Make a journey, typically of some length or abroad.
Okay, this definition is quite general. But what about the definition of journey?
An act of traveling from one place to another.
Great, so that’s just as ambiguous.
From the definitions above, travel or a journey could be as mundane as taking a step from my left to my right. Words can mean many things in many contexts.
But ‘travel’ has a specific use that carries a lot of weight. That part of the definition above that goes “of some length or abroad.” It has the connotation of traveling many miles, over unknown lands, outside my country of origin. This definition is accompanied by phrases such as “I love to travel,” “Travel is a passion of mine,” and “I haven’t traveled in a while.”
The tales featuring heroes and legends who travel great distances through many lands are epics. And this tradition, started millennia ago, is something we grow familiar with while growing up. We hear the amazing feats of Hercules and Odysseus, along with the fantastic places they venture through. In many ways, these experiences are rights of passage.
I’m guessing the connotation I hold of traveling is largely shaped by these epics, and other, more recent stories. The Redwall saga and The Lord of the Rings are two series which immediately come to mind. My love of mountains stemmed from reading the tales which happened around Salamandastron, Orodruin, and the Misty Mountains.
It’s also these stories which lead me to wonder what the world’s like, what adventures it holds, and how I can get there. And this wondering grew into more than curiosity. I had the itch to explore, to see new places, and to leave everything behind.
Not everyone needs the experience of traveling or living abroad, but some do. Those people will likely already know. They won’t be able to get it out of their head or heart. What if they never did it? The what-ifs would eternally nag.
This urge can be called the travel bug, or wanderlust. Travel bug is reminiscent of a sickness. It might strongly grip you for a time, but will eventually work itself out of your system. Maybe you come down with it several times during your life, but it’s not the normal state of affairs.
Wanderlust is a word we’ve borrowed from German.
It’s the fanciful thought that anywhere else is better than here. A grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side situation. It’s obsession with the idea that being somewhere different will make you happier. It’s the dream of grand places and cities and sceneries and adventures that will forever elude you in your current place. That you’ll stumble upon some deep insight or creative energy.
It’s the feeling that you are not home, and that you’ll find it in the course of your journeys. The feeling that the world is so large and there are so many experiences you’re missing out on unless you get out there. It’s the wondering what it’s like to live a different life. The opportunity to start over. That you’ll find yourself out there, because your true self sure as hell isn’t here.
The lust portion is amazingly accurate. It’s an unquenchable longing for finding yourself, discovering the answers to life, and experiencing more than you could dream. It’s seeking out change because you’re unhappy, and the cure is just over the horizon. It’s when the internal locus-of-control gets flipped to an external one. We haven’t lead ourself to happiness through internal means, but maybe it’s out there in the world, waiting for us, and we just need to wander off, meet it, and seduce it.
So you romanticize this idea of a fresh start in a total alien place for a few weeks or months. You’ve heard rumor of other people doing this, and you’re jealous. What have they experienced that you’ve missed? You deserve it too, goddamnit. The lust compels you.
You’re not grounded in reality with these dreams, because you’ve never experienced traveling before. And maybe you’re inexperienced in life, so that you imagine that yours is the only place that has issues: is full of rude people, lacks excitement, and has gum stuck all over the sidewalks.
You get to the magical shores of elsewhere, and everything is golden-hued and silver-lined. There are many fantastic experiences to be had by stepping outside your comfort zone; experiencing different cultures, cuisines, and countries.
Shortly thereafter you get caught in the rain with no umbrella; or you miss a connecting train and have to figure out the alternatives, without speaking the native language; or you are sweating like mad from the temperature and humidity.
You see that there’s great wonder there, but also great similarity to where you came from. Things aren’t perfect. There are weird people, funky smells, and the weather has its spells. You realize how many little things are different here. Not better; just different. Even ordering a drink for a meal is a learning experience. Any stress, anxiety, or unhappiness hasn’t fallen away. It came over with you on the flight and snuck through customs.
You visit as many exhibits, museums, attractions, restaurants, cafes, bars, and plazas as you can. You take more pictures than what should be humanly possible. You’re able to brainstorm and note insights for your projects, but the creative clarity, focus, and productivity hasn’t shown up like you expected it to. Being surrounded by such novelty and submerged in the unfamiliar takes energy. Everything’s a learning experience, which is draining.
You realize the trip won’t last forever, which, in turn, causes you anxiety. So you try to appreciate the hell out of it.
Eventually you’re back. You see the many ways that there is different from here. You appreciate some familiar, yet comforting, meals. You’ve got stories to tell. Those fond memories are yours, and you’ll remember them for the rest of your life.
Maybe the travel bug will get you a couple more times. You won’t be able to get the lustful notion of adventuring out of your head. And off you’ll go, gallivanting and jet-setting to some new locale. With each additional exposure, you’ll realize that while the world around you changes, you don’t seem to. Well, you can change, but it’s not the world that changes you. It’s your perception of the world that’s key.
You’ll notice there are interesting and nice things to do everywhere. You don’t have to be somewhere foreign to feel alive. You’ll notice it’s nice to have “boring”, typical weeks, where you’re not cramming an entire guidebook’s worth of experiences into your life. There are plenty of times when you could be frustrated, or angry, or confused, or pissed off, at home or abroad.
Ah, you just used the word home again to refer to where you started. How’d that happen? The slow realization that it wasn’t such a bad place. It’s nice to have a home, isn’t it? It’s nice to have roots. It’s good to fit in some place and have it be easy to navigate the social cues, understand what others say around you, and know whether you’re supposed to ask for the bill or not when you’re out to eat.
Home is where the heart is, but the heart has to learn what that means, what it feels like. All places, cities, and countries are similar in ways. The world may change, but the one constant is you. No single place is going to make you happy. You have to learn to be happy, regardless of where you are.
And you notice the lust has subsided. It’s out of your system. You’re still interested in exploring what the world has to offer, but you don’t travel lustfully or greedily. Your happiness isn’t an X on a map. You’re not checking off boxes on a list. The world doesn’t owe you anything. You don’t romanticize the sense of fulfillment that some different place - anywhere else - will give you.
I’m both happy and fortunate to have taken the journeys I have. But, in the course of those travels, I’ve learned that it’s nice to be home. Additionally, I look forward to my future adventures, with this new perspective. I’ll appreciate the experience, but I won’t demand serendipity.
Let the lust fade and you’ll find a sustainable passion.