In the past two years, I’ve traveled more than I have in my life hitherto. Any family vacations I was forced to undergo in my youth can be described as dramatic failures at best – most taking place prior to the age of 10 – and I’ve lacked that quintessential hot girl gang with which to travel in my late teens and early twenties. Moreover, the anecdotal travel experiences of my friends are bleakly symptomatic of North American complacency, as it seems the most those around me can muster is a week at some nondescript all-inclusive beach resort that could be on any coast anywhere, a whirlwind weekend in an American city with some reputation or another, or maybe a foray to our homegrown mountains out West (admittedly, something I hope to do in the near future) once before the age of 35.
That’s not to say that these experiences aren’t great or are in any way less than others, but it just seems that young people elsewhere, mainly in Europe and Australia, experience some general cultural undertone that we are found wanting of – a social push – to see the world. In some aspects, I feel like North America is stuck in a ‘50s mentality, when the dream of acquiring a full-time job, settling into some real estate, and establishing a family as young as possible was the ultimate goal of adulthood.
I’m no rookie to ongoing existential anxiety, and I sure as hell wouldn’t consider myself traveled or experienced in the ways of life by any means, but I’m glad I’ve at least taken the first baby steps away from the boring, philistine 20s that would be very normal for me to have subscribed to.
For now, here are some places I’ve been in the past little while and the things I miss most about them (as I’m currently sitting at my desk in my office very much missing them).
Paris, France; Helsinki, Finland; and London, England – architecture/history
Anyone who’s been essentially anywhere in Europe can attest to the fact that the architecture, very much taken for granted by anyone residing there, is breath-taking in both the figurative and literal sense of the word. I imagine a capital city to be a metropolis populated with glass-and-concrete high-rises and inundated with suits, and yet Paris, Helsinki, and London were possessed of this slow, Romantic (the capital R kind) quality that is so rich in a history we never get a taste of in a country as new as Canada. Physical buildings aside, getting to walk the same cobblestone streets that inspired Dickens or Wilde was enough to make my heart explode – and getting to visit the only remaining home of the former on Doughty Street and grave of the latter in Père Lachaise Cemetery were definite bucket-list moments and pluses of each trip.
Beijing, China – cultural difference
I’m fortunate to have a friend who was adventurous enough to leave her entire life in Canada to teach in Beijing, and more than four years later, she’s still there and loving it. When I visited her last summer, what struck me most about the city was the fact that I could feel so comfortable, safe, and at home somewhere so distant from what I’ve ever known not only physically, but socio-culturally. Every single object, person, and experience I encountered in China was weird and backwards and new and completely exciting to me, and yet I could still sit on the patio of a tiny brewery decorated to emit a hipster vibe I wouldn’t be surprised to find in Toronto, tasting a smattering of local ales and laughing along with newfound friends (all members of the city’s strong expat community) amid the winding, high walls of an authentic Chinese hutong. The whole experience was full-on sensory overload in the most familiar and unfamiliar ways possible.
L.A. and New York City, U.S.A. – the potential for anything
As much as I’m against the concept, being in New York City really does feel like you’re at the centre of the universe. In both cities, I felt like anything was possible, and daydreamed about my high-profile publishing position or inadvertently catching the attention of some big-time model scout (or famous millionaire actor) in the street or a non-stop social life featuring a new, ultra-cool bar each night or my cutesy Brooklyn apartment with exposed brick and airy ceilings or the awesome, fill-you-with-feels-and-realness novel I’d write based on the cast of crazy characters that made my daily life riveting – all things that would obviously happen to me if I lived there. The vastness of both locales made me feel like even if I were to call either place home for a decade, I would never satiate myself or experience all it had to offer.
Melbourne, Australia – home, but as far away from home as possible
A flight to Aus is one of the three longest flights you can take from Toronto. And though I counterintuitively have felt more at home in somewhere like Beijing over somewhere like London, Australia has the perfect balance of familiar customs/amenities and exotic appeal. It’s almost as if the fact that Australian culture is so similar to ours makes the differences really stand out, as opposed to the general confusion of being dropped in medias res into a completely foreign context. I felt altogether at ease but like I was still seeing and experiencing a completely new world. Though the geography has its obvious differences (um, desert and beaches), driving through Melbourne was reminiscent of driving through any large North American city and the surrounding suburbs evoked memories of farms and forests on the periphery of my GTA hometown. Of everywhere I’ve been so far, Melbourne is the place I could most see myself living. But then again, considering the city sent me the love of my life, I may have a substantive bias.