When I first met her in a foreign hostel, she explained that she’d been traveling for the past decade. Rattling off a long list of places she’d visited and loved, I found myself jealous. Compared to her, I’d barely begun to scratch the surface of a vast and diverse western hemisphere. She was excited about where she was going next, but displayed little fondness for any place from the exhaustive list she had already been. What she did not say, but I quickly determined, is that she was not happy.
I think her situation is unfortunately common in the world of professional travelers. There is an aversion to being stationary, a quick boredom with the routine of most long-term friendships, and quite likely a powerful fear of commitment. This is not spoken with even a trace of judgment, but with analysis – particularly because I often find myself thinking and acting similarly. I don’t want to commit, I get tired of the same faces, and perpetually quest for others. I will be the first to admit, from both experience and observation, the emptiness of this lifestyle.
While it probably ranges from subconscious to directly articulated, a traveler’s life (at least the type about which I speak) is devoid of anything meaningful but “ME.” The traveler goes where he or she chooses and hopes to meet nice people upon arrival. There is a distinct lack of collaboration, companionship, argument, and compromise. There is just self, and that is typically unrewarding.
If I travel alone, I rob myself of the opportunity to say, “remember when we …?” There are no mutually-held fond memories, no great pictures of anybody (since it’s difficult and perhaps absurd to take self portraits), and instead just a constant, unmemorable infusion of activity and excess with the intent of self entertainment. Trouble is, self is rarely entertained.
What this lifestyle represents is several things: fear, lack of commitment, and at its very root, a total dedication to none other than oneself. That, however, is perhaps the most unrewarding life one can lead. There can be no recognition of contentment until there is an experience of discontent. Self will be perpetually dissatisfied because there is an avoidance to one critical factor of human nature: we were made for relationships.
The professional traveler keeps trying. “Are you happy?” “No,” they will quickly answer. “But I will be soon.” They, more than any other, are the illustration of the U2 song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” What I suggest, however, is an amendment that may refine their quest: “I Still Haven’t Found WHO I’m Looking For.” Things, stuff, and meaningless possessions will ultimately amount to little. Without the application of sentiment – which incidentally can only come from relationships with others, there will be no lasting value to any material thing at all. In fact, next year’s model will be out soon and you’ll quickly discard the old. It’s just stuff, and you don’t particularly like it. It all distills to something remarkably simple (in principle): stop looking for what or where, and start looking for “who.”
This is not a subtle order that all single people (particularly travelers) should abandon their wandering and look for a mate. Such an overt action will likely be met with total disappointment and frustration, probably stemming from a number of poor decisions. It is more general than this: look for relationships – everywhere. And perhaps key to the lasting enjoyment of travel, look for somebody with whom to travel. The purpose: consider and accommodate somebody other than yourself.
Do you want to have fun traveling? Bring somebody. Do you want to remember it fondly? Ensure that there is somebody there with whom to later remember it. If you want to seek, seek others. In the process of forgetting yourself, you will find others. In such places, there will be contentment with the presence, and mutual excitement for the future. The destination is irrelevant. The companion that journeyed with you, however, is a friend for life. Forget yourself, and open your heart to others.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
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