Initial preparations for the trip began months and months ago, and as is typical of me, I couldn't start getting excited about the trip until every piece was in place...which didn't happen until a few hours before the flight, thanks to some cashier's failure to remove the big honkin' anti-theft tag on the back of my tuxedo jacket, which had somehow gone noticed until I was packing my bag the day before I left. Up until I got on the plane, it was gotta pay for the trip, gotta get a tuxedo, gotta get time off from work, gotta find a way to and from the airport, gotta pack, gotta budget for meals and souvenirs, gotta brush up on the local languages, gotta...etc. Once I got on the plane, it was don't die on the plane, don't die on the plane. Once we landed, it was ugh, I need a nap, I need a shower, I should've packed differently for this stifling heat wave. Once I had time to rest and freshen up, it was holy cow, I only know, like, eight people on this trip, and there's almost a hundred of us; I want to get to know everyone and swap stories and find the right people to hang out with, but I've got to do the "Hello, my name is..." speech a few dozen times first, and I'm already starting to feel a bit of social overload.
It wasn't until I'd met the majority of the group and started to build a rapport with most of them that the trip really took off for me. Most of the places we visited (primarily Salzburg, Vienna, and Prague) were places I'd been before (which means I'm officially an experienced world traveler somehow), so that initial "ooh, aah" factor was often absent. I'm also extremely self-sufficient after my college semester abroad in Spain, so returning to a tour group mentality—especially a tour group so huge that we cause comical traffic jams in tiny European villages when we cross the street together—felt more restrictive than it would've otherwise. Together, these factors resulted in the quality of the company and the structure of our itinerary—along with the music, of course—being the driving factors in my enjoyment of the trip.
The neat thing, though, is that everybody got along—we all had the university and the choir in common, but there's a certain level of friendliness and respect that nearly all of the members I've ever sung with have shared. We had participants from as far back as the class of 1948 if I heard correctly, yet there was never any sense of an age barrier or any other kind of divide between us. Sure, we frequently broke off into the social groups we knew, but I spent just as much time with my peer group as I did with the young'uns and the retirement crowd. It took a while to feel out which people were similarly minded when it came to going sightseeing or finding a place to eat, but I never had a problem getting along with anyone.
Sightseeing, shopping, and socializing weren't the real draw of the trip, however; getting to sing one last time with my college conductor before his retirement was. Attending this concert tour was never a question; I was resolved to be a part of this from the first time he talked about it, back when I was still in college. This is the kind of man who could invite you to sing at the edge of an active volcano, and your first question would be, "full concert dress, or those silver fire proximity suits?" Singing in the choir under his direction was a remarkable joy and privilege, and it remains one of the most meaningful parts of my college career. I wouldn't miss this for the world.
Again, there were hurdles to my enjoyment: a number of seemingly avoidable logistical issues impacted the length and timing of our rehearsals; I developed a sinus infection halfway through; and one of the masses we sang was brand-new to me, and despite my best efforts to practice at home (aided only by YouTube videos and my wife's electronic keyboard), performing the 30-minute work was extremely strenuous for someone who was still kinda figuring it out as he went. All I wanted to do was show up, run around a foreign country with fun people, and make amazing music. The trip continued to improve as I got to know people better and started putting the "Do Something About It" policy into full effect, and I was genuinely loving tour by the end of it. Being there for our director's emotional final concert in a church with gorgeous acoustics, and spending time with him and half the other participants at the hotel's patio lounge afterwards (with a lovely view of the city of Prague), made the trip for me. The rest was just gravy.
I mean that literally and figuratively. Almost all of our group dinners consisted of meat with sauce. Beef in gravy, pork in gravy, etc. It got to the point where I started calling the first country we visited "Meat With Saucetria." Even our airplane food was in on the joke, both ways.
When I returned from the trip, I had four straight days of unadulterated vacation time. No work, no obligations, no plans of any kind. Even my wife was out of the equation, for she wouldn't be returning from her trip until early the following week. Do you know how rare that is? Since I moved a few years back, most of my time off from work has been spent traveling to see the people I miss. Since my wife left her old job and started an Etsy shop, I've had someone else with me in the apartment at all times—and while it's the woman I love, I'm also more of an introvert than I let on. I get "Me Time," but I seldom get alone time. To use a geeky and awkwardly wordy analogy, being in a different room from my wife is to having the house to myself as calling your mother in EarthBound to cure homesickness is to actually returning home and seeing her in person. For the first time since, I think, 2010, I had an honest-to-goodness vacation—which, to me, means not leaving the house for anything or engaging in any kind of social activity unless I really want to. I returned to work that Monday feeling more relaxed and energized than I had in years.
All things in moderation, however. Despite my enthusiasm for an empty home and an open schedule, that's not how I want to live the rest of my life. I got married for a reason. I go on all these road trips to see friends and family for a reason. It's just that my social time and quiet time are completely out of balance. I always think of The Sims, where my Social meter—the one for me that'd fill up the fastest and deplete the slowest—would be almost constantly maxed out. Fortunately, it's never at the expense of my Hygiene meter, but the time spent keeping Social topped off has to come from somewhere.
This drastic break from my routine—these reminders of what it was like to be in college, to travel the world, to be single—was refreshing and invigorating. It helped me to appreciate again the things I've started taking for granted, and to recognize what's been missing from my life. Spending time with people younger, my age, and older than me renewed my perspective on where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going. Being away from my wife so long drove home just how deeply we care about each other. Singing with a choir again reinforced the growing sentiment that I need to sing—music is an integral part of who I am, though you don't often see me writing about it. When my wife and I moved, we thought of it as only a temporary arrangement; no sense in putting down roots by finding a church, joining a choir, making friends, etc. if we were going to pack up and go in a couple of months. That was three years ago. I'm joining a choir.
As our guide on the trip said, travel changes people. Whatever else the tour and my vacation time at home may have been, I can say unquestionably that they have changed me for the better.