I dragged my suitcase on the streets of Manhattan while dodging the slow-moving tourists, the mysterious puddles, and the uneven sidewalk.
Then I descended to the subway platform in an elevator reeking of pee. I counted down the seconds — ten, nine, eight, seven, minus one, minus two — it took an eternity for the doors to open.
What a pain to navigate New York City.
Yet I dread leaving this messy city. I dread leaving home, or I just dread the goodbyes.
The agony of leaving never occurred to me when I first started traveling the world. I was always ecstatic to hop on the next flight, to live elsewhere, to go on adventures and leave others behind.
But three years of being a (digital) nomad didn’t train me to be a more detached person at all. I only became more entangled with all kinds of emotions when I leave a place, even if it’s a “see you soon” instead of a “goodbye.”
I lamented leaving Taipei, a new home with new relationships and new memories. I even left a few belongings there to reassure myself that I was going to return.
Once I saw the familiar faces in New York, though, I started brooding about my next departure again. Every day I savor the moments spent with my beloved friends, the conversations over wine instead of Facebook messages. But every night is a tortuous countdown to my next flight.
“See you soon, somewhere in the world,” my nomadic friends and I used to bid farewell on a hopeful note. There will always be a time when we cross paths, somewhere in Europe, somewhere in Asia.
Lately I’ve been saying nothing. Maybe a long hug will do. Maybe turning my back sooner will do. My sadness will follow after the hug, after the goodbye.
In my early 20s, every farewell implied a new encounter around the next corner. Now in my late 20s, after nomading for three years, every farewell means I won’t see this person for a while. Weeks. Months. Years.
Sometimes that farewell is forever.
My goal used to be finding that one place where I belong. Whether I’ve found that one place is still questionable, but I’ve found people I love — people who’ve remained a constant in my life regardless of how far I’ve traveled.
One of my friends left Australia for almost a decade to travel, now settling down in New York for her career. I asked if leaving her family and hometown after every holiday was easy. Does practice ever make perfect?
“No,” she said, “Sometimes I even wonder if it’s all worth it. But I know where I have to be for my career, and I know I’ll be fine once I arrive in the next destination.”
Booking a flight is easy.
Looking forward to the next adventure is easy.
Leaving isn’t, not even with practice.