The other day I packed up my backpack for the twenty-fourth time and headed down to the Autobuska Stanica (i.e., the bus station) to catch a bus to the next town in Montenegro called Budva. Along the way I passed the fruit-and-vegetable vendor that I’d come to know over the past week. Each day on my way to morning coffee in Kotor, I would stop and buy a plum, wish him a good morning, and then go on my way.
I passed by him again on my way out of town Tuesday and decided to stop and tell him—in so many words, because he doesn’t speak English—that it was time for me to be moving on. We shook hands, said goodbye, and I continued walking to the station.
The whole scene made me cry. Tears began to spill from my eyes and roll down my cheeks on the way to station. It took me by surprise. What is wrong with me? I wondered, as I found my bus, took a seat, and rode all the way to Budva, still feeling emotional.
The weird thing is, it wasn’t like I was attached to the fruit-and-vegetable guy. He was just a friendly fellow with whom I’d exchanged pleasantries over the past several mornings. I don’t even know his name. And to be honest, I suspect he was overcharging me for those plums. So what was I crying for?
I arrived in Budva and it took some time to tramp across town and find my hostel. Finally I located it, checked in, and dropped my pack next to my bunk. I left soon after to begin exploring the town on foot with my familiar friend, the I-shuffle, in tow.
Around halfway down to the Stari Grad, or Old Town, Free Bird came on. And for some reason, that song, that day, triggered a complete meltdown in me just steps away from the beautiful Adriatic Sea.
The song begins with some whiny-guitar riffs, as if the guitar itself is telling a sad story, and then the lyrics begin:
If I leave here tomorrow,
would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on now;
cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see.
That’s when the tears started for the second time that day, this time even heavier than before, and I cried for what seemed like a long time. I mean, Free Bird itself is almost ten minutes long, and by the time it was over, I was still blubbering.
I continued to walk along perplexed and finally asked myself—seriously, Travelarity, what gives?
And here was my answer:
As a long-term solo traveler, I think I’ve fancied myself a Free Bird of sorts, flying free all the time; sometimes, literally, all the way to the ends of the earth. But now I don’t want to be Free Bird anymore. I don’t want to fly free anymore. The Free Bird is ready to land. The Free Bird wants to go home.
After twenty weeks on the road, I’m over saying hello and goodbye constantly. I’m done turning strangers into friends, only to part ways knowing we’ll never cross paths again. I’m finished moving from town to town, looking for the next hostel, checking in, making introductions, sleeping with different strangers every night.
Tonight, in the bed next to mine, is a 22-year-old hockey-obsessed, French-Canadian “musicologist” on spring break from his university studies in Austria. He sounds very interesting, and I’m sure he’s a very nice guy, but he’s a stranger. And I don’t want to be with strangers anymore. And I don’t want to make any more friends.
I want: to be in one place; to sleep in the same bed; to shop at the same store; to live in one town; to have a routine; to go where people already know me; to say “see you later” and mean it. I want the familiar. Above all, I want my old peeps back.
This is not to say that I don’t cherish all my newfound friends. Of course I do; especially Janine and Brittany, who, interestingly, adore and loathe pigeons respectively; Erika, the tattoo-artist-Ukrainian-implant who entertained me in Kiev; the two Phils and Emma from South Africa who made Bulgaria fun; Daniel who showed me Kosovo; Josh and Ned, who dispensed great love advice despite being half my age; Nic and Sofie, who offered great company and conversation at a time when I needed it; and the list goes on and on.
And to be sure, I’m grateful for everything I’ve experienced along the way. I’ve met countless and wonderful locals in the more than twenty cities I’ve visited this go-around—people far too numerous to name—and each person has enriched my life in some special way.
But it’s time. Being away this time—and for this long; close to five months now—has shown me definitively what I want more than anything: a home; community; permanence; my own loved ones; my own circle of friends; not to live out of a backpack; to shut down my storage unit; to maybe get a kitten. (I said maybe; don’t go surprising me until I’m sure.)
At this moment a little over four weeks stand between me and my new-old life stateside. Twenty-nine days—to be exact—before my non-changeable, frequent-flyer flight will carry me home to see my kin. (Another homage to Skynyrd I couldn’t help.)
If I know time like I think I do, I know it's going to fly by. In fact, these next four weeks will be a total joy; of that I'm certain. I’ll be traveling on and seeing more places for just a little longer, just like Free Bird. And then, before I know it, I’ll be back home.
So it’s time for me to quit my weeping. This is it. End of drama.
But can I just say one more thing about Free Bird while we’re on the subject? Guitar Magazine puts it at number 3 on the list of the Top 100 Guitar Solos of all time—behind Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption and Jimmy Page’s Stairway to Heaven—but I completely disagree with such a ranking. I just listened to all three songs (because, of course, I have plenty of time for such things while I’m out here traveling), and I think, without question, Free Bird should be at the top; period; end of story.
Perhaps it’s my southern-rock bias talking, but I don’t think so. Come to think of it, I wonder what the musicologist in the next bed over thinks. I’d ask him, but at the time of this writing he’s downstairs streaming the Montreal-Boston hockey game over the internet. And I’m going to sleep now, to dream about coming home.