Traveling for months at a time means radical changes in the way we do things. Our routine is altered. Our food is altered. What we wear is reduced to a few choice items. Obtaining basic necessities can be challenging at times (like aspirin, bug spray, or tampons). I sleep in a different bed. Cook in a different kitchen. We sit on furnishings that aren’t ours and watch TV in a language that isn’t our own. Inevitably, I get frustrated with myself in the middle of a long journey, usually around the time I start to adapt to all the changes. Once I adapt, I have time to reflect. And upon reflection, I nearly always find that I’m just not good enough.
Why you so tired? Why haven’t you done more or seen more? Get out there! You can’t take a day off or chill out for a few hours! There’s stuff to do! Things to see and people to meet! What’s wrong with you?!?
This is my Inner Dialogue. I hear it when I make breakfast, and when I get ready for my day. It isn’t helpful or insightful. It doesn’t motivate me. It doesn’t cause me to experience my surroundings with greater acuity. This inner dialogue, if it were to continue, would drive me mad. It would make me never want to travel again for the rest of my life.
The rant is actually a compilation of messages that are sent through our culture. In the United States, we collect things. We collect money. We collect time in the form of “days off per year”. We collect educational and work experiences for our resume. When we travel, we collect tourist destinations and experiences to make ourselves competitive with other “well-traveled” people. I am in a constant process of building myself on the outside. I work hard to make my structure amazing, beautiful, and worthy of note, but with each new brick that I lay, I become more separated from who I really am at my core.
In reality, no one is remotely interested in how big or wonderful I can make myself seem. The bigger I seem, the smaller the real me becomes.
I get lost inside that Big Construction Project. And then, in order to have an authentic experience; in order to make a connection to another living being, I have to deconstruct. It’s painful and it takes time. And deconstruction is a clumsy, convoluted process.
I miss myself, right now. I’m not sure I’ve arrived here yet in Guanajuato. My physical body is definitely sleeping on the bed here and buying beans and bananas at the little tiendas down the stairs. But mentally, I’m in purgatory.
I’m somewhere between here and there.
Sometimes I feel angry at others because I feel like they’ve put me in this disorienting predicament. Sometimes I feel angry at myself. But I desperately want to peel away at the layers and feel like I’m connected to myself again. I’m not sure where I lost myself, but it was somewhere in the United States, and I’m pretty sure and it had to do with not having enough time or money.
The part of myself that’s missing is the part that consoles me when things aren’t perfect. It seems to have toddled off and disappeared. It used to say things like, remember what’s really important to you. Or, you’ll know what to do when the time comes. It had some wisdom and the voice was steady and calming. You don’t need for others to love you in order to love yourself. There are certain things that our society adamantly rejects, but this was the voice that told me when to follow my Self no matter what society says. You’ll be okay. It would say. Just do what you’re gonna do.
Unfortunately, I told my Wise Inner Voice to put a cork in it a few months ago when I opted instead to freak out over finances and now I’m sitting with all the other crazy voices chattering away inside my head.
Shut UP! Is the best I can muster when I hear the consortium of voices judging me and my actions. I’m so disconnected, I can hardly believe it. How did this happen?
I want my Self back.
Though I wander out into an entirely foreign environment each day, the most important journey that I take is an emotional one when we travel. How I feel about where I go and the people I meet is more important to me than the other parts of what we see and do. No one cares about how many tourist destinations I check off my roster, but they do care about how I treat them when I get back from my travels. I should return enlightened, not embittered, and ready and willing to listen more than I talk. But if I carry these alien troubles with me on my back the whole way, I might as well just go home and stare at a wall. If I don’t allow myself to unravel the web that I’ve made for myself out of the beliefs that are mostly not my own, traveling will be a fruitless endeavor. Sometimes in a foreign place, I need to sit and deconstruct. I need to think, reflect, and sometimes stare out into the distance rather than visit another museum listed in the guidebooks. And that’s okay.
Perhaps I always travel to find my Inner Voice. Maybe it always toddles off after I’ve been home for a few months. Lord knows I won’t find myself at the Taj Mahal or Teotihuacan with hordes of tourists and a time limit. But I might find myself in a folding chair on the terrace or on the way to Nowhere In Particular. And I think this is what I’m really looking for when we travel.
I could probably find myself anywhere, but certainly not somewhere specific. There are no maps to show me where to go or how to get there. Just mistakes, wrong turns, and helpful people on street corners to give me pieces of advice, wisdom, and friendship.