Exclusive on Pocket Gypsy: Traveling is Just One Big Long Distance Relationship.
Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, Americans don’t travel often. Yes, there are anomalous cases – myself included, obviously – but on a whole, the nation is fairly sedentary. (This explains both increasing levels of obesity as well as pointless east-west and north-south rivalries).
Perhaps as a result, Americans have begun finding each other more and more repulsive. Partnerships are dissolving faster than Eurozone agreements, and the divorce rate has skyrocketed to such a level that it’s rare to find a child who still believes in love.
What do these two factors have in common?
A lack of commitment.
This Gypsy Life: How Your Travel Style Indicates Your Relationship Mentality
Every time I mention this trip, people ask why I’m doing it alone. The hard truth is that very few people will commit to a plan, an itinerary, even the concept of saving up and prioritizing a plane ticket over a couple of beers. It’s the fear that something else will come up, and they’ll have committed to something that suddenly seems stifling, not at all free and easy as they imagined when they first signed up.
My jaded opinion? America is a he, and he is a commit-phobe. In many ways, deciding to travel is like deciding to enter into a relationship – a slightly polygamous one, but an exclusive commitment nonetheless. (And therein lies the basic difference between men and women – while women fear dying alone, men just view that as the coveted eternal “space.”)
Think about it: travel has its ups and downs, its novel new experiences and its intermittent nostalgia. The idea of it always sounds appealing and exciting, but that inevitably is tempered by the fright of the unknown and dangerous, the eventual numbness to beautiful gestures and sights, and the mundane nature of actually making shit happen. You end up comparing cities, trying to find the right combination of the right factors that make you feel comfortable but electric, and maybe even the right touch of reckless. You learn a lot about yourself through learning about a new place, figuring out whether you resonate with a city that constantly tests your boundaries or a placid countryside that allows you to meander at your own pace. If you don’t speak the local tongue, then you decide how time and effort you’re willing to expend before you either give or become fluent. You either try or you don’t; you either sink or you swim. And even so, there are so many factors outside of your control.
Stage 1: Overcoming the Fear of Risk
I never thought of myself as being particularly risk-seeking, but my recent behavior has proven otherwise. Moreover, what I’ve begun realizing is that commitment is the ultimate risk. There always is a significant possibility that things won’t work out and you could get emotionally or financially screwed over, particularly when you invest a lot of yourself into something. The more all-or-nothing you are, the more you have to lose – but of course, the rewards are equally great.
To many people, commitment entails obligation, and obligation is a scary concept relegated to “adults” and other people with “real responsibilities.” (My bias is pretty obvious, I know, but the alternative is to say, “Grow up.”) By pushing the decision to act to the final moment – taking the plunge and buying a ticket to London a week before your flight, for instance – it reduces the possibility that there are better alternatives elsewhere. By committing to a plan or a trip or a person, you inherently hope and look for the best, if for nothing else to justify your decision. You find happiness because you aren’t constantly weighing things against each other, stressing yourself out by living in limbo and playing it safe.
Stage 2: The Balancing Act, the Bliss of the Unknown, and Questions
But while some are voyaging just to test the waters – the casual dating of international travel – others are looking for their home. And if home is where the heart is, where do you fall in love? And when do you know you’re ready to settle down?
That’s the question I’m asking myself right now as I embark upon this speed dating of the world. What resonates with me? Which cities call my name, and which merely tolerate my presence? Which accommodate to my vegetarian diet? Which understand that I might not speak the language or know the customs, but that I’m trying, and doesn’t it mean something that I tried at all?
Of course, there might be cities I absolutely adore, but which are completely incompatible with my lifestyle, my values, or most importantly, my wallet. I might fall in love with Israel, but would I want to live in a country wrought with constant political unrest? I may say that I could easily move to Sweden, but would the cold winters slay me just as they did Napoleon’s army? Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, even when it seems right. But it’s OK – there are other landmasses in the sea. Trying and failing still exposes you to new cultures and experiences, and that can never be a waste of time.
Stage 3: At the End of the Honeymoon Period
Before I began this trip, everyone warned me to spend more time in each city, to soak up the various flavors, both bitter and sweet. In most places, I’ve spent about a week – just long enough to fall in love over and over again, but just short enough to prevent boredom and its unfortunate cousin, resentment.
(ETA: the section that follows was written almost a month ago.) But in the past week, I’ve unpacked and packed more than three times and spent hours on buses, trains, and planes. As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport on my way to Bergen, where I’ll be spending one night with a friend before bouncing over to another for less than three days.
I’m starting to see what those well-wishers were saying – constant travel is exhausting, just like effervescently bouncing from guy to guy can eventually wear a girl (or boy) down. My conservative nature steadfastly reminds me of what I already know: I might be a fire sign, but I’m grounded in the earth, and I crave the feeling of home.
And in a less metaphoric sense, I miss the people who made me feel like that. I am a relationship person (which is ironic as I’m absolutely cursed). I can’t stand the heartache of uprooting myself from the people I love unless there’s someone I care about waiting for me on the other side. Maybe that explains why I’m so friendly – my strategy in meeting people is to generate a sense of comfort and camaraderie, a backbone of support and a family atmosphere. Basically, I try to recreate home everywhere I go.
Whether or not this exercise works, I’ve been fully enjoying my Voyage thus far. It’s been painful and hurtful and so frustrating in many ways, but it’s simultaneously brought me so much joy and strength and love of the universe. I’m approaching the point of traveler burnout, when I’ll want to quit the gypsy life and stay in one place for a while, but the beauty of that decision is that I can settle literally anywhere. It is my decision to embark upon this journey, and it’s my decision to stop when I feel like I’ve had enough. I sentimentally wish for a romantic new destination to whisk me off my feet, but if I end up moving back to the Bay Area, that just goes to show that that’s where I belong.