discussion at the Toronto Go Global Expo. Afterwards, I had a couple of students approach me. They wanted to ask me what it was like to like to have a mobile office, to have the ability to pick up and freelance from anywhere in the world.

“It must be amazing,” they enthused. And it is.

But in a lot of ways, it’s also very lonely.

Midway through June, I boarded a plane from Sydney to LAX, on route back to Toronto. On only the 26th week of the year, it was already my 21st flight.

That's why I vowed that it would be my last.

I was exhausted. It had been nonstop in a completely unintentional sort of way; my planned travels (a wedding in Mexico, a tour of the Galapagos and two visits to Australia) were sandwiched by quick business trips to Calgary and California. Packing was getting redundant and my nostrils were a perpetually dry and bloody mess from pressurized cabins and the constant change in climate.

I was ready for long summer evenings in the backyard, barbecuing with friends and spending morning-afters at our favourite brunch spots. I was ready to cuddle my dog and take late-night walks through the park. I was ready to spend afternoons hanging out on the front porch, chatting with my neighbours and drinking mead. After spending a year and a half largely avoiding my Toronto existence, I was ready to sink back into city life—at least for a little bit, at least until I could replenish my bank account again. 

But as I settled back in, the silence was deafening. Once, a week went by when nobody text messaged me. Yes, you read that right—an entire week. (Let the record show that in this year of 2014, I actually went seven consecutive days without receiving a text message.)

And it got worse. My dog, at this point, didn’t give a shit about whether I came or went. He didn’t even come running when I came to the door after weeks of absence. (Granted, Boston Terriers aren’t exactly a breed known for being prone to bouts of intense loyalty.) Even the sanctity of my front porch, which I’ve come to so heavily rely on for most of my day-to-day social interactions (I do work from home, after all), was ruined by the incessant sound of concrete being poured at a lot across the street.

And then sometime, somewhere in between Ecuador and San Diego, I managed to turn 30. My apartment threw one of the barbecues that I had been so keen to host, but when I looked around at the end of the night, I realized that I didn’t know a single person at my own birthday party.

I went to bed. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so lonely and why it felt so hard.

It wasn’t until almost a month after I boarded that “final” flight home that I started to figure it out. Bumping into friends on the street, they would be surprised and ask, “What are you doing here?” Here in this context didn’t mean the coffee shop, or the neighbourhood or wherever I happened to cross paths with them—here meant Canada. Like, what are you doing in the country that you reside in? Then there was the string of cryptic Facebook messages that I received mid-August from friends asking when I was "getting back," even though I hadn’t gone anywhere in months.

Suddenly it all made sense. It’s impossible to sink back into something that doesn’t exist anymore. The truth was that I’d fallen off the radar of people’s everyday lives in a completely irreconcilable way. In the last year and a half that I’ve been gallivanting, people have established routines and social circles and none of them include me in the way that they used to. Because after all, why would you issue a social invitation to someone who you assume to be out of the country?

So I’m starting to make small changes. I quit my part-time job, which opens up my weekends for the first time in six years. I’m looking for volunteer opportunities to get involved in my community again. And I’m cuddling Brockdog extra hard, even if he still never comes running to greet me at the door. (The jerk.) I’m also coming to terms with the fact that even though I’m not location independent, I’m also not tied to Toronto. Instead, I live a strange hybridized lifestyle somewhere in between.

In the last year, travel has brought me more love and heartache than I could have ever imagined. And yet, I don’t want it to be any other way. Because the truth is, loneliness aside, it is kind of amazing.

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