The Curse Of The Traveler

Filed Under: Travel

I first shared this over four years ago, but I think it’s worth posting again. I saw someone reference it today on Facebook, and had to go back and read that post, and was in as much amazement having read it the hundredth time as I was when I read it for the first time.

I read every comment posted on this blog, and sometimes they just leave me speechless. That applies in both a good and bad way.

Take this comment, for example (thanks to Google, I seem to be an authority on moving to Bellevue, WA):

I found this page and it may be a bit old, but I was thinking of moving from San Diego, CA to Kirkland, WA. I have a friend up there who is willing to let me live with him for $200 a month (i don’t have to worry about rent until i get myself stable enough to pay rent). How much would you recommend me saving up before moving.

But then there are some actually profound comments that I read over and over again, and I can’t help but just think “wow, that’s deep.”

Being able to see the world is great, though I think many people can relate to some feeling of loneliness that arises from it. Years ago reader DJ left the following comment on a post, which just sums up that emotion so beautifully:

An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that’s perfect (we all know there’s no Shangri-La), but just for a place that’s “just right for you.” But the curse is that the odds of finding “just right” get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.

Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can’t travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you’ve seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while.

None of this is to suggest that one should ever reduce travel. It’s just a warning to young Travelers, to expect, as part of the price, a rich life tinged with a bit of sadness and loneliness, and angst that’s like the same nostalgia everyone feels for special parts of their past, except multiplied by a thousand.

While I’m sure this applies to us all in different ways, there’s no denying that it’s incredibly profound. Thanks for sharing, DJ!

  1. Lucky, this is one of the main reasons I read your blog. Having you post this kind of diverse content along with everything else.

  2. DJ’s comment is very accurate in many ways. I have had many of the same feelings. There is one way that travelling to the same places becomes totally new. Whenever I take my SO, family or friends to a place that I have been, that place becomes a new experience for me. Introducing people to new places and things allows me to see things through their eyes. It adds another dimension to travel.
    As I get closer to retirement, I have to make careful choices as to where I can spend my soon to be limited, travel funds. Less trips to places that I have been before, more once-in-a-lifetime trips. So, I have to visit places with the idea, that I probably will never go back.

  3. This is why it is so totally amazing to have FCQ to travel with. The more we travel together, the stronger our bond. You need to find your very own FCQ, although I’m not sure the world has room for more than one! 🙂

  4. I second @JohnB’s comment. There is no greater joy than traveling with my teenage daughters to places I’ve been (and sometimes not) and seeing the world through their eyes.

    When you eventually find “the one”, and are able to revisit some of these amazing places and experience it with them, it becomes new all over again. Additionally you realize that you can often go to the same place as before, but experience it in a whole new and much richer way when you’re with someone you truly care about.

  5. Man, this is sums pretty much how I’ve been feeling this past couple of years. Especially since my limited resources have become a burden o make any sort of travel. I just want to tell you how privileged I feel to have found your blog and get to experience traveling a little bit through every single one of your posts. Countless times I’ve been daydreaming about making trips the way you do in the hopes that one day I will have the chance to do it again. Thanks man, from the bottom of my heart.

  6. Part B really hits home. So many amazing people I’ve met in my travels that I will probably never come across again but will never forget.

  7. Wow, great stuff!

    A life of travel often makes you feel like you are in a alternative dimension/reailty, the more you see of the world, the more detached from it you become at the same time.

  8. When I was traveling constantly in my 20s (either working as a tour guide in the Canadian Rockies and Alaska, on cruise ships in the Caribbean and Europe, or backpacking through central and South America, stopping for months in a single location to learn Spanish and Portuguese), my friend said it best:

    “People here at home need us wandering the world. As our friends and family sit in their offices, or waiting tables or taking finals, or cooking dinner, they’ll slip into a daydream, thinking of our postcards and stories of the interesting places and fascinating people we’ve met, and they’ll smile, imagining themselves in places they know they’ll never visit, and doing things they know they’ll never do. We are aspiration. We are their dreams.”

  9. I read this post when it was originally posted but I visit and revisit this post every so often to read the poem. True yet sad….

    Still looking for my traveling companion…..

  10. Only Just now came across the term ‘Traveler’s curse’, Googled it and and your post was first. I travelled through 45 countries the past 4 years (of course fueled by points) and kept looking for more and/or better. I was under this curse. Worse, subconsciously was increasingly dissatisfied with home and needed escape again. I’ll still travel, but at least I’m now self aware of this ‘curse’.

  11. I feel like DJ is viewing it through the wrong lens.

    In my experience that is true, but I also find places that continually delight and surprise me in unexpected ways. Part of being an adult is knowing that things are inherently imperfect, and finding beauty within that. And like DJ, while he can get to know himself more, and few places are apt to fit all of his criteria, its about prioritizing the things that he aligns with.

    Long term relationships in travel can be cultivated, but many people neglect to cultivate them. That’s why I strive to encourage home-travel balance, because many people forget the beauties and wonders of BOTH – for a while, every time I hit a new place, I wouldn’t be excited anymore and that’s when I knew I had to recalibrate. There was no longer any point being on the road. There was a great Atlantic article a while back about how special experiences were more apt to make a person feel lonely than connected, but I think we should accept the things for the way they are, and its half of the reason why the world does bedazzle us in splendor and surprise, that we should appreciate it all that much more. <3

  12. @Eric
    “People here at home need us wandering the world. As our friends and family sit in their offices, or waiting tables or taking finals, or cooking dinner, they’ll slip into a daydream, thinking of our postcards and stories of the interesting places and fascinating people we’ve met, and they’ll smile, imagining themselves in places they know they’ll never visit, and doing things they know they’ll never do. We are aspiration. We are their dreams.”

    Beautiful. Bears repeating.

  13. Traveling gains you knowledge. So do women, similarly. Each experience takes a part of you. In exchange you become wiser. Once you’ve tasted a thousand wines… one is not enough.

    The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
    Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
    Proverbs 4:7

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