I recently read an article titled The Hardest Part Of Traveling No One Talks About. In it the author discusses the anxiety many travelers feel upon returning home—the sensation of feeling like a stranger despite being surrounded by familiar faces and sights, of not being understood—which can be a deeply unsettling experience. It is, in a sense, the reason behind the infamous travel-bug, and why many of us itch to leave again as soon as we are back.
What I found as intriguing as the original article were the many sharp, pointed comments directed at the author by both ex-travelers and those who have never dared to leave their shores of safety. They accused her of being self-centered and ungrateful of the privilege she had been granted; not all of us can afford to travel, some said.
I read them and strangely, despite understanding where the author came from and appreciating the fact that she had decided to open up about her feelings, I found myself agreeing with some of those same commentators who blatantly threw her under the wheels of their sarcasm and criticism.
And here is why:
Travelling is just not what it used to be! These days you can jump online from the comfort of your bed—while munching on a bowl of cereal and occasionally dropping a spoonful on your T-shirt without anyone seeing—and book a flight to pretty much any destination in the world: Nepal, Madagascar, Iceland. You name it! You fly there in the comfort of an aircraft, and when you land, you realize that even the most far-flung places have already been colonized by other travelers before you. There are internet-cafes and burger joints and the tacky 3-days-2-nights wilderness tours advertised on every wall.
Of course, there are moments that change you. “Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comforts of home and friends,” said Cesare Pavese once.
And he was right. To some extent.
Traveling can be a brutality, at least to start with. I woke up one morning in Antananarivo, Madagascar, as far from everyone and everything I knew as I had ever been, and there was a moment just when I was incredibly scared and impossibly thrilled both at once. I had so much to learn, so many obstacles to overcome in that strange land, yet I felt OKAY knowing that I had nothing to prove to anyone.
I felt porous, completely exposed, and open to possibilities. Unlike home, I had nobody to lean on, nobody to criticize me, nobody to ask questions. And that was when I realized that vulnerability and strength are the two sides of the same coin.
And lessons like that are hard to learn anywhere else but on the road.
Yet the truth that many travelers don’t not want to admit to, is that such moments of revelation are not as frequent as most of us would like to believe. No matter where or how far we go, routines have a way of creeping back into our lives. The sights that used to blow us away a few months earlier become the norm; Oh, there is another glacier, another waterfall.
Sometimes, the more we travel, the less we see.
Our hostel conversations turn into the mundane. Instead of getting to know each other and our dreams, we begin comparing the countries we’ve been to, the hikes we have done, the price of the cheapest meals we have found. And amidst haggling for the price of taxi rides and the routine of planning every day, the magic of traveling vanishes slowly.
Sometimes, we think of ourselves as trail blazers, even if deep down we know that even the most remote place we visited had Wi-Fi. Sometimes we go home and it feels like nothing has changed. So we expect everyone to listen to our incredible stories without listening to the stories of those who stayed put.
Sometimes we like to think we are the ones who have experienced the world and pity those who never left home. But do not judge us. I guess sometimes some of us -like me- need to reassure ourselves that travelling does do us good after all; that we aren’t falling behind everyone else we left behind.
I know. I know that we must learn to listen more, not only to those we meet in foreign lands but also to those at home. I know we must be more grateful for the things we have seen; the memories we have gathered. I know we must be humbler, demand less attention.
I know we sometimes forget that the challenge is not to climb Everest, but rather to climb it and not tell everyone about it. But do not judge us. Do not judge us for not falling in line with the rest of society. Please remember that our restlessness—be it a gift or a curse—is an expensive love affair with no permanent cure. Remember that we all took the leap of fate, without knowing what awaited us on the other side. We sacrifice our friends, our relationships, our homes and our 401Ks in pursuit of something we cannot quite define, but we know is somewhere out there.
Please do not judge us for choosing this path, for we may not know exactly where we are going, but then again, “not all those who wander are lost…”