Traveling: feeling that door shut behind you as you wander down the unlit hallway of your life

Traveling is great and it’s also hard. It can feel shitty to talk about what’s hard about it because as someone who’s able to travel like this, I’m in a huge position of privilege and opportunity, and I’m grateful for it. But the reality is, nothing’s as perfect as Instagram makes it seem, including “the trip of a lifetime”. 

Traveling alone sometimes feels like this.
Traveling by yourself is an incredible feeling. You can go where the wind blows, learn what you’re capable of, face your fears, learn to navigate (or at least improve a little bit), and meet people you never would’ve met if you already had a friend or partner with you. But sometimes you don’t meet those new people, and sometimes you just get tired of having the same introductory conversations with new people over and over. Sometimes all you want is to go to dinner with friends who feel like that perfectly worn-in sweater, and have a laugh-filled conversation where you don’t have to try at all. 

The reality is, if you travel like this, you’re leaving a lot behind. You’re choosing one door over another. Even if the door in front of you is exactly what you wanted, it’s painful to close a door you’ve cared about for a long time. 

Years ago, I spent two months of the summer in the south of France with my then-boyfriend. When I got back to university that fall I was chatting with some friends about our summers. One person talked about how she worked in a trailer park running programming for kids, and shrugged off her experience as boring compared to France. But to me, it didn’t matter that I was in France and she was in Ontario. Our lives weren’t that different. Mine looked glamorous on paper and on social media, but my day-to-day was pretty boring too. I wasn’t doing anything particularly special, I’d just bought a plane ticket. I reassured her that what I did wasn’t any more interesting than what she did. 

Of course, I’m personally drawn to traveling, and I do love a lot about it. But sometimes I wonder why on earth I do it. Traveling has its moments–the views that blow you away, the people you never would’ve met back home, the conversations you have, and the skills, knowledge and empathy you gain. But you also have desperately lonely days, important events that you miss back home, friends and family you can’t be there for, and relationships that end. Is the trade-off really worth it? 

Most people don’t travel indefinitely. Eventually, after some amount of “getting it out of their systems”, most people settle down somewhere, put down roots, hang out with their friends, maybe have a family, and build a life. Now, I do believe that building a life can mean a lot of different things, and it doesn’t have to be one where you have deep roots in one place. But for me, after traveling for a while I start to crave the normalcy, routine, and old favourites that I left behind. I miss being able to see the people I love in person, our favourite dive bar, my yoga studio, the coffee shops I felt comfortable in, and the bagel shop that I would sometimes start my day with. 

As I’m settling into a new city, where I’ll be for three months, I feel itchy. I’m desperately craving places where I feel like I belong. After three months of traveling, unpacking my backpack feels great, but I’ve been here for three weeks and I don’t feel grounded. I know there’s potential here, and I know it takes time to meet people and get to know a place, but it’s this feeling that makes me want to just pick a place and root down deep. 

The trouble is, I don’t know which lifestyle I’m built for. When I lived in a place where I could’ve rooted down, I felt restless. And now that I’m completely free from ties, I feel aimless and alone. Maybe I’m not built for either. But then, what do I do? 

This feeling of restlessness and searching for purpose and belonging is in no way limited to traveling. I know that many people my age are struggling with these feelings too, and I’m pretty sure these feelings don’t magically go away when you reach some milestone either. So I’d love to hear from anyone with advice in resolving their conflicting desires for adventure and belonging, or about making friends as an adult, or whatever other advice you want to share. This happiness thing isn’t easy. 

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2 thoughts on “Traveling: feeling that door shut behind you as you wander down the unlit hallway of your life

  1. Hey Delaney….I just finished reading your piece and what I think I hear from the tone in your blog is your internal yearning that presents itself to some of us no matter what we are doing or who we are with. It seems to be one of the ironies of human existence that even when we are living our dream….whether that is being in a desired relationship, being in a desired occupation/employment situation, travelling the world, etc., we feel hollow and unsatisfied somehow. The deeply held belief we seem to have that SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE is living the ideal life plagues and mocks us at every junction and I think herein lies some opportunity for discovery…or at least it has for me. I have dug deep to examine some of my core beliefs…and tried to test them out against my lived experience and discovered that the problem, if it truly is a problem, is with the thoughts and beliefs I have built up. Feeling lonely and disconnected I have found that getting quiet and still, or getting out into the natural world is restorative. It does not resolve the “problem”, but it reminds me that I am never truly alone and am part of something so immense that I can seldom hold on to the awareness. It also reminds me that I need to get a lot more comfortable with ambiguity (or maybe a better term would be duality) and recognize that if I did not know loneliness and disconnection, then I would not recognize or appreciate, the true gifts of sangha, family and connection that have been part of my experience. Every time I feel some emotional reaction, most especially the ones I perceive to be negative or unacceptable, it reminds me that I can only have this “feeling” because I have knowledge of its’ opposite.
    I increasingly come to believe that no matter what pithy wisdom others impart, I
    often choose to discount, accept or reject it as not part of MY narrative. Sadly, it seems we must all journey to enlightenment alone. It is a solitary undertaking this self awareness path, but I take great comfort in the certain awareness that there are plenty of other brave and wounded souls like you and I, walking a parallel path . Though we cannot see them, there is a deep and lasting connection that at least in part seems to come from common shared human experience.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Catherine. I think you’re so right in everything that you said. I know that beneath what I’m feeling now is the hope or assumption that someone or something separate from myself will make me happy, or at least give me that missing piece that I think I can’t provide for myself. I know this can’t be true, because if it is, I know I’ll never be happy. As long as I’m looking outside myself for fulfilment I’ll always be dependent, seeking love and support that I’ll always fear will leave even if I have it. This belief is definitely something I want to work on rewriting for myself, and where I think yoga and the wisdom of people like you have a lot to contribute.

      Part of what I love about keeping a blog is hearing from someone that something I’m feeling or experiencing has resonated with them, and feeling our parallel paths connect at unexpected moments. It helps me remember that no matter how alone or sad I might feel, it’s only momentary, and that I’m far less alone than I think. It reminds me of a Mad Men quote I love, which goes something like, “The only thing keeping you from being happy is the belief that you are alone.” Maybe part of experiening the ups and downs of life is just meant to help us connect with others. Have you seen the movie “Inside Out”? Part of its message is about how experiencing sadness helps develop our own empathy, which allows us to connect with others. I love it. You’re helping me see the silver lining in these experiences, Catherine! Thank you 🙂

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