Lingering and leaving

As of this week, I’m about a month into my long trip. These couple of weeks contain some important milestones – the end of the first month of my trip, the end of my time in Colombia, and the end of my 28th year.

Lots of endings.

I’ve learned a new thing with long-term travel: it’s not necessary to be always moving. Staying only a couple of days in each place, stuffing as many experiences as possible into a short amount of time, and leaving quickly are conventions of short trips, not long explorations. So it is that I’ve found myself changing my plans, staying extra nights in places I meant to breeze through, and delaying my departure over and over. I’ve discovered the pleasure of lingering.

It’s delightful to come to like a place enough to want to stay longer. Even more so, it’s a delight to meet fellow travelers and change plans together. In the past when I could only take short trips, I never really had the experience of making close friends on the road and spontaneously traveling together. I still remember the way the hostel staff people in Medellin would smile when I would come to the desk in the morning and ask (more than once), did they have room for me to stay just one more night? Such fun to discover the joy of lingering.

But this post started off with endings, didn’t it? They’re there on the other side of lingering. Eventually, no matter how long one stays, it’s time to leave.

It’s been bittersweet to travel like this. I love it, and at the same time it’s so sad to say goodbye to places and people you’ve lingered with.

I wonder what effect that has on a person, those goodbyes. Though we form communities and friendships when we travel, we leave them frequently too. Does it teach us to be selfish, to disregard the importance of our communities and our friendships? And what effect does it have on other people and on communities? Is is worse for the people we meet and the communities we form that we stay for a little while and then abandon them?

I would like to believe that there’s a way to travel ethically, so that those goodbyes aren’t so selfish. I would like to believe that one can travel conscientiously, so that when we do leave, we’re leaving communities and friends better than we found them. Exploring that question to find a more specific answer is one of the goals of my trip.

So – though I lingered as long as I could, I’m saying goodbye to Colombia this week, goodbye to another year of my life, goodbye to the beginning of my trip. For someone who travels, there are many goodbyes. There’s a goodbye inside almost every hello.

But, when one travels there’s also a new hello after every goodbye. This week I say hello to a new year of life (God willing), hello again to a dear friend in Uruguay, and hello again to the fantastic city of Buenos Aires, where I may linger for a good long while.