Eternal Traveler Syndrome
“Today everything changes. I decided that I will stay in Africa, instead of taking my flight home and back to school. I’ll just take next semester off and, somehow, travel Africa. I’m a little worried because I only have $400, but the excitement outweighs that worry. I’ve never been happier than now, in fact I question if I was even happy at all before. There’s really no going back from this feeling.” –My journal entry from three years ago.
I was on a university trip to Southern Africa, with Colorado Mesa Outdoor Program, over the Christmas break when I wrote that. At the beginning of the trip, I was completely happy and free, but by the end, the pending departure back to reality cast a dark shadow on everything. That dark foreboding of pending doom was replaced by bliss and serenity the second I told my professor and mother that I was staying in Mozambique. I wouldn’t return to Colorado with my classmates. It was the best, and scariest decision I had ever made.
After watching my friends fly away, I worked and traveled my way through Southern and Eastern Africa, doing whatever I could to stay on the road. It was rough, yet the most fun I ever had. I hitchhiked Mozambique, slept on the deck of a boat up Lake Malawi, trained it across Tanzania, stayed in $1 truck stop rooms with hookers banging on the door all night, got chased by drunks with machetes in the bush, and much more. Every day was dirty and dangerous and a real adventure, and I’d never felt more free or happy.
By the end of the semester though, the gloom was back on. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was return to Colorado. The only thing to do was take another semester off and continue on with the adventure. Once again, the decision of extending my stay took the gloom away.
One semester off turned into two; two into three. Now I write this, three years later, (edit: 5 years now) and I still haven’t made it back. I have no plans to either. I smile when I read that journal entry from three years, 6 continents and 65 countries ago. (edit: 79 countries now) I still know that exact feeling I had all that time ago, when I realized I couldn’t return home.
I needed this. I still need this. When you’re happy and free, you don’t give it up, no matter what people say, and no matter what you have to give up for it (in my case, a degree). I need to lose track of time. I need to not have a schedule, deadlines or responsibilities. I need every day to feel like a Saturday. I need my life to not be monotonous, I need it to feel significant and rewarding. Do you know how many of these needs I’ve accomplished since I started traveling? Every one.
Back in my ordinary life, I couldn’t remember what I was doing from one week to the next. Now everything I do is a new and unique experience that will stay with me for ever. By turning travel into a lifestyle instead of a end-of-the-year vacation, I’ve ensured that every moment is unique and exciting and will be mine to treasure years in the future. My life is memorable to me now.
You might be wondering what my travel style is. If I had to sum it up, I would call it spontaneous and perpetual. Unplanned and eternal. Ya, that’s it: I’m an eternal traveler. I find that with no itinerary or set plans (where I’d already know every corner of every site, where I’d have a set of expectation already built up) makes me more aware and appreciative of everything around me and makes me pay more attention to small details. Everything is new and exciting, every day.
Back in Colorado, I’ve done and seen everything within my little bubble a thousand times, and had grown to no longer enjoying or appreciating things. When I travel I know that I may never return to a place, so I enjoy every minute of it. Later on, everything is a good memory, even if at the time it was not much fun at all. When I travel to a new place, everything is new and exciting yet temporary, so every moment will stay with me forever.
Another word I could use to describe my style of travel is “integration”. It might be a cliché to say “when in Rome, do as the Romans”, but it’s also good advice. I want to see and learn new things. Normally, in a foreign country, I try to avoid other Americans and mingle with the locals instead. It can be hard to stay away from your own kind, as it is a natural thing to want to get in touch with the folks from back home when on the road, but I try to stay away as much as possible.
If I saw a stranger on the street in Colorado, we probably wouldn’t have talked to each other, so why here? Thousands of miles from home, the last thing I want to talk about is American politics, or newly legalized marijuana. I have nothing against these things, but meeting loud, patriotic Americans outside their country for the first time makes the experience feel less authentic, somehow. I prefer the “when in Rome” approach. It helps you learn and understand the meaning and reason for strange things.
Because I feel like I have so much to see I try to go somewhere new each time. Maybe I’ll never be back here, and knowing that forces me to soak it all in and appreciate each moment, ensuring lasting memories. Besides, a memory of a place is built by the experiences I have, the people I meet and things I do, and these can never be repeated. Each trip is different and there’s no use trying to duplicate it. The things I remember are the projections of these unique moments.
People ask me if I get homesick. “Not anymore” I tell them. I’m from Colorado, but my home is wherever I’m at, at a certain moment in time. I was at a bar in Egypt the other day and when I got up to leave I told my friend I was going home. “What, to America??” He asked. “No, to the hotel” I answered, like it was the dumbest question in the world. Home is where the bunk bed is… I saw that wrote on a wall the other day… I liked it.
I’d rather “this” be my home, than the same four familiar walls that I merely existed between for most of my life. To me a house is just something that you store things in and that keeps you tied down to one piece of dirt. Extensions would be mortgages, insurance, car payment(s), cell phone bills, etc etc etc, along with a job you might end up hating, to pay for it all. You need a car to get to work, and a job to pay for a car…. Which comes first?
So no, I don’t get homesick. I spent 24 years in Colorado, it’s time to roam a little. Sure, I miss family and friends, but if I was there, I would be missing this instead. Besides, now I have just as many friends outside of Colorado, as I do back there. I don’t need to stay in a place for long, in order to feel a part of it. And that’s a blessing, because the road is always calling and I never end up staying too long in one place. They call this eternal travel.
LOVE. Love and relationships are a strange thing. This eternal travel lifestyle is hell on relationships, thats for sure. So far, the two are apposing enemies of one another. In these last years on the road I’ve been in many relationships…..not just those dorm room flings or bar hookups or couchsurfing marathons that frequently happen, but actual relationships. But, and I call this a blessing, the road ALWAYS calls me louder and stronger. I have seen love do some strange things to people. People give up entire dreams, change entire lifestyles, change locations ect, in the pursuit of love. While I get a serious case of wanderlust within weeks, and have to tell the girl its either join me or goodbye. So far its always goodbye, with tears in their eyes. My lifestyle hasn’t hit the mainstream….Their parents would never approve. And maybe the best part, any heart break on my part from a separation, is very quickly stifled with the first step on to the road. That sense of freedom is real folks, and if any girl wants to be with me, she will have to have the same dreams. Killing mine would kill my soul.
After I began writing my travel blog, I started getting interviewed and asked to describe myself. That’s when I noticed how much travel had changed me. They say that travel broadens the mind, and I can definitely attest to that. The more I travel, the more I value other ways of seeing things. While expanding the reach of my learning, I’ve significantly broadened my mind. I’ve learned to be more objective and understanding, and have realized that there is no set way about anything. I’m much more open now, to new ideas, as well as experiences.
I’ve learned a few other things about myself too. I think that I’m in a constant state is dissatisfaction. I’m never fully content. People always ask me if I thought that I’ve done enough. I haven’t. It’s never enough. Some people can’t get enough money, other love, attention, whatever. My need is for more living. Actual living, where I feel alive. Monotony kills the soul. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
The problem is, I dream while I’m awake. I’m a prisoner of my own dissatisfaction and wanderlust. I almost envy people with simple dreams. People with a house, a wife, three kids and a house on the hill. They look to be happy with what they have. Never being satisfied or content is bad I’m told, that I’ll never be happy chasing impossible dreams. But if the old adage – life is about the journey and not the destination – is true, then isn’t this lifestyle perfect? I’m ALWAYS on the journey and never find the final destination. Either way though, I’m told I could have “eternal traveler syndrome” which is the anxiety you have thinking you won’t be happy anywhere so you keep traveling.
At the end of the day, I don’t care what they call it. It’s given me the right mind-set to keep me chasing my dreams of traveling the world. If this is a sickness, it’s one that changed my life for the better. It’s a sickness I would hope everyone catches. I have a sickness that changed and saved my life.