It’s hard to find the time to have experiences and write about them too. Every day that goes by, I promise myself that I’ll spend some time putting down my thoughts, but the time goes away and by the end of the day, I’m completely spent. Especially when the days are short as they are in Iceland.
On our way to the airport in Denver while trying to talk with John about our landing in Iceland, I said, “My brain keeps shutting down and restarting…I’m sorry.”
To which John replied, “That’s okay, honey. I’m on one of those endless loop cycles known as Denial of Service Attacks…”
Traveling is emotional. Not in the sense that I feel a sentimental urge to cry when I see something like Stonehenge, but in the sense that I constantly confront things like discomfort, the need to pee , hunger, exhaustion, and being too cold or too hot. I have strong emotions about restrooms when I need one and there aren’t any. I morph into a creature entirely different from myself when I need food and none can be found. Being exhausted makes me stupid. The emotions that happen moment-by-moment on a major trip are not of the sentimental variety, but rather those that are base and instinctual. They’re the emotions and states of existence that are rarely put on display in Facebook selfies. They’re emotions that I’d rather not have. At the end of each travel day, I feel both a sense of accomplishment for having checked off another Wonder of the World and a sense of wanting to go home and just watch TV.
I call this TV-watching state of mind “resistance”.
Rodney Yee has some interesting things to say about resistance as it pertains to yoga (in his Poetry of the Body book) and I’m going to try to relate these thoughts to travel. Rodney (who is very wise, by the way), encourages budding yogis to regularly do the poses that appeal to them least. It’s a good idea, but it’s hard to follow through with it. I have resistance to doing poses that I don’t like, but Rodney says to explore the resistance (and he says it much more eloquently than I can). Apparently, resistance is where the inner pot-of-gold lies. Avoid it and life is dull and meaningless. Embrace it and life becomes interesting.
Travel is like doing the splits: It’s hard to take the discomfort of the stretch and make peace with it, but it’s good to at least try.
I think that a lot of people want to travel or, at the very least, are curious about the rest of the world. The reason why I think this is true is because of the romantic view that Americans have of travel. I can’t number how many people have told me that they believe that when John and I (and Lydian) are traveling, we’re on vacation. They believe it with such conviction that they never even ask us about it. I find out that this what they’re thinking when they say something like, “See you when you get back from your big BREAK!”
It makes sense. Most people are vacationing when they travel, but I honestly can’t remember the last travel-vacation that our family took. John usually works a 40 to 50 hour week programming for a company out of Sweden and I continue to work for a company based in Columbia when we travel. Every week. We don’t take time off. On top of that, we do a lot of research about the places we visit. I write about the places we visit and we go off the beaten track to find out about things that even the locals don’t know about. It takes a lot of time and research to do this sort of thing and I don’t chronicle it all. We only talk about the fruits of our research. And unless you consider learning Arabic a “vacation” our nine weeks in Tunisia and Egypt would hardly qualify as “down-time”.
But still, our travels are really fun to me. I’ve never walked away from a vacation with the same sense of accomplishment that I get from traveling the world as a Worker Bee. In fact, I think vacations are over-rated. But that’s just my opinion. I like being on the edge of my seat and I love meeting new people. I like the challenge of communicating with people who can’t speak a word of English and I love to discover new things that I’d never even imagined before. It’s also cool to see historic sites and things I’ve only read about in books, but not as cool as going to a temazcal in Mexico, or riding down the river in a dug-out canoe hunting rhinos in Nepal.
But people misunderstand the difficulties involved in pushing the threshold of travel. I doubt myself a lot, but my doubts get little air-time when I tell people stories of our adventures at home. Lydian remembers John and me, freaking out on our first overseas trip to Turkey. She was there when we slowly made our way down the Amazon River to do ayahuasca in a little lodge that didn’t even have electricity (we decided against taking the ayahuasca concoction after we got there). Lydian often doesn’t understand why we do what we do until after our adventure is complete. She gets to see all the uncertainty, edginess, and doubt leading into our various escapades. And because she’s still a kid, she has to go along with them despite her own doubts. Once the plot unfolds, it’s as though we always knew what was going to happen, but in reality, we never do. But always, in the midst of searching, I second-guess myself.
Is it safe to travel to Northern Africa during an Ebola epidemic?
Should we really get rabies shots in Nepal?
Is a temazcal appropriate for a 13 year old?
I do a lot of research before I book flights. I’m definitely not a Throw-Caution-to-the-Wind type of person, but I do read between the lines a lot and I tend to not believe everything I read and hear at face value. At least not anymore, but this comes with experience. It’s like real estate. When you first start shopping around to buy a house, the description, “handyman’s special” may sound clever and even fun, but after you’ve read about a hundred house descriptions and then visited the properties to see them for yourself, you know what they really mean. Travel advisories are like that too. I always read them and I even worry about them a little, but they aren’t enough to keep me home.
It’s impossible to portray verbally, or in writing all the facets of an experience which is why experience is so valuable. I’d like to believe that I’m brave and I do in fact do a lot of things that require courage, but I ease into them carefully and very timidly and then ride the wave until I end up with some good photos and a great story. I have a method and when my method goes off the rails, I lose my courage and abort my mission. Aborted missions are rarely discussed and even more rarely written about. I experience a lot of resistance to doing things that look like they were simple and fun in photos. Often, I’d rather sleep in and sit at a desk all day than go to language classes or try to figure out how to get from Athens to Sweden in one-week by train and/or bus, but I do what I do because a part of me wants to do it and there’s no other way to experience the world than to…go experience it. I really love the comfort of routine and familiarity, but the discomforts that come from traveling make me feel alive, like doing a backbend or standing on my head.
In the interim between photos, when we’re walking or driving or eating or trying to find restroom facilities, we may be scowling or even bickering with each other as we deal with the discomforts of being in unfamiliar places that are not especially comfortable by our American standards. We may be confused, lost, hungry, tired, smelly, dirty, or otherwise broken in some way. But then, inevitably, a Kodak-moment happens and the whole ordeal becomes worthwhile.
This is travel to me. It’s not a vacation. It’s not relaxation. It’s a lot of work actually, and a lot of discomfort but it’s worth every minute!