You’re going to miss signing up what feels like way more than an entire year in advance for a trip already postponed 3 times over 3 years.
But perhaps it’s the freedom of the open road with new and braver companions, leaving behind the broken promises of “what could have been” to finally embrace the promise of “what could finally be.”
So while you may not miss the anxiety over an unnecessary buildup of an expectation especially for a region you’d normally wouldn’t travel to, you’re going to miss going ahead with your gut anyway, and knowing you’re going to eventually even miss the pitter patter in your brain over what this trip will eventually mean to you after it’s over.
You’re going to miss touching down in the city of London just in time for the grand opening of the newest line for the world’s oldest underground metro, let alone on the week of the Jubilee celebration for the country’s longest serving monarch, the caffeine-filled carefree walks along its storied streets, hot tub boat rides through the canals of Canary Wharf, the fancy dinners and pub fare, the sunsets from rooftops and hillsides, rounds of pasteis de nata almost as good as the ones in Portugal, the early synchronicity of both landing in London on the same day and unexpectedly sharing dinner and brunch with another monsooner who didn’t even sign up for this trip, following through on crashing at your friend’s flat after he had insisted you would when you last met 2 months prior in Iraq (…or did he first insist years ago when you two had first met in Angola?), the kickoff party on London’s highest rooftop bar, dodging mercury in retrograde the next morning with the car rental reservations, and twisting through London traffic to pick up your final 2 monsooners from the airport before reaching the hallowed grounds of Stonehenge.
You’re going to miss reaching Stonehenge within minutes of the car park closing, convincing the front attendant to allow you a free ticket, the school-like bus ride up to the grounds, the stroll around the stones, getting distracted by some of us getting distracted by the sheep nearby, the decision to postpone Tintern Abbey for another day, and a crash course about how the British lock their doors after arriving into Cardiff.
You’ll then miss the first official group dinner together at The Clink supporting prisoners looking for a second chance, the surreal ambling around a pedestrian mall at golden hour, karaoke’ing on the streets, the quiet awe of seeing an entire city spill out into the semidarkness after a back-to-back conclusion to an Ed Sheeran concert and UEFA Champions League match, a meandering choose-your-own-adventure plan for the evening, playing scavenger hunt games over where to leave the key for the night owls, and finishing with an off-the-beaten road walk for shisha with the locals, especially to have your spiritual doubts validated in nearly an instant by the arrival of a stranger-turned-kindred spirit.
You’re going to miss the next morning when your jaw drops how you may have just met an entirely new group of people born to travel the way like you have always done, and asking why did it take so long for us to meet to finally prove it to ourselves we can?
Because you’re going to miss the self-run organic nature in which your group, even only on its second day of the trip, cooks up a redesigned itinerary on the spot — coffee, brunch, pot roast, Tintern Abbey (and did they really accept our expired tickets so very casually?), Cardiff Castle, Penarth, Cardiff Bay — so you all end up seeing everything together anyway, just in a different order, then to reunite again for dinner booked at the last minute thanks to teamwork, before an impromptu liquor run for a slapping good time with the card games and social hour in your weekend getaway apartment.
You’re going to miss lining up your convoy in a row for your fast and the furious, ride-or-die, pack-and-go operation in the morning, and then it’s off for an uniquely evocative Llandaff Cathedral, an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace” with their organist, running up, down, and around the fairytale backdrop of Castell Coch, scouring for lunch at a moody eponymous town in the National Park after which it’s named, the following fuck-it attitude of taking on, ahem *climbing*, a steep one hour hike for the breathtaking views over the peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Du, the chats with new friends on your way down while trying your best to not chase after the grazing sheep everywhere around you, the following sunset group photos, pizza party, stargazing, constellation hunting, UFO hunting, storytelling, and singing songs around a makeshift campfire, and lying in the dew of the fields just to wait for the clouds to clear so even more stars could appear.
You’re going to miss driving off south for a beautiful pier by the birthplace of one of your favorite poets, ordering coffee and pastries for your unplanned jaunt towards the Mumbles lighthouse thanks to low tide, the views of The Worm and the Wreck of the Helvetica at Rhossili Bay, before walking down the steps to the uniquely gorged-in St. Govan’s Chapel.
While you may not miss shaking your first at the unannounced closures of the rest of the sightseeing due to military exercises, you will miss the drive into an atmospheric UFO capital beach town with an Italian feast waiting for us, staying late late late as we took over the entire house playing more card games, drinking games, personality tests, and turning the whole bed and breakfast into our base of operations as the brave 7 (and eventually 8) of us jump into the cold waters at half past midnight, only to find out that there’s not going to be anything to jump into for awhile unless you’re willing to commit nearly a half marathon to dive into them …and commit to the path we did because if UFOs are going to abduct anyone again that night, it better be 8 unique and interesting human specimens who will wholeheartedly veer way off from the standard deviation of what it means to be normal. Because normal never had really worked for us anyway.
You’re going to miss the carefree vibes of slowly waking up to breakfast by the beach, driving up north along the Ceredigion Bay coast for your first stop of the day at the grand cathedral grounds of St. Davids, fish at chips at the university coastal town of Aberyswyth, then through the winding valleys of Snowdonia National Park for sweeping views of nearly all that nature has to offer, the group finally reuniting all at once at Llyn Padarn for recording birthday songs, yoga stretches, and dessert picnics on the hood of your car, before finishing up your day by staying in the oldest bunkhouse of the most Welshest town in Wales within castle walls.
You’re going to miss catching the sunset down the street just in time, the affordable dinner at the most British of pub franchises, the surprise tequila shots, the detour for the smallest bar in Wales, the detour after the detour for stargazing (finally) in clear skies, and the elevating the intensity of the truth-telling in these drinking games in the attic of your bunkhouse simply because this last night together in Wales had come sooner than expected.
You’re going to miss waking up to your last morning in Wales; although the grey lady that guards the door to this final castle level at Caernarfon may be the first time anyone cared about looking at those pesky student IDs, you’ll parry past her wrath to step on the grounds where the once-in-a-generation investiture of the Prince of Wales took place, then drive off for the longest place name in Europe and second longest in the world, the slow approach to hug a cow, the last minute souvenir shopping at their train station, and the group photos and video where each of us takes and recites a syllable of … get ready … ahem, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
You’re going to miss the short drive to take in the weekend trip highs of Conwy, and to leave Wales oh-too-soon when you finally reach Manchester, befriending Ed Sheeran’s chef (is this the second time we’d run into his presence this week? we swear we’re not groupies) in the hotel lobby, bidding a final goodbye to your cars at the local airport, and reuniting for the very last time we’d all be together at the very same time with a group feast at Dishoom.
You’re going to miss the encore last dance when we take a victory lap under the rain, finishing off at Manchester Cathedral with one final group hug, and the painfully awkward peeling off one by one in the elevator to catch up on the sleep you had neglected all week.
While the following morning-after brunch will feel just like that — perfunctory and stark on the surface — deep down you’re unsure when you’re ready to ask the person next to you “…so what just happened last night week?”, before reaching that premature acceptance to the end of another potentially life-changing experience.
So you go in for those goodbye hugs anyway knowing that you’re eventually — and likely sooner than later, but then later again anyways — going to look back on that morning after 6 whirlwind days on the open road with 15 other strangers, not sure exactly how to answer where you’d be heading, where these roads are leading, who you’ll become after it all, only to arrive — just like all those roundabouts on the road and in life — exactly back at where you knew the answers had been all along: it’s you. You after a trip like this. The new you.
And welcome back to you because it always will come back to you: You had made this decision, you committed to a decision, you took this leap, you spent those chances, you put yourself out there, you showed up.
Therefore you’re going to miss most of all that “self” you thought had always known, the hidden side of you beginning to emerge, and perhaps that other part of you that has been illuminated by the kindred stranger turned potentially life-long travel partner sitting next to you during the whole experience.
But it’s never truly an end as so much the turn of another road; when the roundabout eventually leads back home you’ll realize it’s not so much that you changed, but that maybe nothing else back home has.
So the next time you catch yourself turning your head towards the nearest window once again, burning for the freedom of another open road, you know now better than anyone else — except perhaps the 15 of us who took this chance with you — there will indeed be many more roads of “you” ahead.
But not only for yourself . . .
. . . but also those around you who have seen you for who you really are and have been all along.