I always want to travel the most when I get sick.
Not literally, of course. I don’t want to drag my feverish ass on an airplane and infect the whole Boeing with phlegm. But it’s always when the idea seems to hit the hardest: perhaps because it’s when I’m at my most vulnerable. I miss everybody when I am sick. I miss my mom. I miss my ex-boyfriend. I miss my best friend who moved across the country and can no longer crawl into bed with me and read me tacky Internet quizzes to distract from my nausea. I miss everyone I’ve loved and lost and feel estranged from when I get a simple stomach flu and that makes me want to disappear from my entire life.
That’s something I’ve noticed about the urge to wander: It hits the strongest when we’re the most powerless. The desire to strap on a backpack, slam the front door and not look back is the ultimate “F*ck you” to whatever about your life is getting you down. “You could leave this all behind,” Your brain coos. “It could all be that simple.” And for those of us who’ve chosen the escapist route before, we know it’s true: there is nothing complicated about leaving. Nothing difficult about packing a bag, buying a plane ticket and finding an apartment someplace new. It’s not an art. It is a habit and it’s one that becomes all too easy with time.
Perhaps that is a product of the society we have created: one where possibilities are limitless and no mistake is ever inescapable. We idealize leaving it all behind as the ultimate answer to our struggles. We see place as the problem and so we move on every time the urge to wander hits: we simply pack our bags, say our goodbyes and move along. This place wasn’t the right place for me, we reason. So onwards I go.
But here is what I’ve noticed about so many people who wander: No place is ever enough. No destination is final. Happiness is fleeting, escapable, volatile as the weather in a given destination. We go where the sun shines and we leave when skies darken. It’s the philosophy we live by both literally and figuratively. We are eternally in search of a better city, better job, better relationship, better life. When things are good, we stay. When things get tough, we pack up and move on. It’s our way of taking control of a given situation: we abandon it before it has the chance to wear on us. We control it by destroying it all and then marvelling over our power. The irony of our own actions evades us. We don’t see what we’re leaving behind when we jump ship. We’re onto the next, onto the new, onto the always bigger and better.
When the urge to wander hits, it’s never random. It is almost like a knee-jerk reaction for many of us. It is our lives telling us, if you stay, things will change. And change freaks us out. We want change on our own accord – change that we decided on, change we orchestrated. The compulsion to move is an eternal game of cat-and-mouse in which we misidentify our role. If we’re the ones choosing to move, then we’re the pursuers and never the chased. We have the power. We’re in control.
But here’s the truth about wandering: It does nothing but delay the inevitable. Change happens to all of us. If it does not find us on the road, it encircles us when we return home – we see the age in the faces of our family members, the progressions that our friends have made at work. We attend engagement parties and baby showers. We catch glimpses of the lives we don’t necessarily want but which force us to grasp the absurdity of the choices we’ve made. We haven’t run from change, we’ve run alongside it. We’ve kept an even pace with everything that’s shifted. And suddenly it seems like we may not be the cat in the game after all.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with travel. It can be eye-opening, perspective-shifting and life-changing. But it can also be escapism. And when it’s the latter, it begs us to re-evaluate. What is it about staying in one place that makes us tremble? Why do we so definitely need to move at every opportunity? What would happen if we stayed? Could we survive it?
Just as there’s a time to travel, there comes a time to stay put. And sometimes when the urge to wander hits, we have to learn to counter-act it. To step outside of ourselves and determine if it’s truly the time to depart or if we’re simply feeling threatened. If the changes life is trying to impose on us necessitate an escape or if they’re a storm that we could weather. That we could maybe even grow from. That we might benefit from once it’s all said and done.
Next time the urge to wander hits, ask yourself: What am I running away from? What would happen if I didn’t? What if I stuck to one place, to one commitment, to one way of living and saw it through right to the end?
Who would I become as a result?
And would that be so bad after all?