Everyone loves to travel. Every millennial claims to love wanderlust, excited to see the world in all its glory, the good and the bad. They are willing to rough it out in all conditions, backpacking across Europe, road tripping across America, hiking through the Himalayas.
I have spent the last 4 months traveling all around Europe. And I look like I’m having the time of my life. My snapchat and instagram is updated and nobody (sometimes not even myself) can keep track of where I am right now. After all, if it’s not on social media, you didn’t do it. Right? In the last 4 months of travel, I have backpacked, slept in hostels, squeezed in rooms intended for fewer people, sneezed incessantly from the crazy cold, not showered for more than 24 hours and camped overnight at bus stations (I even got chased out and I had to camp overnight outside a bus station below freezing temperature).
I know I’m a very, very lucky girl. Many people dream of the opportunity to travel across Europe and here I am, right in the midst of it. I’ve been dreaming about this trip for years and I’m finally on it. So why do I feel slightly…disappointed? The answer boils down to one simple question: Why do you enjoy travel? If you derive joy simply by being on the move and having to change your routine every day to meet new circumstances, then yes, you will have the time of your life. But for someone who enjoys a simple routine and the comfort of home, traveling throws me very far out of my comfort zone.
Yes, I enjoy spending time with people, but I absolutely cannot be with somebody for weeks straight. I need my own space and time. I need to wake up in the morning and have breakfast to start my day off right. Otherwise, I get grumpy and quiet the rest of the day. I have quirks that only those who love me will tolerate. I am embarrassed and afraid that I may be a burden to my travel buddies. So I let others make all the decisions on what to eat, where to stay and how to get there. And I don’t complain. Which means that sometimes, I have to do things that I don’t want to do. Of course, planning my own trip will remove this problem.
But traveling alone brings with it a whole new set of problems. When I reach a new country, I am interested in what the local food is. I want to learn about a country’s culture, but a whole day of attraction-hopping only bores me. To me, the best way to learn about a country is to sit down at a local coffee shop and people watch. Strike up a conversation with another local or the shop owner. Or sit down with a good book and just enjoy the afternoon. But this takes time. Which costs money. Which deters tourists on a budget like myself.
I have felt homesick many times in the past 4 months. It isn’t the kind of homesick where you suddenly miss home because your mom called. It’s the kind of homesickness that hangs over you like a dark cloud. It nags at you incessantly by making you worry about your aged grandmother, whether your parents have eaten and how your boyfriend is coping with work. It makes you feel guilty for being unfilial, leaving your family to travel the world and “explore yourself.”
To have fun overseas while my family is hard at work. It’s the kind of homesickness that doesn’t leave after a good Skype session. It only makes you want to go home and hug everyone very, very tightly while trying not to cry. Sometimes, what you dream about may not be everything you think it to be. I don’t deny that there were many times where I enjoyed myself. I have laughed so hard that I had tears in my eyes; I have stood in awed silence looking at God’s beautiful creations. I have also seen the poor, hungry and homeless begging for food and coins. Children shivering on the streets with their parents, forcing you to consider how life deals such a different hand to every individual. These are the parts of travel that prompt anyone with a conscience to make a difference. Take action and start doing something, even if its something small, back home.
These few months have taught me a very important lesson. I don’t love to travel.
I love to spend time with the people I love. And traveling gives me the chance to do just that. Thinking back, my best trip ever was one with my parents to a beach resort in Vietnam. We did next to nothing. We chilled by the beach, inside the villa, strolled to nearby towns and watched the waves crash at the ocean. We spent afternoons sitting inside the villa, my father poring over the newspaper, my mother over her iPad and me over my kindle. But we were together. My mother wasn’t working in the office, my father wasn’t out meeting clients, and I wasn’t in class. We spent every meal together and we got to talk.
Sure, I may not have seen the best of Vietnam, but I enjoyed myself. I came back relaxed, contented and exhilarated that my family spent time together. The trip was short but fulfilling. The travels I will remember the most for the rest of my life will not be that I visited the Eiffel tower in Paris with a travel companion I just met. Or that I spent weekends with a smile on my face and a running commentary in my head because I’m not close enough to my travel companions to voice my true opinion. The trips I will remember most are the ones where my friends and I went white water rafting in Krabi, where we sat on the floor chatting away till midnight talking about absolutely nothing, where we bonded over everything and nothing. So from now on, I dare not to declare myself wanderlust.
The dream of traveling for the sake of traveling no longer seems so beautiful. I don’t crave to create travel videos just for the sake of being able to travel anymore. I simply want to do what I enjoy as a career, and save traveling as a precious experience for me to spend time exploring new things with people I love. It doesn’t have to be for long periods of times, or be extremely frequent. It just has to happen enough for me to sometimes escape the monotony of routine so that I can again realise why having nothing out of the ordinary is often the definition of happiness. So the next time someone asks “do you love to travel?”, my answer will be slightly different.