Hello. Just a quick little in-flight, late-night rambling, a tour obscure for you cats. I’ll be brief.

Pop on the opening track to Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner to set the tone for this one. Actually, just put the whole damned album on. No, really. 

So let’s talk about people. When you’re surrounded by them it’s hard not to. But, specifically let’s talk about relationships. No, I haven’t met someone, that’s not where I’m going taking this. Turns out a blend of cynical realism, a permanent smirk, and a net worth of about $500 and the last generation of gaming systems doesn’t really make me a particularly desirable catch. Plus, I could do with a hair cut.

Back in 2012, I was writing the first bunch of blog posts you didn’t read either. One of them touched on the subject of people and relationships. I’m on w Ryanair flight right now – gold help me – so I can’t pull up the exact post. But it’s there. Go look if you don’t believe me. But, I may be paraphrasing here, but I described hostel travel as a string of hundreds of little heartbreaks. And two years later, I stand by this claim. And I stand by the fact that it’s not for everyone.

I’ve travelled with someone before. Someone I was with, I mean. Someone who you would, in conversations late and distant, you’d describe them – with an air of casual, yet thoughtful, disdain – as your ex. And travelling with someone in that capacity is interesting. It’s been said that if you can manage travelling for a week together without killing each other you’re pretty well all set as a couple. Good to go. Well, try six months of budget hostel travel. Get through six months with them? Marry them or something. But honesty? I doubt I can travel with someone in that situation again. You miss out on so much in terms of meeting individual travellers and finding out others’ stories. It’s possible, but not easy.

Switch to track eight. Try keeping up, here.

Obviously I’m all for solo travel. Wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t. I know I moaned in my last post that I was lonely, but sure, everyone gets lonely. Don’t have to be on the road for that. But you can meet heaps of people with a bit of effort. But let’s talk about the opposite of that: the hyper-attachment between people travelling. In the real world, you meet someone. Maybe dance around the chance of going for a coffee or something, then, if you’re lucky, a movie or some shit. I don’t know. Maybe you make them soup or something, if soup ‘: your thing. Takes confidence to cook for a person. Then, you know, the whole banter to impress them: “yeah, it’s no big deal. It’s all local-grown and everything. Nah, it wasn’t too much work, happy to do it!” All the lies upon lies. Then the whole rest of your life happens and you wait until one of you screws up days, weeks, or years down the road. You know how it goes.

In a hostel? “Hey, that’s a cool hat. Where are you from?” Then seven hours later you’ve walked 15km, drinking cans of Heineken in the street, climbing trees and fences and then you’re on a hill. The kind of hill you only find in the middle of the night, as a pale moon blurs it’s way in and out of existence. And it’s the kind of night that’s cold but not too cold, you know? That cold that makes you say “nah, I’m good” when the other person asks if you’re cold. And you find a dog somewhere and pat it for a while. This is your dog for the next two minutes until you think 0well shit, this dog really doesn’t smell all that great.” So you leave and suddenly you’re convicts on the run from the ever-pursuant canine authority. Maybe you find a bar and go in. At this point you’re so far from where the tourists are that speaking English makes you the minority. The two of you are pulled into a drinking game whose rules seem to change between glasses, but you drink and laugh anyway. And there’s always something incredibly incongruous you find on these treks. Gangster rap lyrics poorly spray painted on the side of a catholic school in Paris. A bicycle frame around a streetlight in Munich. An air hockey table in Athens. You look at these curiosities and they bring up stories and remembrances of the past. “Oh, hey, do you know this song?” becomes the theme of four in the morning. By five you’re picking twigs and things out of your toque and hair because you thought it’d be a great idea to have a sit in that park over there. Still, you sat there for a few hours – and you’ll be finding teog bits for days. Maybe later you perch on a bridge looking over the Rhone as the sun brightens that one corner of sky you were wishing would stay dark. You huddle together as you walk past junkies and drunks waking up or freaking out. The metro is running again and you sneak on among the first shambling commuters. One of you then falls asleep, and you kiss your stop because you couldn’t bring yourself to wake them up. Good thing it’s a loop line, you figure.

And then the next day they check out.

That’s where the heartbreak happens. Off to Prague, or Istanbul, or Calgary, or wherever. And maybe you’ll never see them again. And if you do, the odds are it won’t be the same.

You’re a version of yourself from concentrate when you travel. You’re the Ribena, the shareware, the demo version of yourself. You’re up for anything and down for whatever. Because you want people to like you? Maybe. But more because you can be free to test out who you are. Push and mould your habits and nuances, amplify here and dampen there. Like Mario’s face at the title screen in Super Mario 64, but with your very self.

But this can backfire, too! People not used to backpacking can find this intensity of self to be off-putting or, worse, incredibly endearing. It’s easier to fall for someone who is essentially acting themselves. Especially if they’re a good actor. For my own part, no, I haven’t been taken in that way. Mostly because of my cynical lack of charm but also because I’m cognizant of the play being staged. I’ve met people who have fallen – and fallen hard – for the…well, not the wrong people. That’s not fair. But they’ve fallen for the intense version of that person. If you don’t understand this dynamic you’ll have a terrible time of it. Maybe it’s the cynic’s outlook, or the ramblings of someone who’s been kicked in the head more than once, but meeting people on the road isn’t easy and it isn’t hard. And that’s what makes it hard. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you, when you’re standing there in the rain with a bag of chocolates or something. I’m not saying don’t try, just don’t try to hard. Just be the best you you know how to be, and know when that doesn’t work try again. People in your dorm change faster than pins at a bowling alley. One of them is bound to tolerate you.

Switch to track 10 to know what some nights end up being like. The kind of night where you try and try and hit a brick wall at every turn. But don’t worry. That’s where you get to practice you.

My flight is almost touching ground, so I’ll leave you here. I was in Greece for two weeks with no computer, so I have a few things to bang on about when I have a proper keyboard. A happier follow-up to the previous post, featuring (and not limited to) acts of incredible kindness by friends, pints, and more pints, and maybe like 600 gyros. Both chicken and pork.

Stay good, people.

I want to pull on your coat about something here tonight.
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3 thoughts on “I want to pull on your coat about something here tonight.

  • 13 November, 2014 at 23:32

    I love the feel I get when I read this post, it provokes for me almost a Gibson style writing but it also takes me back to 2002. When I traveled to Israel with my Mother, brother and Granny. I spent some of the time alone there with a young woman who was traveling as well and we got to know each other pretty well. I have never spoken to her since and I really do think you’re right, it was almost as if I was free to be anyone I wanted to be because I was in this odd land, beautiful but odd and scary all at the same time.

  • 7 December, 2014 at 20:15

    This is a great piece of travel writing. It doesn’t ramble blandly about food and famous landmarks. It shows that travel is not done for the sake of claiming to have visited all the right places. It distills the essence of the experience of travel, which is not contained in the geographic peculiarity of place, but in the human experience. This can be verified by reflecting on the fact that this short piece actually has nothing to do with place, and everything to do with travel.


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