Sometimes you just have to write…
This is the kind of advice you see all over the internet, and especially among travel tweeters, bloggers, etc. Don’t put off whatever it is you most want to do; do it while you can. Quit your job, take that round-the-world trip, just do it!
I have mixed feelings whenever I come upon this sort of advice; I agree, but part of me is reluctant to agree, and for a very mundane reason.
The obvious: why I agree
Like my parents, I love to travel. My parents saved and planned for their retirement, which was going to be filled with world travel. They did travel in their holidays as well, but were saving the big expeditions until my father retired.
It never happened. My father died at 64, my mother shortly after him at 62.
For this reason, my husband and I tend not to put off traveling. Fortunately, we have a good combined income, and we try to sock away money for our travels as much as we can. Generally, we alternate summer vacations, one year taking a “local” vacation (in Europe), the next, a “big trip” (anywhere else).
Last summer we went back to Malawi and Tanzania: for me, the first visit there in 25 years. It was fascinating and emotional and thought-provoking … and to hear more you’ll have to wait until my book is published someday!
The year before, we traveled around England with our teenaged son and nephew visiting sites used in the filming of the Harry Potter films, which was great fun. I’d highly recommend such a themed trip with teenagers: find something that interests them and see where it takes you.
Sometimes, as cash flow and jobs allow, we’ll go off on trips on our own – yes, we’re married but we nevertheless travel alone sometimes, but that’s a different blog post – at other times of the year. I’m sure we’ll travel together more outside the summer vacation when our youngest, now 15, is grown and out of the house.
We also have big plans for traveling when we retire, but we’ll get in as much travel as we can before that as well.
So, yes, carpe diem.
On the other hand, I disagree.
And this is for a far less profound reason. It has to do with food. I “carpe diem” food much too much! In other words, I overeat.
I’ve read various theories about why people overeat, and I fit the descriptions perfectly: I enjoy food. And if I enjoy it, I keep eating it, as long as the supply lasts. Apparently it has to do with serotonin levels and the happiness you feel as you’re eating, akin to the effect of a hit of a drug to an addict.
And if I have the opportunity, I eat too much. And then, apparently typical among overeaters, I regret it. I feel overfull, I feel guilty, I kick myself for what I’ve done.
What stops me from overeating, often, is social pressure. I don’t take seconds – or at least I don’t take seconds often – in front of other people because I feel ashamed if I do. And I’ve learned all sorts of ways to stop myself from overeating at home: don’t have any sweets available in the house is the first rule. If I must buy sweets, I buy them packaged in small individual packages rather than in economical large packets. Opening a new packet gives me time to rethink the impulse, whereas if I’ve opened a whole package of, for example, cookies, I’ll eat the whole thing, and have a stomach ache afterwards.
And this tendency to overeat combines rather badly with my love of travel: I love trying out new, strange kinds of food in new, strange places. When I think about places I’ve visited, often I remember the food in the most detail.
Take our trip to China, for example, the year before the Harry Potter trip. I loved every single meal we ate there. I never realized before traveling there what a tremendous variety of flavors are possible in Chinese cooking, and I wanted to try them all. And while there was much that I didn’t enjoy on that trip, I can imagine going back there just for the food.
In the case of China, overeating wasn’t really a problem. Chinese food is relatively healthy – with an added bonus of being very cheap – and we offset it by walking a lot.
France, where we’re going this month, is a bigger problem. It’s really hard for me to resist real French bread with butter, or croissants, or pain au chocolat, or really anything from a boulangerie (bakery) or patisserie (pastry baker) … well, you get the picture.
And the US is tough too. The problem there is all of the memory food: foods I ate in my childhood and loved.
I hasten to add that I am, at the moment, only about 13 pounds overweight (about six kilos). I do manage to restrict what I eat to some extent, or at least to compensate after I’ve overeaten.
But if I “carpe diem”-ed to my heart’s content, I’d balloon to 300 pounds in no time.
So that’s why even carpe diem comes with a disclaimer.