I'd been in Seville for about two weeks before a message appeared on my phone from a friend back in Australia. It was a simple question.
"Are you OK?"
Fair enough, I guess. Over the last fortnight, in which I had begun studying Spanish at a small school in the Andalusian heartland, I had also started appearing on her Facebook feed far more than usual. I never really post anything myself, but now I was being tagged in photos daily by a lot of very young people with European names, and by the official accounts of local Seville nightclubs.
In one photo I had a playing card stuck to my head. In another I had a drink held high in the air, an island of old person surrounded by a sea of youths. In every other image I was some version of boozy, standing on dancefloors or hanging out in student flats.
Are you OK? My friends back home all thought I was having a midlife crisis, which was a reasonable assumption. I'd ended a long-term relationship before heading off to Spain. I was rudderless, wandering. I was suddenly appearing in photos looking like an 18-year-old backpacker with a serious premature balding issue.
The truth, however, is that I was definitely OK. I was more than OK. I was having the time of my goddamn life. I was rediscovering my travel roots and loving every moment, studying during the day and partying at night, soaking up the multi-culturalism of European cities, playing in a local football team, hanging out with Spaniards, Germans, Swedes, Italians, Belgians and so much more.
I'd gone back in time, effectively. Back to my gap year. Back to my days as a backpacker. Back to an age with no cares and no responsibilities. Brilliant.
This, I have to tell you, is what's on offer to everyone when you travel: a journey back in time. Not to a place, even though the travel writer clichés will tell you that a walk down a certain street is a step back into another era. I'm talking about a journey back on your own timeline, to a former version of yourself, to the old you, to the person you once were.
Suddenly, when you travel, particularly when you go overseas, no one knows who you really are. No one knows you're the person with the real job who works hard and who has responsibilities that you take care of. No one knows you've become fairly boring in your advanced age, that you don't leave the house so much anymore, that you find yourself getting together with friends and talking about interest rates and daycare fees and how they could pass off Kyle Sandilands as a "celebrity" on The Masked Singer.
Travel far from home though and no one understands that, and it's the most freeing thing in the world. Who are you? You're anyone you want to be. And for me at least, that's the free-wheeling, more-than-occasional-drinking, happily socialising budget traveller from what was now a frighteningly long time ago.
Travel gives you back that wide-eyed joy of youth. Remember when everything seemed so amazing and different and exciting when you first set out into the adult world? It's very difficult to carry that feeling through your entire life. However, go travelling, head off to somewhere completely different to everything you know, and that sensation returns. Once again, everything is amazing.
I get swept up in that so quickly. I want to embrace it, I want to celebrate it. I want to drink in every city and every town, I want to experience everything it's got, I want to walk and ride and eat and stare and dance till it's 3am.
I've come to terms with the fact that my normal life just can't be like that. Because I'm not like that. I'm not the person I was 20 years ago. I have different interests and different responsibilities and a different respect for the value of sleep.
But travel is a window into the old me. It's a holiday from my modern self, in some ways. It's a chance to be the guy who used to work on European bus tours and cook everyone breakfast and show them around these amazing places. It's a chance to be the person who would take overnight trains across countries and step off on foreign platforms ready to attack the day. It's the opportunity to meet people from around the world, to make friends, to have these fascinating and sometimes bizarre conversations that you just don't get to have as an adult in a city you know surrounded by all your established connections.
I still chuckle about that message from my friend while I was staying in Seville. Are you OK? Are you having some sort of crisis that we need to talk about?
I mean, maybe. But it was a lot of fun.
Have you ever travelled back in time? How did you connect with your former self? Where are you planning on going next to get in touch with that?