By all means, travel the world. Work two or three or four jobs to save up enough money. Sell and donate almost everything you own, and pack up what’s left into a backpack. Quit your job, say goodbye to your family and friends, and go. Go for a month, six months, a year, two years. Go for as long as your money lasts. And when it runs out, do it all over again. Save, save, save. Waitress, deliver newspapers, nanny, walk dogs, wash dishes, deliver pizza, clean houses, clean dishes, live out of your car, give up drinking coffee and alcohol. Do whatever you need to do to save money.
But know this: once you travel, you can never come back.
Sure, you can physically come back. The town you grew up in and your favorite coffee shop and your parent’s house and your old apartment will all be here when you get back. In fact, you might be surprised by how little does change while you’re gone. For the first few hours or days of being back, you might even convince yourself you haven’t changed either! But despite everything being seemingly the same, everything you consider normal will never feel the same again.
That’s what they don’t tell you about traveling. They tell you traveling changes you. How could it not!? But they don’t tell how you’ll never fit into your past life again.
At first you assume it’s post-travel blues. You’ve just spent months traveling to new countries and exploring new cities and meeting new, interesting people and discovering interests and passions you never would have imagined lived inside of you, learning about cultures you never knew existed. So you assume you’re grieving for all of this. And you are, but then weeks pass and you still feel off. In fact everything feels off and you can’t quite put your finger on it.
So you jump back into the familiar. You go back to frequenting your favorite coffee shop every morning and meeting up with friends for happy hour after work and visiting your parents for dinner on the weekends. You watch your weekly shows and scroll through your Facebook newsfeed and make chicken and broccoli for dinner.
And that’s it. You used to be a puzzle piece that fit into this life perfectly, but you changed while traveling. Now you’re an entirely different puzzle piece and you’re trying to force yourself back into the old spot where you used to fit.
And the worst part is no one can see how much you’ve changed. Maybe your friends notice you seem a little distant and your parents mention you’re quieter than usual, but overall you seem like the same person who left all those months ago.
How do you tell them how different you are? How do you tell them your insides are overflowing with new experiences and ideas and passions and thoughts about life? How do you tell them your dreams of owning a 3-bedroom house in the suburbs have been replaced by dreams of living in a tent on the side of a mountain? How do you tell them we all live in so much excess, that we buy things to make us happy, but still feel miserable and unfulfilled once we have them, so we buy more things, and more, and more, until we have a house filled with a million things we don’t need. And it sickens me because the answers to happiness aren’t in things! The answers are in experiences and people and passions, and we’re wasting our lives working jobs we hate trying to acquire enough money to buy the things we think will make us happy, and we’re surprised when they don’t! How do you tell them all of this without causing anger and resentment? How do you tell them this without sounding like a complete loony-bin?
How do you explain to them that you don’t miss having cable TV because instead you go for hikes or play board games or sit around a fire or wander around a new city? How do you explain that not having service is a gift because you don’t feel the need to check your phone every other moment or in the middle of conversations or out of habit or out of boredom, that you actually misplace your phone all the time because you don’t need it, that you relish in not being 100% connected to the modern world? How do you tell them sitting on top of a mountain fills your soul so much you’re positive your soul actually expands to be able to hold it all?
How do you tell them we are killing this planet with all of our supposed needs, and living minimally is easy if you care enough to try, and you start to prefer living in an open air tent without circulated air, and you start to prefer not being accessible 100% of the time, and you start to relish in the not knowing every single thing going on in the world, and you start to choose nights spent under rather stars than in front of a computer or TV?
But no one asks you about any of that because how would they know to? They ask, “How was your trip!?” And because you don’t know where to begin or how to explain how you’ve been fundamentally altered forever, you only say, “It was amazing!!” And that’s enough of an answer for them, so they move on. They fill you in on the what happened while you were gone: so-and-so broke up, so-and-so got back together, these new TV shows are good, this movie sucks, and can you believe this is in fashion again?, and, and, and…
And after a while you realize you’re stifling a scream, so you don’t open your mouth to respond for fear it’ll sneak out. You only nod and nod and nod.
And when you get home you cry as you scroll through your travel photos and text your travel friends and read your travel diary, trying to feel like some semblance of who you became while traveling again.
And that’s when you start planning your next trip. You look at the world map on the wall above your bed and you pick the next place, just like that. You look into flight costs and visas. You find another job or two and start working your butt off again. You save, save, save. Anything to get back out there, anything to feel like yourself again.
So, yes, by all means, travel. TRAVEL. It’ll change your life for the better, it’ll change you for the better, but do know once you travel, you can never come back. Not really.