A few years ago, I started travelling again after a long hiatus. I discovered that, relatively speaking, I am really bad at it. Everywhere I go, I meet travelers who have an innate sense of travel. They are seemingly born with the kind of information one needs to travel – how long you are allowed to stay in each place for example, or where a visa is required and where it is not. They don’t seem to have basic needs, they have an unending amount of energy, and most of all, an endless and unquestioning sense of awe for whatever they are encountering.
One fellow I met didn’t need sleep. He travelled exclusively at night so he would not have to pay for hostels. This meant he slept a few hours a night at best – if you call sitting up with your eyes closed sleeping. When he did get to a hostel, he would obviously take the opportunity to shower – but had no complaints when only freezing cold showers where available. He said, “I don’t travel for showers.” This seems like pretty crazy logic to me. I don’t travel FOR showers either, but one could argue that being clean helps us to appreciate the things we DO travel for! That same guy had a photographic memory, for space at the very least. If we had been somewhere at any point, no matter how briefly, he could bring us back there with full confidence. I have such a bad sense of direction that I get easily disoriented in my own city that I have lived in for close to 20 years! He knew all the best travelling apps and, connected to that, an uncanny ability to be able to do almost everything for free. Basically, this guy wins the best traveler award. Not surprisingly, I met him on a free walking tour, and not surprisingly, myself and another equally unsavvy traveler followed him around for the next two days before we all parted for different cities.
One woman I met didn’t need to eat. From 10am to 4pm, we wandered around this new and beautiful place we were in. At around 4 pm, I said, “I’m starving. You must be hungry as well?” “No, I don’t eat,” she replied. This was no doubt an exaggeration, but seeing with my own two eyes that she was carrying on just fine through the hills in the heat, there was obviously some truth to it as well. We parted ways, me in search of a restaurant, and she in search of a museum. I could easily imagine her saying, “I don’t travel FOR food.” And in Spain where I met her, neither did I.
It didn’t much matter anyway, since I don’t have more than 8 hours of energy in a day – yet another way in which I am a bad traveler. So many of the travelers I met were energetic and never in need of rest. They could go for 18 hours straight, drink 20 glasses of wine, hike up a mountain all day and then dance all night. I have an immune problem that causes all kinds of illness, fatigue, aches and pains. I was constantly bowing out early and missing out on everything. One day, I saw a man who was half of a couple in a café get up from his table and say to his wife, in an American accent, “You ready?” She pulled herself up slowly onto her cane and said “Ready as I’ll ever be.” She was a traveler I could relate to! On a tour I took later in my travels, at the start of one of our hikes, one woman in the group said she could not breath and would not make it up – so she hopped on a camel instead. I limped up the mountain with my broken ankle.
I don’t come any closer to fitting the average traveler’s psychological profile either. Most travelers have a YOLO attitude, often accompanied by a sense of awe. I don’t typically get filled with awe. Home or away, I like to look at the supposed ugly underbelly of things. I look at beautiful things and get flooded with observations and questions and contradictions and tensions and feelings and thoughts and so on – “fly vision,” my friend calls it. I have not met a lot of travelers who question everything they see. They enjoy it. Period. Why else would you travel? Life may not be easy or enjoyable if you have “fly vision,” but it is satisfyingly rich.
I have read so many blog posts about how to be a perfect traveler: how to pack less, buy less, spend less money, buy cheaper tickets, and so on. These blogs seem to be proof that their advice works (Look how happy I am because I am travelling!) but I finally realized that the blogs are so uniform because there must be more people like me – bad travelers – than there are good ones. Otherwise their advice would not be helpful or interesting to anybody. In fact, once that occurred to me, I was willing to bet the bloggers themselves were bad travelers telling themselves what they most needed to hear. They promise you will escape your life of drudgery by travelling – that your life will never be crappy again. But they never acknowledge that your crappy self will follow you wherever you go.
When I was trying to explain to a close friend why travelling was not so romantic for me, she said, “No, of course, we don’t even know what to bring to barbeques!” And that is it in a nutshell. Truth be known, I am barely functional in my regular life. After having lived for almost 50 years in one country, I still don’t have a clue what makes it – or the people in it – tick or turn. How in the world am I supposed to know in a new country with a new language and new everything? I don’t stand a chance! But, like so many things in life, I end up doing as well as I have to, and of course, as well as I do in my normal day-to–day life.
There is no doubt that travelling IS easier if you have a good memory, a good sense of direction, are in good physical form, and generally do not have particular needs. It’s hard to manage deviations at all times, home or away. When I get back from traveling, I tell myself I won’t do it again. But, like all good things in life, I forget how painful it is and always go back for more. Because, for those of us who cannot travel easily, we cannot stay home easily either. Travel is a pleasure in line with the pleasure you get when you are home. Travelling does not actually require any more skill than being at home does – travel bloggers be damned! The minute my plane lands somewhere, I am “travelling.” And if I do it long enough, I am a capital T “Traveler.” If I wander around lost all day, or pay too much for the hotel I am staying in, or don’t leave the hotel at all, I don’t lose that capital T. If I am not “home,” I am travelling. Period. In other words, after years of travelling, I finally realized that I am not a “bad traveler” because I get lost, sick, tired or waste a lot of money – I am simply a Traveler.