The Travel Blues
Travelling has overtaken hobbies like stamp collecting and scrapbooking to become the primary pastime of youth in the western world. We are constantly bombarded with images of crystal clear seas, emerald green rainforests and burnt amber suns setting over white sand beaches. We read statuses about the latest whacky adventure, daring activity, and, of course, the classic returning-home announcement in which the author quickly sums up their “amazing journey” and thanks all of the awesome people they met along the way – “you know who you are”. The people at home viewing these perfectly edited snippets of information feel a pang of envy, and perhaps reminisce on the magic that was their last adventure. This all makes travel seem pretty awesome, right?
Our minds combine all of these idealistic imaginings and we put travel on a pedestal as the holy grail of happiness. We idolise it, we crave it, we plan it, and then we go. Ready to step off the tarmac into some bright new world where our troubles are left behind and fun is beating down our doors. We pack our expectations along with our toiletries and we ask the destination to deliver.
What we don’t expect are feelings of anxiety, loneliness, insecurity and homesickness. We don’t plan on having to feel that “What have I done?” emptiness in the pits of our stomachs when the water’s not so clear, the sand’s not so white and the sun is setting in a sky of smog.
Friends and family write with answers in their questions: “How is the trip going? Amazing?! I bet you’re having the best time!” and you feel compelled to live up to their expectations. People who travel often are most likely doing so at the expense of other important things in their lives, like careers, relationships and financial advancement. It is therefore assumed by others that travelling is a completely joyous experience – because why else would you sacrifice all of that? I personally find myself having to defend my choice to travel open-endedly, and definitely use adjectives such as “amazing” and “incredible” (because it is) in the description, but I am quick to add that this amazing and incredible experience is made up of a bunch of ups and downs. If you leave home with the outlook that it will be all sunshine and lollypops, you may be setting yourself up for a fall.
This article is for those people who sometimes wonder if they are “doing it right” – when you don’t think you’re enjoying your experience as much as you should be. Don’t beat yourself up, we all go through the highs and the lows – it’s just that the lows are less often posted on Instagram.
The following are some explanations as to why we sometimes get the travel blues.
You take yourself with you.
If you have problems at home, chances are they will come along for the ride. Heartbroken? Feeling lost? Depressed? Although packing up and heading for foreign shores can definitely be a fantastic way to cheer up, it is not a guaranteed fix – and certainly not an immediate one. Whatever you are feeling at home, you will still feel overseas. There may be more distractions, which can help, but when you’re lying in bed alone, or feeling withdrawn in a social situation, there is a certain feeling of suffocation that can overwhelm you. It is the reminder that whatever personal problems you’re having, whatever decisions you need to make, they still exist– even in the new location.
Things are just as hard, maybe harder.
We know this, and for many it is part of the attraction. We want to push ourselves, challenge ourselves – “leave our comfort zone” as the saying goes. The reality of this, though, can at times be overwhelming. Disembarking a bus on the side of the road in the middle of the night with no phone, no plans, and no energy will not be immensely enjoyable. This is not to say it is a negative experience, or that is has to be complained about, but it can be draining. Combined with many other similar incidents, it will be what helps you to grow and build faith in yourself as an independent person, but at the time all you want is an easy fix. Far more sinister things than sleepy accommodation hunts happen, too, of course. Being followed to the bathroom and mugged at knifepoint may make you a stronger person in the long run, and could even prove to be a good story you share with others in a future “travel-story-trade-off”, but in the moment this will not comfort you or make the experience any less traumatising.
It is, or can be, isolating.
Sometimes you just don’t click with people. Sometimes there are no people to click with. This is largely related to where you are staying – if your accommodation is not communal, or has no socialising vibe, it can turn your experience of the place sour. It can also be relative to your mood or confidence, though. If travelling alone, it can be hard to walk up to a group and include yourself, but more often than not you will be glad that you did.
Some places just aren’t that great… not in your eyes, anyway.
Well-known travel destinations are often worshipped by outsiders; we have been fed a media-made portrayal of them throughout our lives, and sometimes they will amaze and inspire you as much as you had hoped, but other times they will sorely disappoint you. Just because you’re in Paris, New York or Lima doesn’t mean you have escaped the outstretched fingers of mundanity. Don’t force yourself to stay somewhere you don’t enjoy; chances are you will leave and head for somewhere you’ve never heard of and like it 10 times more.
This article is not to depress you, but rather to console you, to encourage you not to be discouraged by the bad times. Some people might have fun every second of every day (if so, chances are they are the same back at home too – lucky bastards), but most of us struggle at times – despite what it looks like on social media. I want to shift focus onto the reality of what living a fluid lifestyle (travelling) can be like, at times. The good news is that, in my experience, the positive far outweighs the negative. What I gain from travelling – even if it was gained by unenjoyable experience – is ineffable. It is who I am, it is how I live, and it is the only thing that has managed to capture my attention unfalteringly. When you leave your home country for an extended period, you cannot expect every day to be a holiday. Don’t be afraid to admit your unhappiness; don’t be ashamed if you’re having a bad time. Watch your emotions as they fluctuate, and think: “This too, shall pass.”
Cover by Abigail Keenan via Unsplash