Who is in charge? Some sort of in-between Self? An Expat Self? Some Self who can be responsible enough to get to work and clean the house and make dinner, but who is also creative and adventurous enough to navigate a new city by bike, make friends, and take risks?
It is one of the most potent and intractable travel myths: that of the Vacation Self. The Vacation Self is the adventurous, interesting person you are convinced you will become the moment the plane leaves the tarmac. Gone will be the boring Everyday Self, with her anxieties and timidness and endless shortcomings. In her place will be the person you have always known you could be. Expansive. Daring. Bold.
The Vacation Self, dining at a sea-side restaurant, strikes up a conversation with the couple at the next table, and before you know it, she is invited to go sailing. She will have adventures! And stories! The Vacation Self always has the best stories. If she is young and single, there will be romance! The Vacation Self loves interesting things. Things that the Everyday Self does not. Things that the Everyday Self often feels she should like. Jazz. Modern art. Bohemian cafés where disaffected students read poetry. This is why we try so hard to leave the responsible Everyday Self at home, or at least at the departure gate, with her face pressed up against the plate-glass window as the Vacation Self takes flight. She can be a bit of a buzz kill.
We tell ourselves we travel to see other places, other things, but aren’t we also hoping to see ourselves as “other”? We want to blend in, and find an authentic experience. We love it when we’re asked for directions or mistaken for a local. We want to try new things, get lost, connect with others. We want those great, almost unbelievable, stories of our own adventures.
I don’t want to imply there’s anything wrong with the Myth of the Vacation Self. Like most myths, it has a grain of truth to it. Travel does make us more expansive. It can make us more balanced, more aware of and open to other cultures. We try new foods, new activities, stumble through other languages and sometimes make surprising connections with remarkable people. So in general, I’m all for leaving that Everyday Self wandering around the Duty Free concourse while Vacation Self takes over.
But what happens when the vacation doesn’t end – at least not the relocation part of it? What happens when you don’t get back on the plane? Well, I can confirm that even if you’re living somewhere exciting and new, there are still the mundane bits of life to attend to: dry cleaning to pick up, groceries to buy, water bills to pay. The Vacation Self protests these activities. “These jobs are for the Everyday Self! And we’re still on vacation, right? Sort of…? I mean, we’re still Someplace Else, aren’t we? Wait, but now we live here? So who the hell is in charge?”
And beyond these day-to-day issues, there are larger questions about which Self you share, and when, and with whom. Every interaction is a chance to reinvent yourself, if not completely, at least in part. You can steal a few stories from Vacation Self, claim interests that Everyday Self doesn’t have. Who will new people, new friends, actually meet when they meet you? How do you present yourself in a way that is authentic?
At home this was easy. The gift we take for granted from the people who know us – really know us – is that they remind us who we are. When we are not acting as our True Self, they call us out on it. I think that is why I am so focused on connection (and MAIL, people, MAIL!!) right now. It’s not because I’m homesick or lonely. It’s because when I connect with people I know and love, I’m listening better. More fully, with all of my selves. And underneath the conversation, and in between the lines of an email, what I actually hear is them saying, “This is who you are.”