“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Early morning ski in Aspen

What is that feeling, the one that overtakes you when you remember a time, a place, a moment in your life when things were just so and you wish with all of your might you could return to that place, that state of being? We’ve all experienced this–a smell of food that takes us back to childhood, the tune of a song that stirs memories of a particular place . The feeling sometimes stays, sometimes flees as soon as it arrives. It can be triggered by a smell, sound, sight and is often at least somewhat emotionally connected. Our auditory and olfactory senses are two of the strongest carriers of these memories, which researchers credit to their location near the emotion processing centers of our brain.

Merriam Webster defines ‘nostalgia’ as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.” In the English language, nostalgia seems to be the word most closely related to these memories. In Portuguese the word saudade does not directly translate but refers to the feeling of longing for something lost that may never return. It has been also said to mean ‘the love that lingers, the love that stays,’ in relation to place, thing or person.

Lately, I have suadade for the Rockies, not just for the mountains themselves, but for the elated, adventurous experience of being in their presence. For being 22 years old and driving into a new life phase. For waking before dawn and hiking into alpine country to watch the sunrise wash the peaks gold. For the experience of being able to do that. Each time I hear a song by the folk group Mariee Sioux, I am rocketed back to an early morning in Aspen when I was just a bit younger than I am now, slightly more carefree and an entire mountainous playground sat at my feet. Despite how strong the memories remain, I will never again be that girl, in that place, at that time.

Travel is one the most influential harbingers of these nostalgic feelings, perhaps because the exact situations experienced during travel are so difficult to recreate. My first hours in Nepal were spent in a fragmented state of underslept shock. I had been in transit for nearly 30 hours and arrived in a tiny, hot airport where I was surrounded by other dazed travelers and stern looking Nepali officials who spoke in a language that meant absolutely nothing to me. Computers were absent; I felt like I’d stepped back to 40 years ago when modern technology was limited to telephones and color TVs. Out in the streets, I was bombarded with loud noises, cars swerving, colorful saris, throat choking exhaust, pulsing foreign humanity in every direction. My head throbbed at the sensory tidal wave and I could barely speak. Looking back, however, I sometimes long for that moment of arrival, and not just the physicality of it but the spirit, the newness, uncertainty, discomfort and the knowing feeling that I had entered a world and part of myself that I could never turn back from and never return to.

The presence of nostalgia and saudade inspire us to keep experiencing new things. We need to fill the ache of longing and so we do this by continuing to travel, to place ourselves in situations that expose those parts of ourselves that we otherwise might not know exist. To create the memories that keep us coming back for more.

Along the Annapurna, Nepal

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