It’s an unspoken agreement that travelers have with the road–if you decide one day to halt your long journey down that road, well, you are in for a shock. And it’s not just culture shock. The problem in stopping, in trying to settle down (whether temporarily or permanently) is not just restlessness or missing the inimitable cuisine of street food vendors.
When you travel long term, you have been letting things happen to you, you have been simply going with the flow, whether you realize it or not. When you continue to move on, to move around, there is always something new to reveal itself, to surprise you, to enrich your mind and your day. It’s almost as if traveling were a very easy hobby to adopt, the perfect lazy person’s pastime. All you need to do is seat yourself on a bus or train or plane, and after an hour or 12, you are transported into a magical new world. It can seem as effortless as listening to music.
But after awhile you get tired of those crusty seats and the search for yet another cheap place to lay your head and of hoping that while you nap your bags won’t be stolen. So you take the plunge and find a city to shake hands with–just for now, you emphasize, I’ll try it for a little while, you tell whoever will listen. The apartment search is a pain and paying the commission to the real estate agency leaves you heavily doubting the world, and you try again to find some rhyme or reason in your decision. This senseless financial violence practiced by a civilized, static society that you used to know almost moves you to run straight back to the airport and shake off this settling down disease. But then you realize that no destination is really tempting you anymore, for now (it’s about the people, not the places, someone once told you), and you daydream of clean, bright magazine apartments with ceramic blue bowls of oranges and a huge fluffy couch in that perfect, ideal city that may or may not be secretly the purpose of all your varied travels.
So you confirm the contract, and now you’re stuck with 4 walls, legally yours, all bare. You’ve also been decreed an empty kitchen and empty living room, oh so empty but full of you and your tired backpack. You wait for something to happen, but nothing does. You wait for hours, days, even weeks. Nothing. Boredom turns to depression turns to lament and regret. You sleep with your shoes on just in case.
Why nothing? Becuase you haven’t moved an inch. You’ve finally stopped moving–but you expect the same surprise of a traveling life to come to you. You expect to be served by life, but this time, you haven’t ordered a damn thing.
When you stop traveling, when you stop going with the flow, you will start to fall apart in the rushing river current unless you drag yourself out of that current, climb up onto the banks and take a good look at everything around you. And not only must you look, you must place value into what you see. You must be stubborn and persistent when you see something you like. That is harder to do when you are always on the move, when faces and places eventually blur together. Beautiful and life-changing, but still blurry. When travel adventures end, other adventures begin, but travel will always be there, waiting for you to jump back into the stream, to make your escape from your magazine apartment.