The Tempo of Travel

August 26, 2014
Tyler Lawrence

If you’re the sort of person who likes to travel, or hasn’t travelled much but would like to, Princeton has you covered. Princeton students find about ten-and-a-half billion ways to see the country and the world, most often with the help of the school’s incredible resources. I’ve taken advantage of a few—you heard about Paris—but at this moment alone I’ve got friends in Galway, Azerbaijan, Paris, Ecuador, Israel, London, Nigeria, Beijing, and Morocco.

Travel, like many of man’s other lofty pursuits like symphony orchestra, or twerking, has a discernible rhythm.

The count starts slowly, gradually. Subtle notes begin a week out from the trip. A few extra toiletries appear. Perhaps I don’t wear clothes that I know I’ll want to bring so they won’t have to be washed again. The controlled chaos of my room becomes gradually ordered as space is made for the looming organizational storm.

A few days out, the beat quickens. I make an official “List of Things That Must Be Done,” which comes with an implied “or else.” What “else” might happen isn’t ever really clear, but my mother has imbued me with a distinct sense of terror toward the world. If I don’t pack my flashlight, there could be a massive power outage. If I don’t bring antibiotics, I’ll surely come down with a life-threatening strain of the flu borne by the desert sands. If I don’t prepare a vial of holy water, then I’ll be defenseless against inevitable zombie hoards. The Boy Scout motto states, “Be prepared”; the Beth Lawrence motto continues, “…for every possible apocalypse.”

By the eve of departure, I’ve taken care of the initial List’s items, but 20 new last-minute errands have refilled it, a hydra in notepad form. The metronome beats louder. I pick up dry cleaning. I buy funky new argyle socks because the gray ones my sister got me for Christmas (Killer present, sis!) are boring. I grab two new sets of in-ear headphones because the dog recently acquired a funny but also kind of gross taste for earwax. I arrive at CVS right before they close, stopping the disgruntled worker as he’s locking the doors so I can purchase shaving cream.

During the late-night rush to pack, the rhythm becomes a gallop. I have an uncanny ability to pack bags right up to the weight limit (48 pounds this time, a small victory). I inevitably think I haven’t packed enough, and will inevitably wonder why I brought half this stuff in two weeks.

A very cute, very tired dog.

And then I am done, except that I can’t sleep. This always happens, whether I’m coming back to Nashville or Princeton or going someplace else, but it’s particularly pronounced tonight. The metronome should have stopped by now, but it’s still ticking. Ticking. Ticking. Nothing remains to do, but sheer inertia keeps it running until I’m finally en route.

Takeoff. The metronome stops. The buzz of the plane engine lulls me to sleep.

Four airports and a brief stop in D.C. later, I’m in Ibri, Oman for a summer of Arabic study. More on that soon!