The Curse Of The Traveler

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.

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.

I’m sure it’s a feeling many of you can relate to, and it’s always a good reminder!

Comments

  1. Great comment. In my experience that’s more applicable to leisure travel, which I think most people would agree with. I travel all over the US for work and barely have time to look around and soak in the sights of a new city.

    Personally I find that comment very applicable to my Navy days spent in Japan. Traveled all over the place, met some interesting people, have great memories but the only person back home who can relate to all that is my friend Bobby, who by chance served on the ship with me and happens to live not too far away.

  2. I agree as well. Having traveled for work for 15+ years it’s not nearly as glamorous or fun as going on “vacation” a couple of times a year. I’m glad I no longer travel for work. I’ve made some really good friends living in other countries and one couple I see regularly, albeit in other vacation spots. So it’s good we get to travel to the same locations and share those experiences.

  3. 200% agreed here. Luckily i’m not in that situation yet, but I’ve personally seen cases of jetsetting social butterflies that have “friends” in every town, but when push comes to shove, can’t even find 1 single shoulder to lean on.

  4. Totally agree with this. Have hundreds of “friendships” that were great but only lasted a few days.

    With social media, I’ve been able to “friend” and keep in touch with many, but as time passes on those usually fizzle out as well.

    It is a lonely activity but wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  5. I disagree completely and I don’t think this is relatable to most people on this site.

    I’m sure this “curse” only applies to bums (i.e. the vagabond in the story) or those very few people who travel and sightsee for a living (like Lucky).

    Those who travel extensively for work are a totally separate entity and aren’t interested in soaking up the cities to which they travel. they hit their meetings and get out.

    The rest of us are grinding it out at work and saving up for vacations as permitted. I would bet that most of us have a permanent home with a family and a group of close friends.

    Travelling the world “looking” for a perfect place to live is the definition of a nomad, roamer, wanderer, or vagabond (credit to Metallica). Unless you are set for life or can monetize a travel blog, most of us have to live where we can make a good living. With a steady job comes more profound relationships and chance to start a family.

  6. I think you missed it @Vijay .. This is why he put the curse of a traveler, not the curse of a wannabe traveler(nothing wrong with wanting to be). You thinking you have to be set for life or monetize a website proves that you aren’t in that group.

  7. This article hasn’t been my experience. The richness I have found in so many places stays in my heart, the people and landscapes and animals continuing to fill me even if the relationships were short-lived. Much of that richness I have been able to share with my wife, and that makes it even more palpable and touching. And just as importantly, even the moments of loneliness have been filled with treasures…the singular meals at wonderful restaurants with a good book which I often look up from to really see the other patrons, and/or talk to the service staffs about their lives; the day in a rural town in China 20 years ago, where the citizens viewed my lone Western face first with suspicion and then with apathy, and in turn I got to feel the energy of their daily lives; the tour guide in Indonesia who cried on my shoulder about the turmoil her country was then going through; the vibrant commentary in Buenos Aires’ stunningly beautiful street graffiti; the openness on a gorilla’s face unvarnished by the shields we humans often use to hide our own, the infinite color and gorgeous chaos of hundreds of macaws circling a salt lick in Ecuador…the list goes on, and I am grateful.

  8. As with the others who expressed their dissent:
    when I read this 4 years ago (also from Lucky’s post) I thought it was true. Now I don’t think it is.

    If you think of travelling as taking things, reading part of a book, then you may think you can read it all. But if you think of it as exploration, you can never finish it. There is always amazing new things to discover even in the same old places.

  9. never seen anything that condensed my feeling better.
    literally finished forcing myself to take 3 months off traveling and developed some local roots, yet now I am booked for a trip next month. People who hops on the same 8:30 bus 5 days a week will never understand the beauty of unknown days ahead, but I am so jealous about simple, easy lives. Annoyed so many folks “force-feeding” them stories, and realized I am as ignorant in human relations as they are in Antarctic fauna, and one of them is more useful. But travelers carry on, it is just the burden of the road, the cost of freedom.

  10. Vijay, good insight. This is one of my criticisms of this site and others like the points guy. They write travel reviews for work whereas real business travelers travel to work. There is a marked difference between arriving at a destination for meetings (non-travel related) versus leisure tourism masquerading as market research. We travel out of pure necessity not because it’s fashionable. Anyone who travels for work is probably the opposite of lonely because they are constantly dealing with people either at airports, visiting customers / team members or emails. Yes, it’s very common for business travelers to just go back to their hotel rooms and enjoy their precious moments of free time before working on emails. If you live in a big city, you will find other people that have similar experiences traveling so I don’t think you will have trouble relating to other people. Perhaps this is good advice for a trust fund baby without any path in life. Just my opinion.

  11. I can totally relate to this, even when I was younger!

    When I was a teenager my mother had to do her residency and fellowships for training to become a doctor. She got her residency for 4 years and did them in Tampa, Florida. After those 4 years she had 4 more fellowships (long story) and so for 4 years straight I lived in a different city every year. That was really hard for me and I did this through 6th-10th grade. All the time I would feel lonely and I could never fully relate to anyone since no one had gone through what I had, no one had seen what I saw. At the beginning i would tell stories and people would love to hear them. They would actually ask me to explain more (I was shocked). Then eventually everyone’s interest dies down and now I know when to tell them and not go a bit overboard. I made many friends throughout those years and as much as I wanted them back I knew that they had moved on and so should I.

    I had to learn all of this the hard way, so I hope no one else has to. These are really truthful words and DJ has stated them perfectly!

  12. I don’t think I’m looking for the perfect place anymore, but I seem to keep falling in love with more places as I continue to travel. And I absolutely love those 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. visits to the places that I have fallen for. None of these are the ideal place for me to live, but all of them have their own strong allure that keeps me coming back. The only problem is, of course, that there’s limited time and money to keep going back to these places while also working on my list of new places I want to visit. But I believe this is what people call a “first world problem.”

  13. This post made me do some soul searching. I’ve flown first class a hundred times thanks to my mother working for the airlines. I just want one ultimate ride in ultra long haul first class and then focus on settling down while I’m still young. I can go the rest of my life being obsessed with flying but I ’m tired of being alone.

  14. Ben

    Happy Thanksgiving from Riyadh.
    By myself again for the 4th year in a row.
    Being on the road for 250 days per year is getting old
    and yes I agree with Gene; my kingsize bed at home is indeed
    very flat.

  15. I’ve had two different thoughts reading this.

    1. Anthony Bourdain came to mind. RIP.

    2. I clicked back to that original post and it just reminded me of how far you’ve come and how much of your personality you’ve had to somewhat tone down for the already stupid public. I used to love your memes and real house wife gifs. Although you don’t post it I hope that’s still how you are on the other side of these screens because that Ben is the one that’s been getting me to follow this blog daily for over six years.

    In saying that I guess I’d ask you how you might feel about this quote since you have a husband and your in a lot different place in your life than you were four years ago?

  16. Loneliness, or the feeling of loneliness, most of the times is a state of mind. Loneliness in general is getting more and more a problem within our modern society. And maybe because of it.

    People that travel for work can get lonely. People that travel for leasure, can get lonely. Even people traveling together – as a couple – can get lonely.

    Life is a lonely adventure. You start alone and you will end it alone. So embrace all the warmth and all the friends and all the good that you meet along the way. Whether it’s for a longer period of time, or just for the duration of a (night) flight.

  17. While the bit about relationships rings true (I’m sure many people I still miss don’t remember I even exist by now!), the rest is dependent on your mindset – it’s not just a “traveller” thing.

    I’m constantly traveling the world, but not to look for the “perfect place” (which simply cannot exist), just to experience it. The only “downside” in my normal life is becoming slightly numb to many experiences. E.g. after seeing Niagara/Victoria/Iguazu Falls etc, the local waterfall doesn’t impress me as much as most of my friends any more!

  18. Lucky should the tribespeople face American justice or are they right according to their own customs:

    ttps://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/21/world/asia/american-killed-andaman-island-tribe.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

  19. This is well articulated but so far my experience has been different. I’ve met a lot of amazing people all over the world. Many of them have become my friends, some of them are just a fond memory (a former Parisan ballerina running a bar in San Juan, a Nobel prize winner from Belarus or a former Madam of the first semi-official brothel in Cyprus selling lottery tickets at the seaside in Larnaca, just to name a few). All of them have made my life more interesting and taught me something. I hope I have many more people to meet and places to discover but even now I can honestly say that I’ve had an amazing life and traveling made it that way.

  20. Leaving relationships aside, I don’t relate to part A at all. I live to travel, it’s what I value most in my life. I am never searching for Shangri-La or on some quest to find a “perfect place” where I keep coming up short the more I travel. In fact, for me it’s the opposite– I want to find non-perfect places that I’ve never been. I crave novelty. A landscape I’ve never seen, a language I’ve never heard, a train I’ve never ridden, a culture I’ve never experienced. I’m not on a quest to find a place that’s “just right” for me– the opposite, I *want* to feel uncomfortable, out of my element, “just wrong”, if you will. The more different, the better.

  21. Left home for traveling the world on my own nineteen years ago when I was twelve. 160+ countries later, still in search for that place where I belong.

  22. Thanks for sharing this, Lucky. This really pulled some heartstrings for me. I’ve been reading OMAAT for 7+ years and I vaguely remember this post when I first got bit by the travel bug after my sophomore year in college. Back then, I probably dismissed it as I was still in the honeymoon period of travel. Now, some 4 years later with some 65 countries under my belt, I find it truly difficult to get as excited about a place as I once was. Earlier this year, a bunch of my old college friends and I road tripped up to Niagara Falls. I got there and could not have been more underwhelmed — having been to both Victoria Falls and Iguazu Falls in the year prior. As much as I tell myself, there will always be a place more magnificent and awe-inspiring, a part of me also realizes that, as grateful as I am for what I have seen as a 24-year-old, there are some places, experiences, and relationships only I will be able to relate to. And with that, my expectations have tempered significantly as well. Thank you for bringing this back to light.

  23. @Lucky – I agree with William.
    I love looking back at old posts and seeing your personality! I also love watching your youtube videos since it puts a face behind all of the things we readers have learned about you. I love all the stuff you would include about in your posts and the words just describe you more as a human (well, as human as you can be while going around the world in a week with like 10 layovers 😉 )!

  24. I’m going to have to join the naysayers. While occasionally I travel for business, almost all of the 18 countries and 36 cities I’ve visited over the past three years were mostly for pleasure.

    I consider myself an explorer and never a tourist when I travel. And I enjoy more than anything losing myself to whatever culture I have the opportunity to explore. I enjoy the moment, the days or weeks in whatever country and enjoy it for just that, seeking nothing more than what I receive in that moment. I’ve met some amazing people, many of whom I stay informed about their lives through Facebook or Instagram. Just because I don’t know when I’ll return to their country doesn’t mean the moments I shared with them is lost forever.

    As far as finding that one perfect place, I’m fortunate to have found it in the country of Spain, the country I’ve now visited the most. Every time I leave an airport, whether in Barcelona or in Madrid, I always feel a sense that I’m coming home. If I ever disappear from the US (with no foul play suspected, of course), my family and friends would be wise to look for me in Spain.

    We don’t always have to extend the wonderful experiences we have when we travel forever. Some people are not meant to be in your life forever. Some people only exist for that one moment you shared together, which will live forever in memory. And sometimes, that’s just enough.

    My two cents

  25. You don’t have to agree for this post to be right and your disagreement doesn’t make it wrong. Some people may have never left their home and some people may have have hardly known a home. But they may never switch places with the other.

  26. @chris –

    This entire article and our comments irevolve around advice from a “vagabond”. Please look up the word before telling me I missed the point.

    My point is you can have both a fulfilling settled life and be well travelled without making such major sacrifices as described.

    I’m blessed to be able to work hard, provide for my family and at the same time, use the tips on this site to maximize the luxury of our vacations.

    I’d much rather be in my “wannabe traveler” shoes than yours.

  27. @Boonie: re Anthony Bourdain (and some others that went a similar road)…

    People that want to put an end to their lives, most of the times they want to put an end to their problems.

    Unfortunately, by the time the despair and loneliness get so huge, no longer can they distinguish between the two.

  28. I can relate. Growing up in Brazil, going to an international school, going to college in the US, lived in London for a while, & travelled all over, Ive made friends in many countries, who live all over, and yet I feel lonely because im never close to any of them since we’re all scattered. its a blessing to be such a world traveller and world citizen, but it comes with the curse of loneliness and not having that tight friend group and community that all live down the street from each other.

    i will disagree with his first point though. I dont think the more u travel, the worse it gets to find a perfect place. i have found my perfect place, and just enjoy the other new ones i visit. sounds more like a personal problem of the guy than a general curse of a traveler.

  29. A bit OT but not completely: next year the international IFOTES congres (udine-2019.ifotes.org/en) will be about ‘Modern Loneliness’.

    As a speaker I am preparing a 30 minutes talk on ‘loneliness’, as we see especially among people between 20 and 40/50 years old.

    If someone here would like to share some insight/input/experience on this subject, please contact me! Thanks!

  30. I have a lot to say about this. I worry about Lucky, but he just loves to be in a plane. I don’t want to see it all like some have. I wonder what then would I do. As a child, we used to go to my uncle’s beach house a few states away . We had little and always had to wait for an invitation. They had no children so invited us often. The smell of the ocean breeze….. Everything about being there was magical and a privilege. Every moment was awesome doing some shenanigans with my bro at the beach or watching break dancers. My sister was a beauty so we’d get free candy at the store when she was with us. The OC in the eighties. Then they sold it and moved on with their lives. I grew up. I started to travel. I luckily figured out early enough not to be a vagabond. Meeting a spouse takes time. Keeping one does too. I learned a long time ago no one cares where you’ve been so I don’t bother.

  31. What an amazing comment. It is very true but I would not trade my travel experiences for anything in the world.

  32. Thanks for posting this; it’s so very true! Also true if you’re someone who’s moved around quite a bit during your life. Very well put and I can totally relate.

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