It will start with a small trip. Somewhere simple, safe, matter-of-fact; a cliché. It will in retrospect be the most important place: because it rolled the ball.
The build-up will be exciting (the anticipation and construction of hope), almost nerve-wrecking (the actual reality called planning and deciding). On the night before, you cannot sleep. Not so much out of excitement, but mostly because of unpacked things and indecision over what to bring. You feel like calling it off and spending the week the easier and cheaper way: warm duvets and the internet.
But you will be sensible enough to think of the sunk cost and possible regrets. So you board the plane.
Arriving on that foreign soil, breathing that foreign air.
You internally slap yourself for those previous thoughts (“How silly!”) and rush for the adventures.
When you return, then it really starts. You sort out the photos and mementos, remembering i) that moment you got lost (the kindness of strangers); ii) the feeling of watching the vast city from up high; iii) the fresh exotics you ate, and might never taste again; iv) that old lady who randomly approached you and well-wished you in her language (strange how you just know), before kissing your forehead, all for this solidarity you used to know, but never experienced; v) the cobbled lanes you did not properly say goodbye to. Not all was rosy, you admit. But even the grim ones are laughed off as stories you can now treasure.
You have then been owned.
Daily, you look at pictures of places. Maybe by now you have already formed an opinion, or opinions, of the next scenes you want to be in. In between classes, or the conceptual five-minute break from toiling over assignments, your fingers habitually click on airlines’ sites (they are on speed dial now anyway). You refer to airports by their three-letter codes. You remember average exchange rates and names of currencies you have never even used. With every bit of spending, you remind yourself: every penny saved is another mile travelled. Well, not quite literally. You scout, and subtly provoke interest, dropping heavy hints with nervous anticipation. By now you know who you want to go with. By now you know what combination would be a harmony, and that, you painstakingly learn, would be an important thing.
Often you will feel frustrated. Too expensive. Too far. Nobody to go with.
Then jealousy. There will always be someone else who went somewhere, with pictures splashing here and there. Why are you here still? At times you are all negative (of course he can go there, he’s filthy rich; don’t these people study?); later more rational (if I don’t indulge, I can make it for the next break); sometimes more positive (someone will agree to go with me, keep hoping). If we are made of glass, a bystander would see swirls of contradiction inside us, fighting for space.
And somehow, the second time comes, and goes. The cycle repeats itself.
But every cycle will not be too similar to the previous. You will, for one, reach the experimental stage: here you decide what kind of traveller you want to be. Or for some, to be known as. It will not necessarily be deliberate, this whole “I need to know” staging. It just happens – like life itself. If anything, you learn by now that you hardly have any power to steer.
It will involve plenty of thinking (preferably during lectures, as your brain is on idle), plenty of existential reconsideration, a lot of bank account checking. Some will decide that the road oft taken is meaningless (what else is there to see?): they become pseudo-hippies who trod the exotics (well, exotic enough relative to their peers). Some wonder, would they retrieve their souls if they travel alone: they embark then on lone stargazing trips to self-discovery. Some decide that travelling to gawk at others is meaningless: they volunteer. Some get tired of peak seasons and tedious planning: spontaneous weekends are the way forward (another extra day will not hurt). Some refuse to bow to budget restriction and rejections, or are plainly good conversationalists: they hitchhike and couchsurf. Some a combination of all, and more.
Whatever one decides on, they get deeper into it. It becomes them.
And one does not de-travel themselves that easily.