For someone who talks about travel a lot, I sure hate talking about travel. I suppose it’s inevitable that the topic should come up – when I’m traveling for half a year at a stretch, as I am now, the subject tends to dominate my life. It’s a good topic for breaking the ice with locals and fellow travelers, and epic tales of my seat-of-the-pants backpacking adventures can certainly impress timid two-week package tourists.
And yet, I can’t escape the dirty feeling that comes with talking about travel. (And yep – I’m feeling it right now!) Why is that, though?
First of all, I feel like I’m just not as excited about it as I’m supposed to be. I’ve lived the past decade of my life overseas, and have spent a significant chunk of that time traveling. At this point, I can muster about the same amount of enthusiasm for a trip to a new country as I would for a really good cup of coffee – it’s not nothing, because I do love a good cup of coffee, but there’s still something perfunctory about constantly feeding one’s addictions, whether they be to caffeine or to travel.
When regular people work their asses off all year to go somewhere hot for two weeks, it’s an extremely big deal to them. When enthusiastic young people get their first taste of freedom and the wider world during their gap year, their eyes sparkle with excitement over life’s unlimited opportunities. But when I absent-mindedly rattle off a laundry list of all the countries I’ll be visiting this year, it’s hard to calibrate that perfect balance between not sounding like too much of a braggart and not sounding too bored. In conversation with the wage slaves who are enjoying their brief respite from indentured servitude while throwing money around like it ain’t no thang, I simultaneously feel like an impoverished cheapskate (moneywise) and a pampered little bastard (timewise). And when I’m talking to fun-loving, hard-drinking, peace-and-love-oriented young backpackers, I feel like a curmudgeonly old square who’s so out of touch that he’s willing to spend 20 whole dollars just for the alienation of a private room, instead of keeping it real by staying in a dorm, couchsurfing, or sleeping in a ditch along the side of the road. It feels like I just can’t win, and yet travel is such an easy topic to fall back on, and seems more likely to keep people’s attention than my terror of climate change or The Big Fight, the autobiography of the boxer Sugar Ray Leonard that I just finished reading.
But more than that, when I talk about travel I have a tremendous fear of turning into the thing I hate most: a pretentious twat. I despise people who turn travel into a grand gesture of attention-seeking, self-importantly broadcasting their heavily filtered tributes to their own “adventurousness” via Facebook and Instagram. I hate people who engage in grandiose soliloquys about the horizon-broadening, spiritual benefits of travel. I hate people who produce massive carbon footprints and produce mountains of trash with their disposable conveniences while sanctimoniously espousing the benefits of “experiences” over “stuff”. (As I will freely admit, I hate a lot of people.)
And even though I do, in the end, enjoy traveling, I’m not exactly sure why I pour so much of my modest income into it. Sometimes I think these long trips only exist to fight my natural tendency to create a painfully easy, habit-filled life for myself – the kind of life where the years blur effortlessly into each other, until I wake up one day with a ridged forehead and a sagging neck, and wonder where all that time went. In a way, there’s something of an inversion at work – my usual semi-retired life of leisure is what I must escape from by throwing myself into harrowing situations in strange places. And now that I am pondering giving up my life in the Philippines, these long trips have ceased to become an amusing distraction from my regular life, and have turned into a sad, nomadic search for a new temporary home – a place to stay until restlessness, malaise or dissatisfaction once again overwhelm me. Doesn’t make travel sound like much fun, does it? But I wouldn’t give it up for the world. (Get it? Heh.)