In September 2020, as I came to the end of a wonderful two-week trip in Italy, I wrote the following text as an attempt to capture this very special moment that always comes at the end of holidays, trying to put words on my thoughts and describing what this post-trip melancholy felt like for me. This state of mind didn’t leave me when I came back home a few days later, so I decided to share it, even though it was quite personal. Two years have passed and I am now publishing it a second time, but with a slightly different ending!
I’m trying to write these lines as soon as possible, in the heat of the moment, before the feelings that obsess me vanish, feelings that are as evanescent as the moments of happiness of these last days. I would have liked to draw them out, again and again, as much as possible, to catch in the palm of my hand this essence of joy to feed on. But nothing lasts forever, and that would only strip these short-lived instants of their substance: it’s actually because they are so rare, so carefree, so light-hearted, that they appear to be so beautiful and strong. Hoping to relive them over and over again is just one of the countless contradictions of my mind.
It’s Friday night and it’s my last day in Italy. Tomorrow, I’ll head towards Switzerland and then back home to France on Sunday. I’m coming to the end of my two weeks’ holidays, but for me it’s like the adventure has been over since this morning as I left Como in the rain, with a bittersweet mix of unbearable sadness and fabulous memories. Since I left, I’ve been playing on a loop a song which is also particularly melancholic and which I happened to come across just the night before: Big Scary – The Opposite Of Us.
There were two distinct parts in this trip. A first “classical” part, during which I either stayed in Airbnbs or hotels. The first week was all fabulous landscapes and wonderful cities: Pisa, the Cinque Terre, Venice, the Dolomites… And then a second part way more unexpected, from Verona to Como, this time in youth hostels, with slightly less discoveries but exceptional intensity. It’s this part that I’d like to talk about here.
I voluntarily chose to avoid hostels at the beginning of my trip because of Covid. Apart from the health effects and the human drama that hit so many families, this virus has a unique capacity to rob us of everything we love, to destroy everything that makes life so enjoyable: gathering with others, living together in society, sharing festive moments, simply meeting people. I don’t really know why halfway through my trip I decided to change my plans and spend the few remanining nights in youth hostels, but I can only be happy about this choice that transformed my holidays, making them even more outstanding and memorable.
It was my first solo trip for more than a year and a half. I think that over the last months, I had forgotten how much I loved it. I had forgotten the unique atmosphere of youth hostels, that amazing feeling that anything is possible, how easy it is to meet people, the intensity of the links that are created sometimes for a few hours only, without ever thinking of tomorrow that somehow never comes. It was almost like a rebirth: I found these emotions buried deep inside me, and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling them again. I hadn’t felt that way since those few days in San Francisco in May 2018. Two and a half years ago already!
When I arrived in this tiny hostel close to the centre of Verona on Sunday night, I met James and Dominic, English and Irish, with whom I was going to hike at Lake Garda two days later (pictures below); Rachel, also English who was leaving for Milan the next day; and three young Germans, Franz, Lili and Valentin as well as another English girl, Sian, who after Verona were all heading to Como, where we’d meet in the same hostel again (and even in the same dorm!). I only saw them for a few hours in total, we only spent two or three nights together and I’ll probably never see them again, but it was enough for these moments to become unforgettable, just as the moments with Hugues, Mathilde and Valentin in Quebec City, with Théo and Khalia in Prague, with my Banana Friends in Hawaii… and so many others (if you’re wondering: no, I don’t remember the names of all the people I meet, but I write them down sometimes to keep a trace, and the faces and the moments lived together are never forgotten!).
As I left Como this morning, I easily recognised that bittersweet feeling that I had already experienced so many times before: when I came back from Australia in July 2017, at the airport of San Francisco one year later, when I left Melbourne for good in February 2019, even if that time I went back home for different reasons. It’s the post-trip melancholy, these magical moments you try to hold on to as long as possible but which vanish as quickly as they appear, these memories which bring life to the gallery of places, moments and faces deep inside my mind. I don’t want these moments to stop, but even the best things have to end, and it’s because they do end that they are so intense.
There’s only one solution left: leave again, start anew, travel once more and find this very unique taste, this incredible happiness that will always go hand in hand with this deep melancholy. When will it happen to me again?
This is how this article ended when I first published it in September 2020. Today, a bit more than two years later, I would like to write a different conclusion. Here’s the reason why.
When this trip to Italy came to an end, I had to go back to an everyday life that I didn’t like anymore, for many reasons but especially since a break-up that happened to me a few months before. I felt bored, stuck in a place and in a situation that didn’t make me happy, and the dark perspectives of Covid weren’t helping: one month after these holidays, the second lockdown began in France… So travelling became a way for me to escape this gloomy reality, and my first thought when a trip came to an end was “ok, when will the next one be?”.
Things have changed since then. It took me a while, but I eventually decided to leave Saint-Nazaire, my hometown that I deeply love but where I don’t think I could ever completely blossom. I quit my job at the Tourism Office by the end of the summer 2022, with a lot of ideas and projects for my professional future. I am about to begin a new chapter of my life and I am very excited about it, even if there are still a lot of uncertainties about how things will turn precisely.
Don’t get me wrong though. I don’t think I’ll ever stop enjoying travelling. Right now, I’m about to fly to Peru for a two-month trip around South America, and I’m still very much looking forward to meet new people during this adventure. Dominic, one of the guys I met in that tiny hostel in Verona, has became a very close friend of mine. We message each other regularly, and I even saw him twice this year, in Andalucia in March and in Porto in August.
But this trip to South America is not a desperate attempt to escape from something anymore, it’s a long awaited dream of visiting this part of the world that I am finally fulfilling. And even if the excitment of exploring a new place and make friends with random strangers from all around the world will never completely leave me, I now aspire to something different, less adventurous, more stable. The era of long-term travelling might come to an end for me after this upcoming trip to South America. Another very good reason to enjoy it as much as I can!