I am being coerced to see one of the country’s most beautiful national parks. I’m driving in a borrowed SUV, winding through country roads and losing gps signal. I’m taking turns down gravel and dirt paths, hoping they will eventually connect to a highway.
“You are going next week, on your day off. DO IT,” I was told.
I’m embarrassed to admit that if it were not for the insistence of my co-workers, I would probably be in my dark cabin in bed right now. I would be under the covers, watching another episode of Parenthood and maybe forcing myself to go outside for a short run later on.
It’s not that I don’t want to see beautiful national parks. It’s not that I don’t want to visit the lighthouse famous for being shown in the movie Forrest Gump. It’s not that I don’t want to try the lobster rolls or follow the freedom trail in Boston. It’s not that I’m tired of meeting new people or seeing new places.
This isn’t a vacation. I’m not taking a break from my regular life to see the sights and soak up every new experience. This is my life.
I want to explain this to my co-worker who does not understand my lack of enthusiasm for exploring every nook and cranny of Maine while we are here working for the summer. I want to tell her about all of the traveling I did before I got here, and all of the traveling I will do when I leave again. I want to tell her what a luxury it is for me to have my own bed and shower, and how I kind of want to stay put, while I can.
I want to tell all of my friends who think I am living the dream, that yes, I am living my dream but also sometimes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
Walking away from a bad situation with a host in France, 2013
It’s my choice to travel. It’s my choice to live a mobile lifestyle where all I own is what I am carrying with me. It’s my choice to sleep overnight on trains, in airports, on inflatable mattresses in strangers’ homes. It’s my choice to plant roots inside my own chest.
I love what I’m doing. I am not complaining.
There’s a term that I think describes what I often feel–a condition that’s hard to shake and even harder to explain. Long term travel fatigue.
What I want to tell my eager co-worker, is that I have been doing this, for awhile. I have been meeting new people on a daily basis, trying different foods, walking through enchanted forests and cities until my feet and knees hurt from the weight of all that I am carrying with me, none of it left behind.
I have seen a lot. I know intimately what it means to be out of my comfort zone. I have practiced the introductions and still fear the goodbyes.
It’s not that I’m not excited for all of it. I am. There is an awe and a wonder that sticks with me after all this time. There are moments I can’t believe how lucky I am to do this for so long. To find opportunities to search the world over for my favorite things. To encounter love and kindness and hospitality on a daily basis. To throw myself at the mercy of strangers, to be consistently held up and hugged close. To be so full up with gratitude every day.
Home briefly enough to get slobbered on by this beautiful dog!
Oak Grove, MO 2014
In the last three years I’ve visited six countries in four continents. I’ve lived in three of them for two months or more. Out of the last thirty-six months, I’ve spent twenty on the road, fourteen of those months all in a row. I’ve celebrated the holidays and my birthday abroad. I’ve created homes and helped build communities only to leave them again. I’ve been alone and been together and fallen apart.
I’m sure many people would be horrified at the amount of things I don’t see when I’m visiting a new city. I understand the thrill of being in a new place and wanting to maximize every sight and smell and taste. I get it when people look at me weirdly for choosing not to participate in every possible outing. It’s honestly hard to justify my lack of planning ahead when I arrive in a new place– the things I overlook, the monuments I never see, the museums unvisited because I am choosing to sit down and have a beer instead.
Or trying absinthe!
Barcelona, Spain, 2013
There are things I passed up on in Maine. There are opportunities I missed, friendships I didn’t cultivate. Sometimes I’m not sure that I am giving all of me all the time and I wonder if I’ll regret it. I wonder if I’ll kick myself for not even knowing what the “top 10 must see” items are for places I’ve passed through. I wonder if I’ll regret staying in bed and sleeping in instead of taking full advantage of every hour I have in a new place. I wonder if I’ll wish I’d taken more photos, read those tour guides, or bought a selfie stick.
For now I’ll just keep taking pictures of my feet!
Acadia National Park, Maine 2015
Maybe I’ll realize I haven’t actually seen or done anything, I am really just wandering around like a chicken with my head cut off.
I think there is a balance here. Long term travel fatigue is real and it’s something I struggle with. If I’ve learned anything, it’s the need to listen to my body and spirit, especially when I’m on the road because I’m all I’ve got. If I’m feeling tired or emotionally drained, I need to slow down. I need to prioritize connection instead of consumption. I need to have a conversation, I need to dig a little deeper and find a way of relating to the people around me.
Sometimes I just need to nap.
To be honest, I can’t tell you all of the names of the places I’ve been, or everything I’ve seen. I can’t remember the words for specialty dishes I’ve tried, or all of the famous museums I’ve shuffled through. What I can remember are the relationships I’ve made along the way. I can describe the experiences I’ve shared, the walks in the forest, the barbecues, the meals of communion. I remember the words that changed me, the advice that resonated, the moments of silence where I stood still long enough to take it all in, to remember why I’m doing this in the first place–to feel alive.
Teotihuacán, Mexico 2014
I have been doing this for awhile, and probably will keep doing it in some capacity for all my life. If I seem a little bit detached or less enthused, forgive me. I am probably processing more than I know how, gathering fragments of memory from across the globe and trying to make sense of the pieces. The waterfall we’re looking at together might remind me of the jungle in Ecuador. The child hugging me, wrapped around my waist might suddenly make me think of my students in Ghana.
My last day of teaching at the school, Ghana 2014
My mind and heart are still sometimes drifting, calling me to remember where I have been and what I’ve left behind. I’m finding the balance of present-ness. I’m towing the line between here and there and sometimes finding myself caught in-between. Borders and time-zones are not as clearly defined on the maps of my chest.
Thank you for being patient, for letting me sleep in and encouraging me to get out of bed when I need to. Thank you for listening to my stories and sharing your own. Thank you for holding me up with your presence, for reeling me in and letting me go.