(This post was written on October 29, 2014.)
I’m returning to Toronto on the third of November, 46 days before I’m booked to go to New York and at least two months before I had planned to return home. I’m going to be honest as to why: I knew I didn’t want to go to Europe before I flew here. Actually, I acknowledged disinterest in Europe upon my return from Italy. Yet, here I am, writing to you from a little apartment in Le Marais, the historic district of Paris. To help you understand how I got here, let’s backtrack: At the end of the summer, I wanted out of my job, so I quit. While this had been my intention since about June, it had nothing to do with Europe. It did, however, set the stage. I knew quitting my job without another lined up automatically meant spending money on living costs without an income, and I refused to spend my dream fund on anything but my dream trip. In my mind, my immediate options were either to get on a plane or to sit at another desk working for another company I wouldn’t care about. Secret option number three – be happily unemployed and write for the pleasure of writing for as long as I could still pay rent – was not an option I was going to entertain, even though it was the most alluring. With “exiting one corporate job only to instantaneously enter another” sitting right next to “entrap myself in a cage of pigeons” – my nightmare – on my list of priorities, I was suddenly all for Europe again. I booked a flight before I could ask myself the obvious question: Am I sure a big Europe trip is still something I want to do? I dodged my own inquisition, because I was not going to be the girl who didn’t go to Europe. I was not going to look back on 24-year-old me at age 80 to regret not giving my dream trip a go.
As soon as I arrived in Paris, I was mesmerized. Not only is it the most beautiful city I’ve seen thus far, it is a charming cross between Rome and New York: illustrious and energetic. Although I had doubted my present desire to travel, I never doubted Paris. However, as much as I knew I’d like Paris, I knew before I left home that it wasn’t where I wanted to be at this point. Nonetheless, I needed to go to Europe to prove that to myself, because I’m one of those see-it-to-believe-it people, one of those my-actions-match-my-words people, one of those do-what-I’ll-regret-not-doing people. To Europe I went!
It took only a week and a half for the magic to succumb to tears – tears that had nothing to do with Europe, but happened despite it. I’m going to be really honest: I cried over a guy at the Eiffel Tower. (Unexpected, right? I know. That was a plot twist for me too.) Because I can’t have someone I want, I sobbed in the pouring rain beneath one of the most iconic romantic monuments in the world. (Yeah, I did it up big.) It was pathetic fallacy at its finest and the opposite of Parisian cliché, the makings of excellent blog content. #brightside. I’m telling you this because I think it’s important to depict life as it is. Social media makes life look like an endless high, distorting perceptions of happiness. To be happy does not mean to never be sad. Happiness exists relative to unhappiness. Maintaining the former is being able to healthily cope with the latter. Being high all the time is not required or realistic. Shitty moments happen both at home and abroad. To stay happy, you take from those shitty moments what positivity you can, and you go on. Yeah, I cried at the Eiffel Tower, but I needed to. It got me to the it’s-never-going-to-happen point, which leads to the get-the-fuck-over-it stage. It also stopped me from ignoring that looming question: Am I sure a big Europe trip is still something I want to do?
My answer was no – at least not right now. Of course, I didn’t make my flight change from the base of the Eiffel Tower that night. I obviously went back and forth between the extremes of “I’m going to stay in Europe and hit every country on this goddamn continent” and “I’m going to go home and date the fuck out of Toronto,” neither of which sounded appealing. After a few days of that and a lot of space from the tower, I remembered that this trip was ultimately about putting my happiness first. I accepted that between deciding to make Europe happen in April 2013 and getting on the plane in September 2014, my requirements for happiness changed. Once upon a time, I thought putting my happiness first meant escaping my life. Today, I know it means living it. I decided to leave Europe early, because I go where happiness takes me. I can’t think of a more beautiful reason to be somewhere. Right now, that somewhere is home.
Indeed, leaving a destination early is new to me. Usually, I want to stay longer. (Although, I was strangely eager to leave Italy in August, which should have been a flashing neon sign.) I stressed myself out trying to understand my shift in perspective. To spare you the same anxiety, here’s what to do when you’re travelling and want to go home:
1. Take yourself out for dinner.
You cried at the Eiffel Tower or [insert your current life problem here]. You deserve it – even if you’ve eaten out almost every day of Paris. I had French onion soup (which I still refer to as such in France despite the “French” part being implied) and beef bourguignon. #treatyourself
2. Talk to friends from home.
Oh, the smartphone. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s hard to feel alone while travelling solo with instant access to friends from home upon connection to Wi-Fi (pronounced wee-fee in French). One night shortly after my Eiffel Tower incident, I messaged various friends for their life updates. I didn’t tell any of them what happened at the tower or that I was contemplating leaving Europe early. I wanted to know what was going on with them, because I wanted a sense of home. When you want to be at home but can’t at the moment, talking to your friends can make you feel like that ocean in the way is no longer there.
3. Talk to fellow travellers.
These are the people to chat with about wanting to go home. They don’t hate their jobs and wish they were doing what you’re doing, because they don’t have jobs and they are doing what you’re doing. They get it. They’re not going to tell you that you’re “living the dream.” They’re going to tell you that sometimes they want to go home too.
4. Don’t over-analyze.
You don’t need to question yourself. I did at first, because I breathe over-analysis. Spoiler alert: It leads to unnecessary anxiety. Skip over-analysis to what I did next: decide the answers to the whys don’t matter. Not all moves you make in life have to be meticulously understood or reside within your character; they just have to make you happy.
5. Listen to yourself.
A few weeks ago, when I was still debating between staying in Europe and going home early, I was talking to a friend I used to work with at hell on earth. He’s still there. I sent him a birthday message, to which he happened to respond on Thanksgiving while working. I wasn’t surprised. I remember working every holiday. When I asked what he did to celebrate his 25th birthday, he said he just grabbed some drinks with some buddies because he had to work, adding that his friends think he’s crazy because all he does is work and sleep. I remember that too (minus the concerned friends).
He asked about Paris. I told him it’s stunning. He asked about me. I told him I was thinking about going home. As expected, I got: “You are insane!” I laughed at the typicality, then saw that he followed with this: “You are living quite the life these days!” That made me think. Not because of the words, but because of who they were coming from. He met me at a time when my life was pathetic: I worked, I ate only when I had time, and I slept when I was lucky. None of this interfered with my social life because I didn’t have one. For someone who knows my old life to be able to commend my new one reminded me of how far I’ve come. It also made me question why (this was before I stopped over-analyzing, as per my suggestion above) I’m living “quite the life these days.” It is not because I travel; it is because I now listen to myself when I’m unhappy with an aspect of my life and I change it. Moral of the story: Listen to what you want, and let yourself have it.
6. Keep enjoying your trip!
Whether you’re going home early or not, you have a new city to explore. Love it while you have it, because it is your life for the time being and I’m assuming you’re there because you wanted to see it. For me, seeing a city means eating my way through it. I can’t tell you how many mind-blowing chocolates and pastries I’ve tasted since landing in Paris (but my Insta can!). I’m in dessert paradise. Chocolate is so exquisite here that it is encased in glass and served in jewelry boxes.
7. Go back to the Eiffel Tower.
I don’t know what your Eiffel Tower looks like, but you need to face it. After I was done avoiding mine, not only did I confront it, I popped champagne under it. It was my way of getting on with my life. On that note, pop champagne. Everyone needs to pop champagne. It’s therapeutic.
8. Don’t regret.
I never for a moment regretted quitting my job or flying to Europe – not at the Eiffel Tower and not when I decided to go home early. So you quit your job and spent five weeks in Paris? Good! How many people, particularly North American people, can say that?
There is no need to avoid making a decision because you’re worried to be disappointed by the outcome. You always have options, so there is no need to fear potential regret. If you decide to keep travelling and find you still want to go home, you can go home. If you go home and find you want to keep travelling, you can get back on a plane. Someone once told me, “Few things in life are truly fatal.” I try to remind myself of that whenever I’m acting like a decision is going to make or break my life. There is little you can do to fuck up to the point of no recovery. You can always get a new job. You can always rebuild your savings. You can always catch the next flight. And if ever you don’t know where you’re going, rest assured: no one does. That’s the adventure.