“I don’t know if I want to drive to LA this weekend,” my friend confessed over lunch at the Yard House.
“Why not?” I asked, thinking she didn’t want to spend the gas money. Although Los Angeles wasn’t far from where we lived in Las Vegas, she drove an SUV.
“Well, driving that kind of distance by myself…I dunno, that makes me nervous.” I blinked at her in surprise.
“Oh. Yeah…” I murmured as I took a sip of iced tea. Though I tried to look sympathetic, I had a hard time understanding her hesitation. After all, the drive would only take four hours and the roads were paved. There wouldn’t be any police officers she would have to bribe or gun-wielding car jackers she’d need to out-run. And I assumed she wouldn’t be sharing the ride with 11 strange men and a crate full of chickens, so really, what was there to be nervous about?
It’s conversations like these that remind me of how much travel has turned me into a total weirdo. 11 years of international travel punctuated with periods of living abroad in Germany, Japan and Guatemala have left me with the inability to have a normal conversation. Because ironically enough, although I can speak four languages to varying degrees of fluency, most conversations with friends in the US leave me grasping for the right words; wracking my brain for something to say that won’t start with the opener, “This one time, when I was living in Tokyo…”, because no one likes a showoff.
The other day at work, my co-workers were talking about interesting wedding ceremonies they’d gone to over the years. My brain immediately flashed to a wedding I’d attended in Nepal between an elephant safari guide and the teenage daughter of a hotel cook. The four-hour ceremony had involved bonfires and ritualistic foot washings before culminating in the beheading of a goat. While this would certainly have counted as ‘interesting’, experience has taught me that there is no quicker way to railroad a conversation than to bring up the topic of animal sacrifice.
Thus, as my coworkers talked, I combed my memories for something I could say that would sound normal and relatable – some cute anecdote about a themed wedding I’d attended somewhere average, like Buffalo or Cincinnati maybe – but I came up empty.
I guess that’s what happens when you’ve spent the majority of your adult life riding camels in India or sailing around glaciers in Alaska: your options for normal, universally-relatable anecdotes becomes limited. The only stories you have to share either require a long explanation or else make you sound like a self-absorbed asshole. You may only be trying to contribute to the discussion and bond with people by sharing a piece of your past, but name drop too many exotic foreign locales in a conversation and people will think you’re bragging. There’s just no way to downplay the opener: “This one time, while I was volcano boarding in Nicaragua…” .
It’s for reasons like this that I sometimes wish I’d never traveled or lived abroad. Travel changes you, irrevocably so. And sure, you become more cultured and worldly and you learn how to swear in 12 different languages, but what the study abroad programs and travel blogs don’t warn you about is that once you return, that new-found perspective on life is going to make it hard for you to make new friends. Or worse, relate to the ones you already have.
Of course, there are also days when I recognize how lucky I am. International travel is a luxury few people ever to get experience, and it’s hard to argue that a decade of country-hopping wasn’t worth the occasional awkward conversation. But still, sometimes it’d be nice if instead of the “Your so lucky’s” and “Wow, I can’t even imagine’s…” I hear on a regular basis, someone would say “Yes! I can totally relate to that.” Because sometimes it’d be nice to feel understood.
I might be going to South America in a couple of months. I’ll probably ride a chicken bus and explore some ancient ruins and maybe I’ll even pet an alpaca. And then, maybe one day, five years from now, I’ll be sitting at a conference table at work and someone will bring up the topic of hiking. My mind will flash back to “that one time, when I climbed Machu Picchu,” and I’ll start to say something, but then I’ll stop myself. Because no one likes a showoff.