Lucy ponders whether travel nostalgia is always a good thing. Image by Lucy Copp.
Do you ever wander off into the memory of where you were and what you were doing this time last year?
Throughout the winter months, even we L.A.-based girls are prone to reminisce about our adventure-filled travel days of yore and long for them. Revisiting the past can lead to an inevitable comparison between life then and life now. If life now feels a bit, well, glum, then it’s easy to let our adventures twirl themselves into the perfect travel memory.
But is travel nostalgia always a good thing?
All traveling girls take some pride in their trips, as well we should! We document them in photographs and writing so we can revisit the experiences that changed us. But do we ever fall into the trap of glossing them over? Ironing out the wrinkles? Is travel nostalgia always a good thing, and, if not, where does it fail us?
Travel Nostalgia As a Force for Good
North Africa in May. Image by Lucy Copp.
Travel nostalgia can be an incredibly powerful thing. I recently read an article that discussed the benefits of nostalgia, even when the memories are not always the fondest. In the article Dr. Constantine Sedikides, a professor of social and personality psychology at the University of Southampton, explains:
“Many other people have defined nostalgia as comparing the past with the present and saying, implicitly, that the past was better — ‘Those were the days.’ But that may not be the best way for most people to nostalgize…But if they focus on the past in an existential way — ‘What has my life meant?’ — then they can potentially benefit.”
This distinction between a direct comparison of the past with the present vs. placing past experiences within the broader context of your life can be especially helpful when applied to travel nostalgia — especially when you are stuck in a rut and reminiscing of travel adventures past.
Let me give you an example…
Falling Into the Travel Nostalgia Trap
Eating corn in the street. Image by Lucy Copp.
As a very busy grad school student, there are ruts — days when it’s easy to daydream about “this time last year…”
I had one such day a few weeks ago. Exhausted, it was all too easy to flop back on my bed and think: This time last year…I was living abroad in Morocco, studying Arabic among a group of great friends, sipping mint tea, and taking trips on the weekends. It was easy to compare the current realities of everyday life — a web of L.A. freeways, paying parking tickets, and sitting in traffic — unfavorably with this polished travel memory.
This time last year, my life was thrilling and full of adventure, with newness all around! Perhaps I should allow these beautiful memories to brighten my days and offer me an opportunity to be grateful that I had such adventures. But the inevitable comparison gets in the way.
Re-Framing Your Reminiscing
The entry to my moldy apartment. Image by Lucy Copp.
Morocco was the time of my life, and I have both the memories and the documentation to prove it. But not every moment was a cheery one, and those moments that weren’t a sip of mint tea with a cherry on top deserve revisiting as well. Because, perhaps, that’s where the true meaning in our experiences lie.
So I go back again, in my mind, to Morocco, ‘this time last year,’ to give my winter nostalgia a more complete picture.
It’s March 2014, and I’m doing all the great and adventuresome things of my dreams. I am also living by myself in a moldy apartment with a squat toilet. A few weeks after moving here, I find myself in an emergency clinic, a doctor scolding me in French for not addressing my asthmatic reaction to the mold sooner. “You must leave this apartment immediately,” he tells me.
So, I pack my things and leave that night, dragging my suitcase to the nearest hostel around the corner. Times were not bright, and I didn’t know why I was trying to make things work in Morocco or what I was trying to prove.
Nostalgia Gives Us Roots
The American, Italian, and Koreans hanging in Morocco. Image by Lucy Copp.
It is wonderful to relive the highs of our times abroad because they are all the reasons we want to return, and maybe all the reasons we would rather be there than here. But if we are going to revisit memories, we should do them justice by flopping back in our beds and settling into all of it: the good, the bad, and everything in-between.