Travel Narrative

Narcissistic Nostalgia: Six Years of The Suitcase Scholar

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Six years seem like a long time, doesn’t it? Like, a six year old child is just that–a child. Not a baby, not a toddler. Six years of marriage, while a drop in the bucket for some (like my grandparents, who were married for 73 years), is actually a pretty long time in the 21st century; around 30% of marriages end before celebrating a 6th anniversary. Even in the modern workplace, to stay in one position for six years is becoming increasingly rare. Yet here I am, writing my 613th post on The Suitcase Scholar’s sixth blog anniversary.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again, in bold and italics: I love The Suitcase Scholar. It may be the single thing which has most shaped my life and my personality. That’s a bold statement, but it’s also pretty damn accurate. So indulge me, please, as I take a look back over the years and contemplate how it and I have grown and changed together (it and I? Forgive me, grammar gods. I don’t know how to properly pronoun-personify a website).

Looking Back

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2009: My first post ever was written while sitting on my old couch in my living room. It was three paragraphs long, contained zero images, and was composed and published on my iPhone.  It was about me, and had nothing whatsoever to do with travel.

2010: Ah, the infamous summer of 2010. I failed to celebrate my first blog anniversary. Because I was too busy being miserable in Paris. On this day in 2010, I had quite possibly the best day of that trip–a day during which I gave myself permission to stray from my go-go-go!-style see-all-of-Paris-in-ten-days itinerary (which I carried across the ocean in a plastic-sleeve-filled binder). The post still contains zero photos and is still very diary-esque.  It was ironically followed, on July 24th, 2010, by a post titled ‘My Last Blog Post‘, which appears to be when I learned the term ‘internet troll’.

2011: In 2011, I wrote my first dedicated anniversary post. It was published the day before my husband and I headed out on a month-long Maine and Maritimes trip and contained a bulleted list of rules I’d set up for myself surrounding blogging-while-traveling, presumably to avoid a second Paris-like misery-spiral. Smart, 2011 version of me. It contains one photo, the link to which is broken.

My favorite line from this post is: “I’ll be posting on here as long as I’m traveling, and that certainly doesn’t seem like it’s going to end any time soon (knocking on wood!)”

Knocking on wood works, people.

2012: This is the first time I use the title The Suitcase Scholar, as I migrated my dot WordPress dot com site over to my own URL earlier in 2012. My anniversary post is super short–and contains a stock image, which I try to never, ever use anymore. So I have to look more deeply into July of 2012 to determine what was happening here on The Suitcase Scholar. Doing so tells me that I’d just returned from my first (but very much not my last) trip to San Francisco and was about to head north to Cape Cod for my last trip during my year-of-travel.

Looking at the summer of 2012, I’m struck by several things. First, that I became slightly sullen and quite wistful. This makes sense, as I was assuming I was ending my year-long leave of absence to return to the classroom for the rest of my life. This made me sad. And second, that I was so, so wrong about so many things. Because I only returned to the classroom for one more year. And that ‘year of travel’? Yeah. That was nothing compared to what was to come. N.O.T.H.I.N.G. At this point, I’d consider that year ‘a year spent at home’.

2013: Unsurprisingly, I entirely missed my 4th blog anniversary. After all, I was in the throes of a fairly serious career and lifestyle change, sort-of documented here only three days later in a post about a life of constant-travel. Please note: that was written after only a few months of constant travel, though most of it remained true over the course of the next two years.

It was also around this time when I started creating series, like Laudable Lodging and Alley Culture. I wanted The Suitcase Scholar to be magazine-esque–this was all the rage in blogs back in 2013–and that seemed a good way to do it. Since then, the series thing kind of…faded. I abhor routine and have equally strong feelings about rules (even rules I myself created).

This year also saw Suitcase Scholar posts begin to utilize headings and lists, as well as feature quality (ish) photography. I cannot believe it took me this long to realize the importance of a strong visual presence. What’s more, this was something I had to be expressly told–specifically, at an AWP writing conference in NYC, where I went to a session on digital publishing and the speaker said ‘if you don’t know how to make your blog look beautiful, you may as well give up now’. She was right. And I wasn’t about to give up. If there’s one thing I hate more than routine or rules, it is giving up. (Note: this post isn’t a great example of ‘visually interesting’. Sorry. Told you I hate rules.)

2014: Ah, 2014. You were the best of times. And I have to say this: there’s only one thing worse than looking back over bad times, and that’s looking back over good times. Good times which have ended. Which is why I can’t even force myself to read last year’s 5th anniversary post. I was…so happy. And I believed–I truly believed–both in myself and in a person’s ability to craft a life they will enjoy. I don’t know if I believe that anymore.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

2015: And now here we are, six years later, on July 23rd, 2015. Just me and the blog. Together, we must stop looking back and start looking forward (trust me, we really, really must). So, what does the future have in store for me and for The Suitcase Scholar? I suppose those are two separate questions.

Looking Forward

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What does my future look like?

At age 35, it is both liberating and horrifying to say: I have absolutely no idea. What I can confidently say is that 2015 has been the worst year of my life. Personal and professional tragedies have occurred in such rapid succession that my head didn’t even have time to spin. Even if right now someone knocks on my door and hands me one of those giant checks for a million dollars or an all-expenses-paid trip around the world–even then, this year will have been the worst year of my life. And I doubt those things are going to happen (though if any of you have either a giant check or a trip around the world to spare, I’ll take it and reconsider my stance.)

For several months now, I’ve been trying to move forward. I know where I want to be. I thought I knew how to get there. And yet I’m still not making any progress. So I don’t know where I’m headed, and I can’t even have faith that it will be anywhere good. But I do have faith in one thing…

What does the future hold for The Suitcase Scholar?

This is the one thing I can say with absolute certainty: no matter what, The Suitcase Scholar will continue to grow and improve. When I was miserable in Paris, The Suitcase Scholar was there. When I had hope for my traveling future, The Suitcase Scholar was there. The Suitcase Scholar was there when I thought my days of travel were over (the first time), and The Suitcase Scholar was there when I transitioned into a life of only-travel. The Suitcase Scholar was there last year, when I was happy. It is here this year, when I am sad. And it will be here next year, too. And it will be better than ever.

Here’s to next year.

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