Thursday, October 10, 2013

Travel lulls - Finding a detour when your freewheelin' ways hit a roadblock

It is hard to believe that amidst a world of freedom, opportunity, and very little responsibility, one could find a low moment. With an infinite stream of new experiences, what more could one ask for? Alas, ask any ex-pat or long-term traveler and they will be able to candidly recall a time where existence didn’t seem so peachy. Maybe it was the result of a new destination. Maybe it was experiencing some road wearies. Maybe it was even meeting another person who made the idea of blowing in the wind less appealing. Whatever the reason, there come milestones in a traveler’s life when the road seems to lose a bit of its appeal. These moments force a traveler to take a deep look at their surroundings and ask, “is this a low point, or am I at the end of my journey?”

A low point in travel, much like any lifestyle, can come at any moment.  To my amazement, it seems as if the low points in a traveler’s existence can almost be calculated. Like the lady cycles of a group of females living in a close quarters, travelers’ low points tend to fall at the same time as other travelers. My extensive research (Fact: there is no science involved in this study) tells me many travelers tend to have seen lulls at the beginning of travel, as well as sometime near the 3 month, 6month, and/or 1 year anniversary of being on the road. These lulls are not the result of one specific incident, yet a specific location or occurrence can often be tied to recognizing the change in mood. For myself, the two main lulls I faced came in difficult locations, near the 3 month and 1 year mark of my trip. Though they lasted for a few days, recognition of my own needs, as well as a desire to change location, allowed me to acknowledge the plethora of pavement still ahead.

In these low moments, what seems to be the case is that one starts to second guess their freewheeling existence. While much of the joy in travel comes from sacrificing control to the will of an unseen path, lulls make you start to question this. At some point, sitting near a secluded body of water in a foreign land, with only your thoughts as company, doesn’t seem so exotic. This isn’t to say your feelings of independence, introspection, or majestic aquatics have changed. No, it is just in these low moments, it seems as if the magic has dissipated. Other road delicacies such as meeting other travelers or learning new phrases and currency also become a burden. This leads many to seek refuge in a single room with WiFi, snacking on western packaged treats, devouring an unhealthy portion of western media. The sight is not a pretty one, but with any lull, a little self-preservation and "treat ‘n’ yo self" is necessary.

While travel lulls are completely normal, what one should be concerned about is if the lull is long lasting. If a traveler finds themselves feeling less and less enthused when exploring new surroundings, meeting new people, or even leaving their hotel room, a red flag should be drawn. There is nothing wrong with finding a cool guest house and chilling out with other travelers. On the same note, imbibing in the lull cure from above is necessary at least once in a fortnight (does that mean a month? If not, then bi-fortnightly?). You are who you are, and western people will at some point need some time to be western. This is normal. But if this time begins to lean closer to weeks or months, one needs to examine where their head and heart reside.

Travel isn’t always easy. Though folks back home will have images of you sipping fruity drinks out of coconut shells embedded in their brains, you know this isn’t always the truth. Bed bugs and hustlers, alongside new languages, currencies, friends, foes, and surroundings are things that will always keep a traveler on their toes. Most of us would choose to face these obstacles ten times out of ten over those that come with a shirt, tie, and cubicle, but it isn’t to say they aren’t worthy adversaries. These complications bring about forgettable days that take their toll. There’s no shame in hitting a slump.  Much like travel teaches us, though, you need to know yourself. You are the only person who will know when a day of rest may need to be exchanged for a plane ticket back to a comfortable place.  

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