Why I Travel and Dealing With The Post-Vacation Blues
Two weeks ago I was in Colombia visiting my friend Amy, with no agenda to speak of except to wake up when it got too bright out to stay asleep, have lovely meandering strolls and even lovelier, more meandering conversations, notice and admire beautiful things, and eat delicious food on the cheap. Basically, all I want in life besides $50 million dollars and the ability to teleport.
Since I’ve been back, I’ve found myself suffering from a severe case of the “post vacation blues,” which, according to my extensive research (ie. Wikipedia) are brought on because “after the person returns home, they realize how boring and unsatisfactory their normal lifestyle routine is when compared to the activities he or she did while on their holiday/vacation. Post vacation blues may result in tiredness, loss of appetite, strong feelings of nostalgia, and in some cases, depression.” That sums up my current state quite nicely, except for the loss of appetite part because I have a tendency to try to drown my feelings in wine and finish them off by smothering them with cheese. So this is my attempt to examine some of this disgruntlement and to see if I can’t self-reflect myself back to health (or at least finish unpacking my bags and do some laundry).
I’ve been extremely lucky and privileged to have been able to indulge my wanderlust over the years. I love to travel for many of the typical reasons – an unexplainable but unshakeable curiosity at what and who else exists out in the world, a desire to encounter beauty and meaning, and a need to escape. But I travel not just to be a person who’s had different experiences, but to experience myself as a different person. In my everyday, I spend a lot of time thinking about myself. And by thinking, I mean questioning, debating, berating, assuring, building up and tearing down all of my personality traits and life decisions. I feel like I’m constantly behind in life – I should have woken up earlier, prepared for a meeting sooner, went on a run yesterday, made this appointment months ago, written a business plan back in 2011, found everlasting love in my twenties, and in general have figured my shit out by now.
But when I’m traveling, I suddenly trust my ability to make the right decisions, despite generally only having a vague sense of where I’m going, how I’m getting there, what I’m eating, what will happen next, and what people are saying to me. Somehow, when confronted with exponentially more ambiguity and rapid decision-making than I face in my daily life, I’m strangely more confident in my ability to navigate new terrain, more self-forgiving when I inevitably lose my way, and more able to enjoy the journey without worrying about when or how I’ll get to the destination. Maybe it’s because I recognize it’s absurd to expect myself to know what to do in a place I’ve clearly never been. Maybe it’s because I enter into a mindset that every new experience is an exciting adventure no matter how it turns out, rather than a test from the universe that I can fail. Maybe it’s because the entire experience feels so transient that chances are any mistakes I make won’t matter by the time I’ve moved onto the next city. Maybe it’s because I’m so busy trying to figure out where the hostel is and how to buy train tickets using wild hand gestures that I don’t have the luxury of ruminating over where I might have taken a wrong turn in life three years ago. Regardless of the reasons, it’s freeing, and sometimes downright exhilarating.
However, upon returning home, the U.S customs officer might as well have said, “Welcome back, here’s your passport and neuroses back.” Apparently it only takes a week away to throw into sharp relief the absurdity and mundaneness of how I’ve structured my life: waking up to multiple alarms, shutting myself off with headphones from everyone else doing the same thing on the subway to work, sitting behind a computer for eight hours a day and then trying to compensate for it (and the subpar cookie I stress-ate after lunch) by furiously running on the treadmill for an hour, quite literally going nowhere. I’m afraid that I’m squandering too much time and energy on Kwohtations, but am at the same time worried that I’m not investing enough. I wonder if I should “just suck it up” and find a job I’ll probably hate that pays a lot of money so I can afford to do things I’m passionate about. I wonder what I’m truly passionate about, if anything. I’m conflicted about what my deal-breakers and must-haves are when it comes to relationships, and if my problem is that I have too many or too few.
Through Kwohtations, I try to capture the everyday humanity that speaks to larger truths. Similarly, as I think about my short stint in Colombia, I think there are a few larger lessons embedded in seemingly trivial experiences that I'm going to try to hold onto as I settle back into the daily grind of work, love, and life:
Lesson #1: Get on the bus.
In my experience, public transportation in many countries doesn’t always exactly honor schedules or capacity limits. In other words, it’s pure chaos. So when a van or a bus pulls up, it’s often unclear if it’s the right one but you have to decide quickly to be able to make it on at all. In Colombia, we took a minivan from Tayrona to Cartagena, a five-hour car ride. After an hour, without much ceremony or explanation, the driver told us all to get out and get in another van. We got in, and thankfully it took us in the right direction.
In life, I feel like I’m faced with different buses headed in opposite and unclear life destinations, like “Potentially Rich But Most Likely Miserable,” “Defiantly Independent But Sometimes Desperately Lonely,” and “Almost No Stability But With The Possibility of Epic Adventures,” and all the buses are simultaneously pulling away from the station and I don’t know which one to hop on. And because I hesitate so long, I miss all of them and end up living at the terminal. So the lesson here is, just get on a damn bus. Chances are, it’s the right one, or it’ll at least get you closer to where you want to go. Or it’s completely the wrong one but then you end up somewhere unexpectedly amazing, or that isn’t great but will lead you to your next destination. Regardless, you’re moving forward.
Lesson #2: Speak and feel in ALL CAPS.
Amy has a new Colombian boyfriend who texts her incessantly with a lot of emoticons and in all caps. I LIKE YOU SO MUCH <3 <3 <3, he texts her. At first, I found this inexplicably funny, bordering on excessive (Actually, I still kind of do). But the Colombian’s gotten me thinking, why don’t I tell people how I feel about them in large letters accented with lots of tiny hearts? I spend a lot of energy acting like I don’t care, or at least not more than the other person does. I’d rather be blasé than vulnerable. I’d rather not play the game than raise the stakes. But really, how refreshing would it be if we all quit trying to be mysterious and unattainable and just said plainly to each other, I LIKE YOU. I LIKE YOU SO MUCH. I do think that would be better.
Lesson #3: Forget the steps.
One night out, a Colombian friend tried to teach me how to salsa. And by teach, I mean he danced around in dizzingly intricate steps while instructing me, “Don’t look down at my feet!” and “Just feel it in your heart!” To which I protested, “But I don’t know the steps! What are the steps?” But he just kept thumping his heart and yelling, “Don’t do what I’m doing, just hear the rhythm and feel it in your heart!” And I would repeat in bewilderment, “But what are the steps??!” Surprisingly, I didn’t learn how to salsa that night. But maybe going forward, instead of worrying what the “right” steps are that it seems like everyone else is taking (becoming consultants, getting married, buying a house), I should spend some time re-learning how to listen to what moves my heart wants me to make (apparently writing self-indulgent blog posts while eating breakfast for dinner).
I recognize that life is a little more complicated than a trip to the beach. But I want to remember that, just like traveling around a new country, this is my first time going through life, so why should I feel like I should know what to do? Of course I’m a bumbling idiot when it comes to most everything. But if I just keep moving forward in some direction, fully cherish those who keep me feeling happy and sane, and also keep trying to figure out what it is my heart wants, I think I’ll eventually get to where I want to go, and more importantly, have a great time along the way. I hope you do too.