Travel Fatigue, Guilt and How I’m Getting Over It
Travel Fatigue, Guilt and How I’m Getting Over It
It’s taken me several weeks and sixteen revisions to put this post together, maybe because I was nervous about sharing some more challenging emotions I’ve had during this trip, but more than likely I didn’t feel like I was in the right spot to make the post come full circle, thankfully I think I’m there now.
During the first few months of our time on the road we traveled quickly. In eight months we’d been to 10 different countries, 53 cities and stayed in 59 different guesthouses. While we were becoming pretty savvy travellers, constantly packing and unpacking our bags and navigating new cities took its toll. We hadn’t anticipated slowing down any time soon but then an amazing opportunity popped up to stay at a stunning villa when we arrived in Bali where we hung up our packs for the longest time we had stayed anywhere (read more HERE). Compounded with some troubles with my back and newly developed lack of interest in sightseeing, I had a feeling it was probably time to take a break as travel fatigue had set in.
Me circa April 2013, Kyoto, Japan – all fired up to schlep my crap around the world
I should preface this all by saying that traveling has been the most incredible gift and I have learned so much about the world, the way people interact and even more so about myself. I’ve said before that the lifestyle we have chosen has afforded us the privilege of time, time to have conversations we wouldn’t have had ‘time’ to have before and time to explore what’s important to us, this is not a privilege I take lightly. One of the craziest and unexpected gifts of this trip with respect to having free time is the flood of memories that has come back to me from my life up to this point. Each day I see things that trigger memories from my ‘previous life’, things or people I thought I had long forgotten or buried deep somewhere inside. For the most part the memories are warm and wonderful, and remind me of the people and events that shaped my life, bringing a great big smile to my face and a desire to say thank you to many people I’ve long lost touch with. But conversely self reflection can sometimes unearth painful emotions, memories and remorse for choices made in the past.
Somewhere in between countries’ nine and ten I recognized that I was tired. I wasn’t as fired up to see the sights in new cities and all I wanted to do was unpack my bag for a while and cook a damn meal. We didn’t see much during our recent stay in Singapore because we were in truth growing a little tired of looking up the top attractions and “dutifully” seeing each one. When you travel, and you’re in the right place mentally, there’s a drive inside you to want to see it all. And when I don’t feel that fire, a sneaky sense of guilt starts to crawl in. Looming in the back of my mind are the articles I’ve read and the tips we’ve received for the ‘must-see‘ destinations and a strange sort of regret when we leave a place and haven’t seen it all. Guilt because I recognize how lucky we are to have this opportunity. Guilt because I feel lazy, like my old familiar overachiever ghosts coming back to mock me for my lack of effort. And embarrassment at my ego’s desire for bragging rights; like something inside needs to be able to say an emphatic “Yes!” to anyone who asks if we saw ABC while we in XYZ, even if it’s something I wasn’t all that psyched to see in the first place.
No scantily clad “whores” allowed at this temple
Travelling is as much about the people as it is about the places. One of the things I love about meeting new people on the road is that the old familiar question of “what do you do for a living?” is typically dispensed of and you have an opportunity to move on to the more important things that define us. We have had such incredible conversations with people from all corners of the world, and created the most wonderful friendships, people I feel blessed to have in my life. But constantly saying good-bye to people you have a really genuine connection with is really tough, particularly on the road when you’re often starving for connection. We meet a TON of people and while the many memories and wonderful friendships created thus far will remain engrained upon me, there are countless other faces that have disappeared from my consciousness. Like dozens and dozens of ships passing in the night. I got tired of asking and responding to the often superficial requisite questions of “So…where are you from? Where have you been? How long are you traveling for?‘ somewhere along the South East Asia “Banana Pancake Trail” (a well worn path from Bangkok through mainland Southeast Asia ending in either Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi) when it felt like the answers were all the same. I was starting to forget all of the amazing connections we had made from the sheer volume of other people we met on our journey, and all I could think about was how much I was missing having the kinds of friends you have a history with and can call up for a beer any time.
Shrinkage wasn’t the only thing we had in the frigid waters of this waterfall
And then there’s the money. Although we’re living on less than a third of what it cost us to live our comfortable lifestyle at home, I got tired of spending money. At home, hundreds of dollars each day would silently move in and out of our bank account without much reverence on my part. Here we live on cash and seeing each dollar change hands (without income coming in) is a startling thing to watch. While I’m perfectly comfortable with the concept of tourist vs. local pricing, because I don’t believe that those of us from the First World should be paying the same price as people who make $30 a month or less, I got frustrated with vendors that we encounter occasionally who play games on the assumption that all westerners are naive holidaying millionaires. Just give me a price somewhere in between an extortionate 300% mark-up and something exploitative and I’m a happy camper. I forgot about all the wonderful market experiences we have had.
To compound all of this, I got a full-blown wicked case of food poisoning for the first time in eight months and this really highlighted how different our lives now were. Instead of lying in bed at home for two days binging on seasons True Blood and attempting to stay hydrated, I was holed up in muggy cabin, sleeping to try and distract myself from the achiness throughout my body, the smell of burning garbage outside and the fear that what I had was something far more serious than food poisoning and how I would go about getting medical attention when I finally realized that I had life-threatening Dengue fever or worse (which I didn’t).
Consequently I was afraid I was becoming jaded and ungrateful and this in turn drudged up a guilt within me that’s difficult to describe. We have met so many people in our travels who had never left their hometown let alone country, make pennies a day, people who sleep on the floor and have no electricity or fresh water – how dare I have these emotions when I am so privileged? I saw little kids working with at the market stalls with their parents at 11:00pm on a school night! I felt guilty that I had the freedom to do what I wanted. I felt guilty when I thought about the entitlements I enjoy as a western woman; being able to travel freely and make my own decisions, after all, I really didn’t do anything to deserve my situation, just born in the right place with an abundance of opportunities to make my own way in the world. Many things we’ve seen and experienced have made me uncomfortable, not just because there was no toilet paper in the loo but also because I’ve observed beauty and abundance in material poverty and it rightfully makes me feel uncomfortable with how I used to (and often still) define wealth and freedom. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty mixed up and it was clear that I needed to reassess my travel priorities and motivation.
After a series of longer term stays for our last two stops, we decided to stay on the picturesque island of Koh Lanta on the Andaman coast of Thailand for a month. This was exactly what I needed. I was craving a sense of community, particularly as we approached the Christmas season and found ourselves so far away from our friends and family. We met many wonderful people here, I even got to peel a mountain of potatoes in preparation for a big Christmas dinner at Chill Out House, I couldn’t have been happier to help in the prep work with a team cooking for 43. We watched Christmas movies and decorated our little bungalow with twinkling lights and shiny garlands. We found an incredible supermarket that was stocked with western delights like ridiculously good cheese and treated ourselves to a little makeshift charcuterie on Christmas Eve.
Is that a cardboard charcuterie board on a lawn furniture table, you ask?? Yes friend, indeed it is.
We had the good fortune to be on a first name basis with people living and working in the area. We got to learn about their pasts, their children and where they had come from, and this is the meaningful connection that longer term stays afford you. Now I know for certain that these sorts of experiences are something that I need periodically in this path we have chosen to take with our lives. In retrospect I can look back now and see how our two week stay in Bali really highlighted the desire and need in me for periods of slow travel where we have an opportunity to experience community and familiarity in our surroundings.
After a beautiful Christmas and New Years spent soaking up the love, I feel like I’m now in a place where I can feel safe to acknowledge the emotions I was experiencing and turn them into something constructive. I know now that I need to take time for nature, friendship and reflection regularly. At the end of the day, more than anything this journey has been an exploration of myself and my little place in the world. We’ve experienced untold generosity and beauty in our travels and have humbly redefined our priorities, and in the end that’s a feeling I wouldn’t give up for the world. Recharged and reenergized we are ready to take on the adventures of next few months which are set to include Myanmar, further exploration of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
On New Years Day Ross and I observed our tradition of going to the movies (Thai theatres are the most incredible places!) and appropriately opted for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. It is a wonderful film that really spoke to me; exploring concepts fear, dreams and fantasy. There’s a quote in the movie that beautifully captures my new found mission for the year to come, but I also believe you don’t need to be a million miles from home to really live it…
“To see the world, things to come, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
Happy New Year everybody, wishing you happiness, wonder and love.
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