So much of traveling is about moving from place to place.
Especially when I only have a short time to travel, it can feel like a huge chunk of time is spent just going from city to city. These times of transition can be exhausting or exciting, depending on my state of mind.
The transition part of travel is a big part of the appeal for me. I love the sense of newness and unexpectedness when I arrive someplace new.
As I write, I am two hours into a 5-hour bus ride from Zagreb to Budapest. In Budapest I’ll take a 3-hour flight to Madrid and then I’ll have an 11-hour overnight layover in Terminal 4 (where there are some great lounge chairs, apparently). I’m grateful my flight leaves from there tomorrow at 10:55am.
I’ve been thinking a lot of about running recently. Not the athletic kind; but running as it relates to long-term travel.
When I travel for more than a month without a volunteer or work opportunity to break it up, it starts to feel like I’m on a meaningless, monotonous hamster wheel. I feel constantly in motion, but not in a good way. I love to explore new places and meet new people, but I also feel a bit lost. Belonging nowhere, and sometimes feeling aloof and detached because of it.
When I travel in a way where I am moving every few days, it feels like a continuous state of not being present. Specifically, when I am in transit – on a bus, train, plane or car – it is the most difficult to be present and happy with who I am. I am ruminating about the place I’ve left – did I stay long enough? Did I see everything? Did I leave anything at the hostel? My mind might also be focused on where I’m going – what I will eat when I get there? Will my hostel be inviting or not? Will I meet friendly travelers there?
It is especially hard to be present during times of transition.
It’s so easy to be elsewhere, anywhere but where I am.
Right now I’m thinking about bits and pieces from my 8 months abroad. I spent a semester abroad in Melbourne, 6 weeks working in Poland, a week visiting friends in Germany, and then a week traveling solo up the Croatian coastline.
Why is it that the most time I spent with any Australians wasn’t during my semester abroad but instead during the past weekend in Zagreb? Why did I spend my time abroad with so many Americans? Did I do everything I set out to do? Did I make the most of the experience?
What did I learn while working in Poland? Did I feel like my co-workers were “my people”? Those 5 weeks were challenging but I realized how good I am at keeping my cool during tricky, stressful situations. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not quite sure.
After Poland came Berlin. I hadn’t seen my friend there since we met and traveled together in New Zealand. We had an awesome two days sightseeing, eating vegan burgers, and I fell in love with Berlin.
Then? Shwerin, Germany – a combination of buses and trains brought me a whirlwind 24 hours at a motor camp to see one of my best friends. Hectic at the time, but totally worth it.
A day later I flew to Dubrovnik, Croatia and was finally able to feel the cogs turning in my mind. I needed some alone time.
Next came two days exploring the hectic yet beautiful port of Dubrovnik. I barely talked to anyone during my week-long stay in the coastal town of Zadar. So much hamster-wheeling (i.e. moving around) had left me feeling disconnected and in need of some quiet time.
I settled into the calmness of the sea, waking up late, and overdosing on books and cappuccinos.
But at the same time, family, friends, consistency, the mountains, and my beloved cat had been far away for 8 months.
Sitting on this bus, I am looking back. And I am looking forward to beyond-elated feeling of coming home.
The passage of time does weird things to me. It makes me sad, happy, nervous, excited, and not knowing what to expect. Getting older is scary, and seeing everyone around me get older puts me off balance.
It is not so easy to be in the moment when I am in transit. I think reflection is massively important, but it is also much needed to practice being in the now. I think many others struggle to be present, in a variety of life circumstances.
For now, though, I am trying practicing the art of being right here. I listen to my Tim Ferriss podcast and stare at the cars streaming by while my bus chugs along in the slow lane. I’m out of cash and I don’t yet know from what Terminal my flight leaves, but I let these worries drift from my brain.
Because if I can’t be present while sitting still, how can I be present when my life seems to be spinning faster than the world?