the latest installment from Elissa in Vanuatu....
It’s the eternal question for wanderlusters like us: how long? How long do I need to stay? How long could I stay? How long should I stay? Will whatever I’m planning be long enough?
I’ve never been one of those travellers who arrives in a place with no plans, luxuriously free to follow their whims and intent only on seeing what delights are serendipitously dropped in their paths. I wish I was, but honestly, I’m just not. While group tours make my toes curl and I like to think I follow a more authentic travel experience path, I do find it hard to resist drafting long lists of highlights of any given venue and trying to fit in as many of them as my long suffering family will endure. Partly, it’s because thinking about the trip is a big wedge of the travel-pleasure-pie for me, and partly it’s a kind of FOMO – the fear that I might never find myself back in this locale again and dread the thought of lying on my deathbed running through a litany of places I wish I’d seen (and food I wish I’d eaten and people I wish I’d been kinder to) but didn’t.
Inherently tied to this fetish for listing is the need to then schedule, loosely at least, the time that I’ve got to spend in a place. And that is a fine art, my friends. There are the inevitable hard deadlines of train schedules and plane tickets to work around, yes, but there is so much more: there are the merits of a day spent here to weigh against the riches of a day spent there, there are the risks of finding additional treasures without time to explore them to balance against the perils of – gasp – having left so much time that you run out of things to do.
You might think that living in a place is the antidote for this ailment of duration anxiety. I did. But after eight months of living in Vanuatu, I can tell you definitively that it’s not.
This week, someone was telling me about a great bungalow they’d stayed in on an island nearby, and without too much consideration, I mentally added it to my ‘to go’ list – because I live here, so there’s plenty of time to see and do everything and no need to be overly discriminating about list additions. Right? But then, I started to think about all the many and varied things already on my list, and the frequency with which I add new ones, and the fact that we are scheduled to leave Vanuatu in nine months’ time. Duration anxiety flooded in like the tide. We are pretty much half way through the journey, but nowhere near half way through the list – in large part because it seems quite possible that the list will never be finished being written.
The thing is, when you live somewhere, especially somewhere as magical as Vanuatu, it doesn’t give up all its secrets straight away. Sure, you can find the obvious gems in a guidebook or the highlights reel on the inbound flight, but the most precious peaches are the ones that you learn from long time locals or somehow manage to dig up yourself. And once that juice is running down your chin, you can’t just stop at one. It’s like most things that are worth learning I guess – a language, for instance, or a craft – you can scratch the surface in an afternoon, but you can spend a lifetime delving deeper.
So how long is long enough? We could stay in Vanuatu for ever – but we probably won’t (that’s the sound of my mum exhaling you can hear). Seeing and doing and learning everything, as tempting as the endeavour is, just isn’t possible. Seeing and doing and learning everything that today holds is the best I can do – and that’s a pretty worthwhile venture too.