It’s always one thing to hear something and another to experience it. This happens a lot while travelling, you hear about something then the experience is a) exactly as described, b) better than described, or c) worse than described. This is of course true for sights, attractions and experiences: a)Machu Picchu – exactly as described b) Sucre – better than described, c)Ica/Nazca/Huacachina/The gringo trail highway – worse than described. We have read many times travelling can be long and you can ‘burn out’ or go through travelers woes. But unfortunately, we have not met many long term travelers. So we really can only experience the phrase we have read about. It is not really a topic that is discussed much in hostels as most are travelling for 3 or 4 months, some for up to 6 but not many past that. The reason for this is, well, there are just not as many people doing that sort of thing. But, this sometimes leaves us a little out on our own so we don’t really know how we are supposed to experience it or how we are supposed to experience the time of travelling. As a result we sometimes we find it hard to relate to people with some of their travel adventure despite us both being travelers on……. extended vacations. For one thing we are starting to notice that some of the magic of seeing a sight is starting to wear off, but it still excites us for different reasons. Most travelers will think “I can’t believe I am here! I can’t believe I am seeing this! I can’t believe it’s this awesome!!!” Meanwhile, we will be thinking the same but more like “I can’t believe I got here from that far away and for that long! I can’t believe this looks just like blah blah blah mountain/waterfall/place! I can’t believe that this empanada is different from the empanada 30km away! I can’t believe they have Nutella!!! (Oh, and everything is awesome!!!)” I started to realize that this is beginning to feel a lot like moving.
Now I know what you are thinking, “No shit Sherlock – backpacking is moving everyday”, but I mean more the phases of moving. Since being an adult (which I am not, let the record show), I have moved many times. The first one my Dad dropped me off at college while on the way to work, we unloaded my trash bags (yes I used to move in trash bags) onto the sidewalk and then he just said, “Well there you go!” and gave me a hug and left. If you know my Dad you know he has a sense of humor and you can imagine his delivery was pretty hilarious. The last two moves I changed countries and even at one point walked all of our earthly goods in 3 trips about 5 kilometers across London. The point is that the most mentioned part of moving is the physical, but moving is much more. For Lu and I moving has been like glacial cycles (I am a Geology Nerd, bear with me). For glacial cycles there are some that happen over long periods of time and then very minor ones that happen in the small scale, for example there was a minor ice age in the 1800s and some over 100,000s of years. So at the small scale Lu and I dread moving day, the small scale, but there are effects of moving that take place over months and years which affect us way more.
Moving now only takes us 45 minutes to an hour, but we still dread it. We always have more than we thought when we arrived, and we never know how it all will fit, but magically it does. The difference is instead of that table we have no idea what to do with its’ now as minor as we forgot we bought curry spice, sunscreen (in a non-travel bottle grrrrrrr), and some batteries. But when it all fits, it’s just as glorious as any move when you see the room empty of stuff. I should also note that upon arrival we have a habit to explode our stuff into any room - which is why you have probably not seen many pictures of our rooms on facebook……
That’s the physical push, but anyone who has moved knows there are waves of love/hate to your new environment (the long ice ages). Now we have been on the road over 8 months. We have loved seeing the new sights, the new foods, and the new people. But there are also annoyances/bothers/grievances brimming under the surface as well as unexpected joy and triumphs. I think the main thing we have noticed is how much we are starting to loathe the ‘traveler trail’. We have often been told things while bartering like “Oh, there will be other travelers there! Oh, you will only have people from your hostel!” These phrases are now starting to be red flags for us. When you move to a big city, you want to experience the big city in its greatness or worldly-ness. In your new city you might go to a party and you mention where you are from, and then someone would say “Oh I work with someone from there, you should hang out!” It’s not that you don’t want to hang out with that person, but just because you are from the same place does not mean you are going to be best buds. In the same vein we are realizing most travelers are on short journeys. They just want to party or see a sight; you find that you actually don’t have much in common with them. Also the traveler trail is like the ‘landmarks’ of a city, after you have been to a certain pub, square, landmark, or museum you only really go to it when people come to town. Almost no one in New York would go to the Statue of Liberty when they have the day off of work! The traveler trail is becoming like this, we enjoy seeing the big sights, but are finding that the 2nd best ruin or 3rd best castle, or ‘poor-mans’ Galapagos ends up being better than the ‘1st best attraction’. You start to love a country for what the people actually do and see, or the little hidden gems, in the same way that you start to enjoy your neighborhood in your city or the small crappy pub down the street that slowly becomes your pub.
The next problem is the ‘Lost Goals’. When we first started writing we had all these goals (like blogging a lot, damnit!). On the road things like internet browsing, walks, and lazy days seemed to creep up. I definitely fell off the wagon for exercise, but now I am getting back on it. It’s just like settled life, you pick up a hobby for a few weeks then drop it. Just like moving will never fix your problems or help you achieve your goal, only will power can do that. On the road will power is hard because one day is never like the one before it. When you move you find that many of the original goals of your move haven’t been met, however you found you still grew and might even have new goals.
But with that in mind, there is a great sense of accomplishment while travelling. The memorization of a city map and travelling with it in your head, surviving questionable public transport, surviving questionable food (actually in a digestive bout at the moment), all these things make us a little more proud every day. It’s the same as when you move to the city and figuring out all the beauacratic forms, e-cards, or public transport (Made it home in 35 minutes by 3 buses – yeah! Made it from tower bridge to home on foot with no map – yeah!). But you adapt, and you learn to love your adaption. You can make it in any city. You can yell at the guy who spilled coffee on you on the tube (would not happen in the Midwest), you can get pissed off at the person who took 3 extra milliseconds to swipe their transit card, you can fix your bed frame – you don’t need a new one! (I should explain the bed, Lu broke the bed because she jumped on it too hard to get a pair of skinny jeans on.) Travel is the same, you can ask for directions in another language, you can ask for change back when that guy ‘forgets’ to give it back, you can fix your bag in the back of a sweaty shoe repair shop. The frustrations are endless, but the sense of accomplishment for getting over them is infinite.
The last thing I would subject of why it is a lot like moving is loneliness. Moves are actually very sad. Everyone imagines moving somewhere and instantly having all these friends, or great people around, or hosting huge dinner parties, or instantly having best friends at work. Best friends everywhere! Cue awesome background music! And free Beer! Moves are hard on the soul, they are sad for both leaving what you had behind and for not feeling accepted in your new home. But after a few months or even years you start to realize that some new friends are actually real friends and that all you needed was time with them. On the road Lu and I have each other, which is wonderful, but there are times where we feel we need some more human contact, which was the same in our first few months in London. In London we struggled with finding connections our first few months, but when we left we realized we actually had many close connections. On our travels we eventually found places with like minded or like aged travelers. Then, after 3 days or two weeks we part with those travelers – all the phases of moving in rapid speed. Sometimes only after we part we realize how much we really liked hanging out with someone, or even in some cases brings tears to our eyes when we leave (Sucre). As it is with moving, you will find that road is both a lonely place and a place where you will make great connections, and if you already have a great connection it will grow even stronger. Like moving, you realize that you are having the time of your life and wouldn’t change it for anything. Almost everyone moves to a better place and even if not, when they move back they often realize how great the move was for finding who they are, and that they actually made a few real friends and had a few real good times. We are finding this on the road, that sometimes horrible places make for good stories or in a horrible place we actually make great friends (Tarabuco), and sometimes great places are just that and nothing more. We are also noticing that like with any move it gets you thinking about the future, and for the first time since we have known each other we are thinking about our next move which is to a place where we can unload our bags for, well, a while.