Conflicts and Anxieties of Travel

By: leelefever on December 27, 2006 - 11:18am

 I wrote the entry below in June of 2006 but never posted it until now.  I went through a phase where I was way too concerned about our travel style and this reflects the issues on my mind at the time. I got over it, if you're curious.

Through this trip, whether I like it or not, I am coming to terms with some of the things about me that I cannot control, or find hard to control.  I am consistently conflicted regarding what I call “travel dilemmas” and I’m writing about it because it represents a minor but annoying problem for me and one that I hope to overcome.  I feel that I am needlessly pre-occupied with trying to find our answers to questions about our travel style. I am most concerned about the conflicts between:

  • Being a traveler vs. a backpacker
  • Being on vacation vs. traveling
  • Taking our time vs. rushing from place to place

Let me take these one by one to explain:

Being a Traveler vs. a Backpacker

Backpacking is a practice that has evolved its own culture.  This culture has a particular outlook, fashion, attitude and accessories.  I was a backpacker in 1996 when me and my (then) girlfriend spent two months in Europe and I was never conflicted- we were backpackers and our reality of flea-bag hostels, bad food and camaraderie with other backpackers was the only choice for us and it was a blast.  Fast-forward 10 years and I am now on a similar trip, except a few things are different.  I am now married, have had a career for some time and have the means to travel at a higher level of comfort than I did 10 years ago.  We have innumerable choices and can put our comfort first.  The source of this conflict is rooted in the anxiety that we are insulating ourselves from a part of travel that, while not comfortable, offers a higher level of cultural access and experience. Perhaps the $10 guesthouse is more fun, interesting and cultural than the $30 hotel, but lacks air conditioning. Perhaps the train ride takes longer than the plane, but offers better scenery.  Are we buying our way out of the best experiences?  Are the backpackers getting more from their experience than we are while spending less?  Or, would they travel as we do if they could? Should we forsake comfort for experience?


Being on Vacation vs. Traveling

When one thinks of a year off to travel, one of the first images that come to mind is not having to work- liberation from the daily grind.  This is certainly part of extended travel and one thing that I do not take for granted.  However, a year is really far too long to have a vacation and extended travel, for us, ends up being a little of both.  We’ve had periods where travel was like a job.  We had to be up at a certain time every morning and returned to the hotel later that evening, with pictures and experiences and exhaustion in hand.  This was the case in Sri Lanka and India when we had guides and drivers.  This experience is rewarding, but tiresome and not sustainable for months and months.  It does become a grind.  We followed India with Thailand and planned a vacation from travel.  For about a month, we did very little but move from beach to beach and it was nirvana. We learned how to do nothing in Thailand- how sleep all day and not listen to the devil (or angel) on your shoulder who tells you you’re being lazy. Having lived both sides of the travel spectrum, I find myself searching for balance these days.  Now that we’re recharged and back into the travel life, I have anxiety that we’re wasting time by relaxing in the hotel room when there are still things we want to see and do.  Are we still on vacation? When does vacation stop and travel begin? Does it matter?  Should we just enjoy the freedom and do things as they feel right?  Or, should we push ourselves to get out and do everything and then relax? 


Taking Our Time vs. Rushing from Place to Place

Perhaps the most consistent piece of advice we received from travelers who have done year-long trips is that you can’t do everything. They say that the best you can do is to find a place you like and stay there for a while, like a month or two. By doing this you can get a deeper understanding of the local culture.  While this advice is certainly good advice, it has been hard for us to implement.  We spent a month in Southern Thailand and a month in Japan, but never more than 7 days in any one town or city.  We’ve never stayed more than 10 days in one place. The grass is always greener I suppose and I think we’re in a habit of seeing what we want in a place and then moving on, essentially collecting experiences like baseball cards.  Maybe by the end of the trip, we figure, we’ll have a collection of which we’ll be proud. Stopping in one town for a month seems to have a high opportunity cost.  We have no idea how that month could be used in the future.  Would we trade a month in Osaka now for a month in Turkey in November?  How are we to comprehend the future value of spending a month in one town now? Are we neglecting an important aspect of the travel experience by moving quickly? The next new place always seems so much more appealing.


The Bottom Line For Me:

First, I realize that these are all comparatively good problems to have. I should feel lucky to have such problems and I do feel extremely fortunate.  I do not seek sympathy- just an outlet to talk.

All these conflicts, all the anxieties I have, all the thinking that I’ve done about this is all based on a simple question that I constantly ask myself:  Are we doing it right?  This simple question haunts me much more than it should. Logically, I know that there is no right way to travel- it is something that each person does in their own way and no two people experience travel in the same way. However, I want to know that we are doing our best to extract as much enjoyment, experience, learning and fun out of these 12 months and I wonder sometimes if all these conflicts and anxieties are only serving to detract from the experiences instead of help us add to them. Perhaps I would be better served by doing what feels good and remembering that there will be few times in my life when I will have such freedom and such wonderful opportunities. Maybe I just need a vacation from thinking about this too much.

The Home Experience After a Year

By: leelefever on December 26, 2006 - 8:05pm

I sometimes have to stop and think to myself that this is what it feels like. I mean right now in my life – like the phase I’m currently in, if you know what I mean.  It’s been a progression I suppose and I’m reminded that this phase, the return home, is one to be documented.  Seriously – like many times in the past year, I’m simply not gonna be in this situation often.  Coming home after a year around the world?  That’s a pretty unique place to be in life, so let’s get started.

Josh Berman reminded me to write and sent along a link to his description that involves a bucket of cold water to the face

Exciting, uncomfortable, inspiring, and totally discombobulating. Such is the experience of coming home from the World.


Newley also reminded me about his article about the at-home blues

As I began the process of re-settling – like finding a new apartment and gainful employment – I was overcome with restlessness; I didn't want to re-adjust. I'd managed to pick up and move to South AmericaAsia, yet now I was intimidated by the simple prospect of combing apartment listings and sending out resumes.

My personal experience in coming home has been smooth on the outside and a bit rough on the inside.  We were lucky to come back to our own home and have a couple of weeks to decompress.  Viewed from afar, it would appear quite easy and worry-free – and it was I suppose except for the voices in my head reminding me that the real world is coming – fast.  Am I prepared?  Do I really need to rest right now?  How do you rest?

Right now is a period of limbo before the next big thing and after the last big thing. The trip was something that we viewed as a project with a beginning and end.  By coming home in one piece, we celebrated the successful conclusion of the project.  For now, it is all about the next project, which refocuses attention that might otherwise be diverted to a longing for the road.  We’re in the process of making a clean break, which is how we started the trip.

This, of course, doesn’t preclude us from reverse culture shock. Whether we’ve chosen to recognize it or not, coming home has been a rollercoaster of emotion.  It’s a little like jet lag – you feel something off in your head, but until you connect the feeling to the event, it just seems like a mood swing.  We’ve just recently recognized our symptoms and all the little things that make home so strange.


I have personally had ups and downs in my own confidence or perception of my ideas – a newfound lack of confidence in our big plans for 2007, less confidence in being able to gather up all the balls that so swiftly rolled away in 2006 and less confidence in restarting.  It is like being on the road created a bubble where ideas and plans all sounded so perfect. Home then becomes the place where all the ideas are seen in the context of reality- often a reality that changed in the last year. After a few days on the low end, my confidence is growing again as reality sinks in.

Never have I valued small talk so much.  It gives me great joy to socialize and a big part of that, for me, is humor.  One of the big rules of travel is that jokes don’t travel well and for the most part, I couldn’t interact with strangers on trip in any light and humorous way.  I now value the ability to talk a little smack to someone in line, or with the barista, or with our neighbors.  They understand me and it feels so good to have the confidence that my words mean what I think they mean (most of the time). Fortunately they also understand that I’m illiterate when it comes to US pop culture.

As a short side note- one strange thing I’ve noticed too is that I’m not yet used to Asian people speaking English.  After so long in Asia, my mind made very distinct associations with race and language. 

The most wrenching experience for me was returning to our dog Amos who is 12 years old.  My experience with him has played with my mind more than any other thing.  Amos is not a young dog and his age nearly forced us to delay the trip for a few years.  We decided he would be fine for a year.  As it turned out, the year was not so kind to our beloved dog.  He is showing signs of arthritis and I’m now the guy waiting on his dog to walk through the park. He’s as sweet as ever, but just a different kind of dog.  He doesn’t play.  He doesn’t chase squirrels.  He sleeps a lot.  Thankfully he has recently shown improvement after switching to a new anti-inflammatory (remadyl) and his attitude is less mopey.  Plus, I think he's becoming my dog again.

Seattle greeted us with a set of historical extenuating circumstances. A storm blew through the Northwest within a couple of days of our arrival that made our first week cold, dark and overall very, very weird.  Of the first week at home, we spent the majority of our time in a home with no power or heat as temperatures hovered in the 30s.  80 hours of no power. During this period we chose to stay home as others stayed with friends and family who had power.  We both chalk it up to a little reverse culture shock – we were only ready to be home.  Venturing away from the home that welcomed us did not sound right at the time, so we dealt with the circumstances as they came.   

And in case these points may makes you think otherwise, home is good - very, very good for us right now.  In fact, we both feel liberated by the trip.  Now is a time for us to rebuild, to rethink, to re-imagine.  In a lot of ways, this is a whole new beginning for us both – few times in our life will we have such a perfect time wipe clean the slate, call off the old bets and take a fresh look.  Despite the ups and downs, we’re both convinced it’s all up from here.

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Video: Coming to America for the BIG Surprise

By: leelefever on November 28, 2006 - 8:19am

Man oh man, did the 50th wedding anniversary surprise work perfectly. After planning on it for over a year with my brothers(even before we left) it was so wonderful to see my parents' reaction - particularly my Mom's.

As I described before, we told my parents that we would be abroad until Christmas and would miss their anniversary party. In order to understand how big of a surprise it was when we were revealed, you just have to watch the video. I can't watch it without getting a little misty.

We've Been Lying to You, Dear Reader

By: leelefever on November 27, 2006 - 7:12am

I'm sorry that we have had to deceive you for so long, but it was required so that we could give my Mom what she described as "one of the biggest thrills of her life" on her 50th wedding anniversary.

You see, she is a devoted reader of TwinF and in order to fool her, we had to fool everyone into believing that we would be abroad until Christmas. In fact, we spent Thanksgiving in New York and took a train to North Carolina last Friday.

For instance, the little box on the home page says "351 days en route and in San Sebastian, Spain."  A complete untruth.

In Sachi's recent post...

Tomorrow we are catching a train to Zaragoza and Pamplona for just a night or two each on our way to San Sebastian on Spain's northern coast. A BOLD FACED LIE.

 Like I said, we did it to pull off a big surprise. This weekend my parent's celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and they believed we would not make it home for the event.  Of course, we would not miss it and planned to attend-by-surprise before we left. So we planned all this over a year ago - all so that we could see this reaction...





(all photos by our friend Greg Parks) 

I hope you'll forgive us.  We'll have a video of the trip home and the surprise coming soon.  From here, we drive across the country to Seattle over next next 2-3 weeks (the truth, I swear!)

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