I have a cousin and an aunt and uncle who live like Europeans and eat dinner around 10:00pm most nights. The other week I was over at their house on a Sunday. It was 11:30pm and we were just finishing up dinner. My uncle sat back in his chair, savored his final sip of Chianti wine, and then said, “It’s the perfect time for a boat ride, don’t you think?”
I was thinking it was the perfect time to go to sleep…about three hours ago, when I showed up and the ingredients for the carbonara pasta they were going to be serving hadn’t even been purchased yet. I had to be up at five. I told my uncle this.
“Oh come on,” he said. “If you were still traveling in Europe you’d come.”
And he was right.
Three years ago, I bought a one-way ticket to Europe with a guy from my hometown and we traveled for four months, a journey that loosely inspired the idea for my second novel, Map of Us. During this time, I wouldn’t have hesitated at the thought of an 11:30 p.m. boat ride—in fact, I might have suggested it. And it’s not why you think— it wasn’t because I didn’t have to get up early (we often caught trains at the crack of dawn). Nor was it because I didn’t have responsibilities (I was working four remote jobs). It was because my mentality on the road was completely different than it often is at home.
When traveling, there’s a strong desire to see everything, to take it all in, and to commit each moment of every day to memory. After all, we might never return to this tiny town on the coast of Portugal ever again, we tell ourselves. And if we do we probably won’t get to have picnics on a private beach each night, because more tourists will be here. And we definitely won’t go dancing all night in Granada at that one bar with the new friends we made ever again, because we’ll probably never see those friends again or be able to find the bar they took us to.
At home, we make the mistake of thinking we’re not traveling, when we are—not to new places—but through time and through the phases of our lives. And time is passing quickly. How is it already January 25th? Wasn’t it just New Year’s Eve? How many times do we say things like this to ourselves?
My characters reflect on this phenomenon in Map of Us and decide it’s when we shift into autopilot that time seems to fly and we often shift into autopilot when we repeat patterns. I’ve always hated patterns and routine for this reason, but I also know that patterns and routine are important to be able to live a productive life. Since I love to create things which requires productivity, you can see the conundrum I find myself in.
The key is to be aware that life is happening and that time is passing even though we’re not physically going somewhere new.
It’s a subtle shift, to live like a traveler. It’s being present. It’s tuning into conversations. It’s having nightly happy hour. It’s turning off our phones. It’s giving ourselves regular permission to break patterns and ditch routine. It’s taking the boat ride every time we’re invited.