Saudades – The Hardest Part About Travel

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the Lessons I’ve Learned from World Travel.  That article was about some of the wonderful aspects of travel and how they have shaped me. Though, I didn’t mention some of the more difficult parts of travel. Before I tell you what the most difficult parts about travel are for me, I’ll tell you what they are not. It has nothing to do with the physical body. It isn’t getting tired or hungry. It’s not the aching feet from walking 20 mi (32 km) in one day. Nor is it the days I was stuck in my hotel room with food poisoning thinking that I was about to die. In that post I talked about how those are things that toughened me up, and hence I view them as a positive. No, one of the hardest things for me is leaving pieces of my heart in every place that I connect with.

New Orleans

Have you ever heard Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, by Louis Armstrong? Listen to the lyrics and you’ll know right away that Louis gets it. The Big Easy is one spot where I left a piece of my heart. New Orleans was my home in 2011-2012. Sometimes I think about the creaky, old, 19th century houses on St. Charles, in Midtown, Tremé, the Garden district and the Marigny. I look back on when I used to walk through the French Quarter after work. All the lights would be out except the old gas-lamps. I used to stroll around my neighborhood and smell the scent of sweet olive and jasmine floating through the moist swamp air. I loved taking the creaky St. Charles streetcar to work during the week. I miss the festivities, the humidity, the history, all of it…

Paris, La Seine

For me it’s also Paris, another once-upon a home of mine. I reminisce about when I would walk around the city for hours and hours. I lived in a tiny, bohemian mansarde (attic room previously for live-in maids that had a slanted ceiling and only a few feet of space at one end where one can actually stand up). I was broke, but I was so happy to be living in Paris surrounded by beautiful architecture and interesting people. I used to wander into the grandiose cathedrals and ponder the stained glass. I miss the parties in my Spanish friend’s little 5th-floor apartment.

The most recent place where I left a piece of myself was Vila Velha, Brazil. I had a nice one-bedroom that was only a 10-minute walk from the beach. I went there almost every day. My friend and I would swim and watch the sea turtles coming up for air. Sometimes I would spread out a sarong and read in the sand. Oftentimes we would attend independent film festivals at the university. I miss cooking Moqueca, Feijoado and other Brazilian dishes. When I got tired of cooking I’d go out for Gormet Pizza, Churrasquinhos and Açai. It was an unforgettable time for me.

Those are just a few major examples from my life. I have other places where I left a piece of my heart such as the village Tad Lo in Laos, also Budapest and Madrid. Even if I’m happy in my current location, there are always feelings of longing, or Saudades in Portuguese. I feel  that longing whenever I’m reminded of that place. Sometimes it’s from a song, a movie, or someone mentioning that they were there recently. Sometimes I just daydream and the feeling comes out of nowhere and smacks me right in the face.

And, if you should return to a place looking to relive that magical moment in your life be forewarned. It probably won’t feel the same. I’ve learned over the years that you can’t return to a place and expect to get the same feeling. The connections formed with those people and places were not coincidence. They were the coming together of many factors and energies. These converged to create a unique and special moment in time and space for me and the people I shared those experiences with. They are singular and cannot be replicated.

So how do I go on traveling, leaving pieces of my heart in so many places around the world while still staying whole? Though it feels like I leave something in each place, I also integrate something new into my life. A friend of mine Brazil said it best –

“Vamos deixando pedaços de nós pelo caminho e cada pedaço que fica para trás nos mostra que podemos seguir com menos medo de perdê-los.”

“We go about leaving pieces of ourselves on the road and each piece that stays behind shows us that we can continue onward with less fear of losing them.” – L. M.

Thus, I continue to embrace the Saudades I feel almost on a daily basis. All these experiences, bitter and sweet, have shaped me. So, when I am having one of those moments or periods of life, when I am forming a deep connection with a person or place, I try to live those moments to the fullest. I try to give my whole heart to the attention of the moment, because that moment will never come back. It can always be relived and revisited in your memory, but can never be replicated. And that to me is one of the most beautiful AND the most difficult parts for me about world travel.

Stay tuned for part 2…


One thought on “Saudades – The Hardest Part About Travel

  1. I believe the longing you describe only comes after you have given a place a substantial amount of your time. The only places I feel that way about are Mexico City and Guatemala. I’m hoping to accumulate more “Saudades” locations. It’s a reflection of a life well- lived.


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