Saturday, November 3, 2012

Am I Really Just a Debbie Downer?

A few weeks ago, I ran a survey and some of you commented about how negative I’ve been. “Quit your whining,” they said.

Now, the comments did make me think a bit – have I been overly negative the past year? After all, I do get the occasional blog comment telling me to “slow down” or that I’m “just not as chipper” as I used to be. At least not as consistently chipper as I used to be (see my Japan and Portugal posts for chipperness).

And in a way those comments created a crisis of conscience – am I sad? Am I depressed? Am I jaded about travel? And as I reflected about it, I came to the self-realization that explains why you might think I’m complaining.

See, over the last year or so, I’ve become tired. I’ve been ready to settle down, have a routine, and become semi-nomadic.

But as you’ve noticed, I’ve kept traveling and haven’t really slowed down. (Well, I have now since I am finally home.) I think what has been subconsciously coming out over the last year is my desire on the one hand to be nomadic, and my desire to settle down on the other. I never really thought about how that turmoil might have shown in my writing until you (readers) brought it up.

Self-realization is as equally as depressing as it is enlightening. On the one hand, you’ve figured out a portion of yourself. On the other, you’ve figured out a portion of yourself and now you have to do something about it.

For me, it’s the tension between not wanting to be backpacker anymore and the desire to hold on to all I know.

If I’m not nomadic, if I’m not a backpacker, what am I? For the last 6 years, constant travel has been my life. It has been who I am and what I do. Everything before was just prologue. I once said I would never stop traveling and I never plan to. I love it too much. Constant travel is in some ways all I know. I feel like I’m walking away from a marriage and how does one just throw away a relationship?

Yet my heart hasn’t been in backpacking for a while. I’ve loved many places over the last year, I’ve had many good experiences and adventures, and made many amazing friends. But I walk into hostels ready to party and realize I can’t have that same conversation again. I don’t care where you’re from, how long you’ve been traveling, where you’ve been or where you’re going. I’d rather watch a movie. I change locations but the feeling doesn’t change. I’m not that interested in making any new 5-minute friends, I don’t care about how you found “some amazing local town”, and if I have to listen to someone snore or take a shit again, I’m going to lose it. I had this realization in Cambodia while writing my book, which was fine because I was “heading home.”

But when I try to break away, I get sad. I don’t want to give it up. I may not love it as much as I did, but I don’t hate it. I really do love meeting people, staying in hostels, exploring the world, and staying out until sunrise in some new land. But I feel like I’m the employee who no longer has the passion for the job – but still couldn’t imagine life without it.

And sitting around hostels, observing wide-eyed travelers fresh on the road, I’m constantly reminded what I’m missing out on and it makes me miss it even more. For all the talk about never chasing travel ghosts, I find myself chasing them everyday.

But what you’ve seen over the last year – the perceived negativity – has been, I am sad to say, my inner conflict between wanting to settle down and staying a backpacker and that conflict has emerged in my writings as that of a jaded traveler.

I was never trying to be negative in my writing. While my goal is to always be honest about travel because there are bad days on the road – days where nothing goes right and all you want to do is go back to what’s familiar. Life on the road is like life everywhere – there is good and bad.

I did what I needed to do with backpacking years ago. My journey around the world was ready to move forward to its logical next step – to become semi-nomadic. But it’s hard to change. Just as hard as it is to break out of the mold and jump out into the road, so too is it hard to settle back down into a routine.

But I’m home now. I’m settling into semi-nomadicism well and I like it. It’s hard. I haven’t been anywhere in three weeks and I’m going stir crazy. But I’m adjusting and, while my mind wanders back to the ghosts of the past, the present and future hold a new path to explore.

And I guess there is nothing about that to be jaded about. I suspect that turmoil and negativity you’ve noticed will evaporate out of my writing as I enjoy this new path unfolding before me.