I have just this morning left Montreal, by plane, heading South. The flight that I am taking is of course simply one of several connections (thus is the curse of the budget minded traveler) in a link delivering me to my destination in just over 24 hours. My experience in Montreal has been colorful to say the least. I probably have let loose more in the past week and a half than I have been able to in the previous two months. And at a cost.
When I speak about cost, I mean more than a mere approach of dollars and cents, bank budgets and exchange rates, dinners out and avoidable expenditure. I speak also about investments, emotionally and otherwise, that can wear you thin and make you feel as if you are not in control of your destiny. And what is the solitary traveler, if not in control of his own destiny?
Over the course of eight days in the city, I have very much been refreshed, pampered, enriched, and fattened up. Not to say that this is all bad. Rather to simply suggest that this is instead simply a byproduct of living in a comfortable environment. As a city, Montreal is amazing. It reminds me of living in Brooklyn, without the violent undertones. It is a comfortable place where you can let your guard down, enjoy your days pleasantly and slowly, and not be afraid of the consequences.
The city, by any comparison to a major metropolis, is very manageable. The metro line is like the final plays of a game of pick-up sticks, only slightly easier. You can walk from the suburbs to Downtown in under an hour. Everyone speaks English, but it has the romantic flair of a foreign city. And there is public art everywhere. By any practical assessment the city is wonderful. I would never argue that. I would live here, if the timing were right.
My issue is internal. Would I have the same experience had I made the approach to experience MTL on a shoestring budget? Would I feel as refreshed if we had a lesser place to stay, if I was not granted a comfortable bed and a shower every single day. And above and beyond that, this was the first leg of my trip that was almost completely planned ahead of time. On this adventure, I have struggled with people holding my pace back. I have struggled with not having complete freedom. To be polite, to cater to someone outside of yourself, and to put aside the altruistic selfishness that guides the wandering vagabond is difficult after you are well adjusted to it.
Never in my life have I been one to need the company of someone else nearby at every moment. Quite on the contrary, I actually believe that I am much better off in life when I have the time to reflect, think, journal, process, assess and reassess. There is no period in my life of better mental health than when I am healthy, active, quiet, alone, and well balanced. Nothing from the past week has been in line with any of this.
I have instead feasted on rich meals, gone over-budget for my travel agenda, made snap purchases for my own luxury, and even slept in past noon on one day (gah! – not since my trip began have I allowed myself to have a hangover so bad as to cost me nearly an entire day of travel). Partially, it feels well-deserved. It took hard work to get myself into this position Partially, it feels lavish and irresponsible. If I could undo my decisions, I am not sure that I would; regardless, it fills me with a sense of overindulgence that is very hard to shake. The sort of guilty, creeping, dirty feeling that you get when you know that you are costing yourself in the long-run. Like smoking that occasional cigarette after you have a slight buzz, even though you know its only going to lead to guilt. This feeling is largely why I have almost entirely cut drinking out of my life while on the road – it provides me a better diet, more money saved, and more energy on a daily basis. Yes, I may miss out on some of the more social moments, but hey, whatever. The opportunity cost is too much to behave like this.
With that said, I am happy that I am out of the city and safely beginning passage across several borders and into the unknown. My North American leg is wrapped up on a truly indulgent high-note, and I must slink into the shadows and rejoin the sect from whence I came. No longer can I justify large ATM withdrawals or over-the-top spending.
It feels good to be alone again. To shed my skin of the anchors of social responsibility (however friendly, funny, and kind), and just move on. I enjoy this phase as much as any other while traveling. To be alone with one’s self, and really listen to your desires, and whence those desires emerge, is critical. I just spent 5 hours in Canadian airports, and as I settle in for a nearly ten hour overnight layover on my way to Central America, I couldn’t be happier. Whoever first wrote “the journey is the destination” truly held captive the adventurer’s spirit.
Photogaph from the Marche Jean-Talon, Montreal, QC, CA, 2014.