“Do you never get lonely traveling alone?”, I got asked the other day. I was sitting on a long chair, watching a spectacular sunset and having a cold beer in my hand. This question, among many others, comes up on a regular basis and usually, to avoid making it too complicated, my answer would be a very simplified version of “no, not really, you meet people all the time!”. Trying to explain what kind of emotional phases one goes through on such a trip is in fact quite hard and many backpackers like me don’t necessarily want to talk about the downsides of traveling long term. But of course I do feel that way (alone) from time to time, and a lot of other thoughts and feelings often run through my head. Pretty much everything you can think about, every emotion on the scale between happy and sad, is being felt, if only enough time goes by. There is a romantic aspect to roaming the world, exploring and having adventures in the wild. It’s that kind of passion that lights up peoples eyes when they talk about the hidden beaches, the bonfires on top of volcanos or the sailing trips on antique wooden boats with a questionable crew. To admit the downsides of traveling would mean to show vulnerability and spoil the overall concept of it. But I think it as important to mention and embrace the negatives, as they are responsible for adding so much value to it – and quite frankly, there are just as many as there are positives.
Of course you meet people constantly, too a point even, where you struggle remembering the names of that awesome group of australians you had just traveled a week together, three weeks ago. Parting ways is a constant factor and just when you’ve established a connection and got to know each other, it’s time to say farewell. People leave a brief (at times even bigger) impact on you and not having them around you from one day to the next can be tough. Time is just permanently against you. There is almost no room for love. You might feel cheated by fate, when you did not find the one. Disappointed to not have been at the right place at the right time (even though you’ve worked so hard on being at as many places as possible) dreaming about the many ‘what if’s. Considering all the sacrifices that you have made to get here, personally or professionally, you might even think you deserve it and a strong possibility could be that you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Furthermore you might occasionally not at all meet the kind of people you’d envisioned to be hanging out with, lacking depth in conversations or chemistry. You can be surrounded by people, but still feel alone. You can be alone but feel absolute bliss and serenity. There is no logic causality in traveling, at least none that is easy to describe, nor to grasp for that matter.
Another risk lays in becoming desensitised and numb to making new friends or acquaintances. It’s a given, that conversations tend to repeat themselves and not everyone sees the point of engaging into them in the first place, if there is a goodbye waiting around the corner anyway. You might be getting picky in who you want to hang out with and your expectations might grow along the way. The higher the expectation, the bigger the disappointment. Let’s face it: expectations are high. So high even, that the projection of all your hopes and dreams packed into that one hopeful idea of this one life changing trip, that would give you direction and perspective, is a logical conclusion. And with luck you will actually find that such needed guidance. But chances are you are just too much living in the present and enjoying the moment of your travel, than to really think about what you want your future to look like. It is a subject easily procrastinated.
Only a fool would think that backpacking is the universal cure and fix everything. It is not. If anything, it is a virus you will not get rid off and that is very likely to bug you for the rest of your life. That so called ‘travel bug’ is know to be persistent and ruthless. Once seeded in the depth or your subconsciousness, it is here to stay. It will grow and will not leave you be, making you rethink about your priorities, job or even relationship. Whatever you do in life, you will always think back about your trip and you will always think ahead about the next. It can potentially result in greed and greed is something I fear most and as such, it is the most paradox consequence of traveling: the more you travel, the longer your bucketlist becomes. Meeting new and inspiring people who tell you about other fantastic places in this world is a very common event and whilst you are still enjoying the here and now in Patagonia, you might catch yourself planing the next trip to Norway. When is enough enough? When will one be satisfied? Can there ever be satisfaction or is the traveler condemned to roam the world forever? The consequences of traveling have to be talked about and trying to be independent and free, comes to a price of many sacrifices.
With all this, I am not saying don’t travel. To be clear: I am saying you should! It is the most beautiful, haunting and confusing thing that will ever happen to you. Your experiences will never leave you. You are likely to learn more about life in 6 months, than you would in 6 years. It is beyond your imagination rewarding. So rewarding, that, despite some downsides, I keep on pushing the snooze button. Who would want to wake up from this wonderful dream? But as in real life, the snooze button reminds us that there is still a ‘real life to’ get up to. It is not healthy to keep snoozing. And what value would a nice dream have, if you had it all life long…
So, this was a serious blogpost for once. So close to the end of my trip in a week… I promise, I won’t go as deep on my next one. Also, I still haven’t told you everything about my trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Stay tuned.
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