It’s almost eight-thirty, and my train is pulling in to East Norwalk station. I get up from my seat to find that some girl I went to highschool with is waiting for the door to open. I look down and pretend not to see her. We are about to get off, and as I look down, I pretend to glance at her reflection in the window a moment after I see her about to glance my way in my peripheral vision. I turn to face her. I hope this is quick and painless.
“Hey, what are… you doing here?” she asks.
“I live here. I moved from Wilton after graduation.” The doors open and we walk out together.
We make small talk. I talk about how much I love it here, briefly. And then the inevitable.
“So where do you go now?”she asks.
“I’m at UConn Stamford now.”
After exactly two years, you would think I would get comfortable giving this answer, or would have found an answer that works. Am I ashamed? No. But am I totally happy, or at least in a college environment where I feel at home? Also no.
Clearly, I don’t like talking to people I went to high school with, and I don’t like comparing myself to them. Maybe that’s because that’s all I ever used to do. Maybe it’s just because the people I went to high school with are monumentally boring.
College, I will always say, obstructs true learning. In our couple of moments chatting between train and parking lot, my old classmate asked what I was studying. I told her I was pursuing dual degrees in Business Data Analytics and English literature.
“That’s an interesting combination,” she said.
If I had a dollar every time I heard that, I might be able to afford a third bachelor’s degree. Hoping to deflect the spotlight away from myself, I asked what she was doing there in East Norwalk, several miles from the town in which we both grew up.
“I’m taking a gap semester. Working and stuff. I traveled a bit too at the beginning.” Maybe this wouldn’t be totally painful.
“Where to?” I pressed her.
“Italy, mostly doing the solo travel thing and occasionally meeting friends who were studying abroad. You know, finding myself.”
She said this in a very subtle tongue-in-cheek way that was practically part of our highschool’s speech patterns. Sarcasm, but never harsh, never mean, and always subtle.
“I kind of didn’t like solo travel though. It was an experience, but I definitely did not like the solo travel thing,” she concluded.
I told her I definitely felt weird the first couple of times, but we agreed solo travel offered an empowering experience regardless. I unloaded my travel history from the last year and she was definitely taken aback, like many are when I tell them what I do, what I have done, where I have been.
I said goodbye, as both our parents had arrived to pick us up, and we wished one another a happy holidays and so on. As I reflected, I thought about how she proclaimed to go on this solo travel trip to ‘find herself,’ and the irony that she couldn’t quite handle being alone. She had either found herself and the self overwhelmed her, or she had not found herself to keep her company, and was driven mad by the loneliness of the road. When I thought of these two likelihoods, I laughed. Not out of malice or a perceived adventurous superiority, but because I had felt the same way.
When backpacking, you learn to handle the bipolar bedfellow that is your own self: the one who can spend days and nights manically traversing continents like a meth-muddled Alexander the Great, to only be faced by a depression as deep as your blood, that ebbs away at the will to live as you realize you have never been more estranged. The hot runs cold, the desire to continue fades to a want to finish, to just go home. That’s when you realize there is no home to go to. There’s a house, sure. There are parents and their two cats. There is a bed with a world map hanging above it where you paint in the countries you have traveled to. There is a jar of coins you’ve been adding to since the sixth grade that you plan on spending on airline tickets. If there is a home, this is it: being alone with your thoughts, writing, reading, and wandering from place to place. Of course, one can be agoraphobically trapped in the self, as one can trap himself in his house. Still others cannot live with themselves, and must learn to dwell in one’s own company and space. They need to learn to pick up after themselves, feed themselves, and take care of themselves. They must build their homes in ways that are livable.
In this way one must also cultivate a version of him- or her-self with whom they can live.
To learn to both build the self, yet not let it become too unwieldy; this, I concluded, is how I find myself everywhere I go.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.