I dropped my bags down in front of reception, trying to find the enthusiasm to smile back at the receptionist waiting to check me in. She beamed at me as she punched in my passport information into the computer, asking me where I've been on this trip. What people have I met; what adventures I have been part of.
All I could do was play with the clicker pen she gave me, and looking at the clock over her should, I thought about how in just five more minutes I would be in my bunk bed watching Netflix. I wasn't the most interesting traveler she got to talk to that day.
I have now been traveling somewhere around three years, seven months at a time. In the beginning of my trip I was full of excitement. It was time to visit all of those places I've only seen in movies. I would get to walk down cobblestone streets, eat pastry breakfasts in wiry cafe chairs, and race across a continent in the seat of a train. I would grow, learn new things about myself, and challenge myself out of my comfort zone. I would figure out who I was, and learn to love the person I was becoming. In a way, that all did happen. But like all things that you over-indulge in (chocolates, shoes, family-size bags of Lays chips,) you start to forget why you craved it in the first place.
Rather than finding the magic of the cities I have been visiting, they all started to blur together. And rather than uncovering new things about myself and figuring out the person I want to grow into, I started to get deeper and deeper into my shell. I talked less, I didn't know how to look at people on the street, I got embarrassed when I had to ask for help, and I just felt permanently exhausted.
The thing with traveling is that you make a thousand micro-connections a month. You will meet loads of people in hostels, you will chat on bus trips, you'll connect with people during tours, and you're constantly surrounded by potential friends.
This can be great, especially considering you'll meet some of the most beautiful people while traveling. But it also means that you turn into the dinner-party-version of yourself. You always have to be smiling, you're always entertaining and sharing stories, you're constantly trying to make friends and have people connect with you — and when you can't make those connections happen, you feel down. You wonder why people don't like you. You wonder why you don't have that magnetism that makes people want to stick around. You hear your dorm mates make dinner plans and leave without you; you see groups of people sitting around the courtyards of the hotel, laughing at each other's jokes the way they never laugh at yours. You see hugs, phone number exchanges, and friendships being forged. All while you're on the outside, looking in. And maybe you could be part of that, too, but after always being "on" for months at a time, you don't have the social energy to open yourself up.
And you start falling down a bad hole.
You begin to want to be alone more, as to protect yourself from those crummy thoughts. You still love traveling and visiting new cities, but not having a base begins to chip away at you. Being a nomad is romantic until you start feeling like the foundation for the beautiful person you started to become begins to crumble.
Rather than finding myself, I began to lose myself. I second guessed every interaction; I became sad when good friends would stop texting back after we went our separate ways; and I was suspicious of "lads" on holidays who were overly friendly with me.
With all that movement, there wasn't much time to think and analyze; to have some introspection and dissect why I have been feeling so beige. I was always running, and because of it I was too exhausted to figure out how to stop.
And that's when I realized: I didn't have to be on the move to learn about myself. I didn't have to buy tickets in order to give myself the chance to push outside of my boundaries. It's not the outside factors that jump-start those inner conversations. Instead, the work needs to be done on the inside. And when traveling becomes an escape from reality and a safety hatch to dodge your emotions and problems, then it's time to stop.
I am now more lost than I was before I bought my first plane ticket. The people I've met, places I've seen, and decisions I've made gave me lots to ponder about, and a lot of them have confused me. I've had things stolen, I've had my heart broken, I've been used, I've trusted blindly and was a little naive across a whole slew of cases. But now I have the chance to roll up my sleeves and do the hard work in figuring out how to get out of this emotional rut I fell into, and I'm looking forward to that heavy lifting.
Because traveling isn't only about the positive changes — it's also a chance to experience the ugly, and see how you look when you make it out on the other side.