This was supposed to be the year I finally graduated from high school and go around the world. I had made detailed plans for a grand tour of the Far East starting with Australia, New Zealand round to Japan, Korea then onto Southeast Asia—Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka Indonesia, Malaysia, the whole nine yards.
And then came COVID.
It threw a huge wrench into everybody’s bucket list, not just mine. The hollow sound of travel plans gone awry reverberate around the empty bucket.
So I did the next best thing—I decided to backpack around the parts of Greece I missed out in my youth. COVID cases are considerably lower in Greece, much less than the US so in a way I feel relieved to be here instead of there. I have started my journey in the same place I started 20 or 30 years ago. Same road, different age.
In a way I have come full circle. There are differences between island hopping in your 20s and in your 40s. I do not look for wild partying and night life anymore. That just gives me a headache and a vicarious hangover. I seek solitude and serenity. Maturity brings with it a change of taste and a need for a more comfortable mattress. I have also grown more religious so I seek out places of worship and holy sites. It is truth, psychologically speaking, that the place you visit do not change rather your relationship to them does. You change, probably much more than the places you once frequented. A place that suited your personality in your youth hardly fits your person in your maturity.
For one, in one’s 20s one has yet to experience the ying-yangs of life’s outrageous fortunes. No losses, no heartbreaks, no disappointments, (at least not big ones) for the most part. In one’s 40s, with the roads of life well-traveled, one feels the road differently; weighed down by the wisdom that comes from grief, sorrow, loss and deep suffering. I have changed so much since that carefree young woman holding up a beer under the blue pergola of a bar in Mykonos, closing suitcases and opening them up in new countries.
But again, in some ways the 20s me and the 40s me share many commonalities. I still hunker after beauty, adventure, good conversation, educational experiences, and wholesome food. In my 20s I was worry-free with few responsibilities, yet with much more anxiety. In my 40s while not completely off the hook, my daughters are semi-independent allowing me this brief interlude of time to get lost, so my responsibilities have dwindled a bit. Come to think of it, I have always used travel to find myself. “Get lost to find yourself” has always been my motto. Like in my early 20s, I have used the act of traveling as a way of discerning my next steps in the road of life. Indeed, a woman’s 20s and 40s have a lot in common. They are both periods of liminality, threshold eras, where the psyche is figuring out what to do next. Travel provides the backdrop for processing what is fomenting deep in the psyche for its transformation.
Now that I am older I walk the miles a bit more meaningfully. There is big possibility that the journey that meanders through this village or that crooked path will be my last. So I pay attention more. I look at things more closely, more intimately. The young waiter who brings me the small porcelain cup of Greek coffee, sketo not glyko as I have diabetes, I look straight into the eye and wish him “kalimera” because I mean it, not out of custom. I walk with the knowledge that my footsteps are numbered. There are so many places but not enough time, not enough energy, not enough of me. With age, my sense of travel becomes a thin red line, an Ariadne’s thread. It registers as a privilege and a gift to have the luxury of traveling through distant climes in the middle of a global pandemic. Solitude is something holy in my 40s; it was anathema in my 20s. In early adulthood, it was about looking good, hooking up, making connections. Now with all the mundane, mind-boggling responsibilities and millions of details attended to, solitude is the balm for the busy brain. To think aloud without having to tend to other people’s needs is so liberating. To be given precious seconds of time to hear my own heartbeat and listen to the murmuring of the movements of my deep soul is a gift. Traveling in my 40s is like the other end of the bookend, the one that has kept up the books I have read and written through my journeys, behind it as opposed to the bookend that started the course in my 20s.
So, the road stretches ever forward before us. Luckily, Greece offers such diversity in travel spots that it can satisfy the needs of a wide gamut of ages and life stages. Whether you are in your 20s or in your 40’s or beyond that, join me as I redefine and rediscover my identity once again through my travels in my native Greece.
First stop, Evia.