I met Kat in a dive of a hostel in Sydney and she couldn’t stop smiling. At 18, she’d completed school and set off on a yearlong adventure of Australia and New Zealand. ‘So where are you heading next?’ I asked her. ‘Home!’ she said, ‘I changed my flight this morning. I’m so happy!’ Five months in and she’d had enough. Fair enough.
The pull of home with familiarity, friends and family is a strong one. No more worrying about the next step, no more tiresome travelling, no more fleeting acquaintances, no more of the same, damn ‘where are you heading next?’ questions.
Here’s the thing: when getting excited about your next step turns to worrying about your next step, when you’re bored of new places, maybe that’s the point that you’ve hit the wall. And maybe you should go home.
But in reality, every single backpacker that I’ve chatted to about this says the same thing: they’ve all had their travel tired moments. Sometimes they’re short-lived moments and all it takes is a new fun and likeminded travel buddy or a different experience to get you back on track.
Sometimes, though, the feeling creeps up on you, building strength until you arrive at yet another hostel and look around at all the bright, eager faces and just think ‘I really can’t be bothered to talk to any of you’. You become judgemental. You’re bored. You isolate yourself and in turn feed the travel tired demon that is whispering with increasing force ‘Go home! You’re not cut out for this!’
When you’re ill or tired, rundown or travelling alone, or there’s bad news from home, wanting to get the hell out is accentuated. But give it time. As with everything, these moments pass. (Believe me. I’ve had a few.)
More often than not, in my experience, it’s a matter of focus and self-discipline. Just wandering and doing and seeing things aimlessly can initially be beautifully free but can quickly become meaningless.
So, in Santa Cruz in Bolivia I hit one of these moments. I was ill, on antibiotics and after two full days of bus travel I arrived at a hostel that was fully booked. I luckily got a bed in the next hostel, a colourful, social place that was full to the brim of Israeli travellers. Hebrew filled the air, as did the scent of energy and enthusiasm that only the newly arrived possess. And I felt out of the loop.
Despite knowing a few words in Hebrew and despite the fact that many Israelis that I’ve met speak excellent English, I removed myself socially and sat alone, pondering what I was doing, where I was going, both on this journey and in life.
I tried contacting home, tried Skyping one of my good friends in England, refreshed Facebook like someone I never wanted to be. But everyone was out of reach. I indulged in feeling alone and lost. It was pathetic, but I let it wash over me.
In this moment of lostness, I thought, ‘maybe I should just go, I’m not having fun’. But whilst I miss my friends and family, for me the concept of home isn’t as straightforward as it is to a lot of the backpackers I meet (where the hell is it? where do I want it to be?).
After a good night’s sleep I was a little more ready to face people again. I smiled and opened conversations with strangers. I squished in among people at breakfast and chatted to a guy who recommended a nearby farm to visit. I met some good people. Their enthusiasm started to feed me again, rather than piss me off.
Later, whilst out exploring the centre of Santa Cruz, two people I’d met earlier stopped by to say hi. And I realised, once again, that it’s all to do with connections. For me, in any case. As a social creature, pulling away does me no favours.
Next I contacted some volunteering places in Bolivia and Colombia. Both got back to me pretty quickly. New focus. Less aimless. I caught up on some writing and wrote a list of what I needed to sort out in the next couple of days. Mundane, but it worked for me (take it out of your head and make it simple).
And then, together with a few Israelis, I went to this random farm full of music and art and delicious, organic food. I had some high moments, some lows, but I was surrounded by beauty and wholesomeness, and for the next few days it did me good.
Through the farm I found out about another great place to stay in Samaipata, and so the momentum built. I met more and more people that I really connected with. By the time I got to Sucre, I’d had moments that reinspired my lust for solo travel and I’d also found some fun and genuine social circles. I laughed lots. It was wonderful.
Travelling is meant to be this amazing, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity but I think that as soon as those linguistics are applied, it puts on the pressure. Why is it the only opportunity? Don’t feed me rubbish about kids and mortgages and careers. If you long to travel, really, really want to do it then you can and will and should. You will find a way. Who cares if it’s three weeks or five years? If it’s local or the other side of the world?
So if you’re tired of travelling now, don’t think that’s it, opportunity over. If you’re not really feeling it and the feeling is refusing to budge, then there’s no point visiting yet another tourist site just so you can tick it off a list.
What Kat did was a good lesson for me. If you’re truly travel tired, there’s no shame in cutting a journey short. Life’s too short. (And life’s a journey in any case, right?!).