I want to start off by making two things very clear: first, long-term travel is not itself boring (I’ll get to that); and secondly, I am not ungrateful for the life I am living right now.
That last one is the most important. Yes, I am cataclysmically bored in life right now. Especially since splitting off from my friends from home with whom I spent the better part of the last month travelling with.
Travel is a powerful, life-altering undertaking. It has the ability to teach you new ways to see the world, whether you notice it or not. It helps you understand new emotions, new people, new pain and new joy. That element does not change when you travel long-term–which in my case is now pushing 12 months straight.
But I am bored and unenthusiastic. A combination of poor planning and laziness has created this reality. Let this post not serve as a complaint letter or a pity party, but rather as a collection of lessons I have learned about the long road of travel and what I am going to do to fix it. And if you’re planning a similar trip, perhaps take notes. Or don’t. It’s your life.
Lesson 1: Poor Planning
It wasn’t poor at the start. Improvement is best viewed in hindsight. I began the trip with friends in New Zealand. Though we bickered and argued we also had one great last hurrah before I went off on my own. The next 5 months were like something straight out of the solo backpacker’s guide to the better world. I had no job, no responsibilities, an endless bank account (by South East Asian standards), permanantly great weather and an endless parade of overly sociable people from all around the world enjoying the world much in the same way I was. On top of this, the loose way in which the law is interpreted in South East Asia affords an unprecedented freedom to the citizens of the (more) developed world, where you get a $400 fine for speeding and about as much for not having a concession card on the train.
Contrast to now. After 6 months of lawless carelessness and 9 total months of summer, I find myself city-hopping in Europe. This is a great method of travel for the 1- or 2-month traveller. But 11 months in? It’s outright stupidity. Before the 9- or 10-month mark my travel was based around experiences–set activities–like hitchhiking the UK, walking the road to Santiago in Spain or trekking the Thorung La Pass in Nepal. Now, I’m staying at hostels in cold, dull European cities full of cold, dull people and it’s come at the time when I wouldn’t have otherwise hit the wall. With everything booked now (because New Year period is obscenely overpriced) I’m left to find my own fun in the blandness of a continent that chooses to stop being happy when the first snowflake falls.
Lesson 2: ‘The Same Conversation’
Staying in Hostels in Asia is extraordinary. The people are so compelled to speak to each other that you wouldn’t be crazy to observe that nobody has checked Facebook that day. Staying in hostels in Europe during summer is much the same. But during winter, especially around Christmas time, you generally get two kinds of backpackers making up the bulk of the lot: the local who’s staying a few days for work, and the anti-social laptop-lover who cringes at the utterance of another person’s voice.
‘I made friends in Europe,’ I hear you say. And you’re probably right. But eleven and a half months into a year long trip, you’re no longer just inconvenienced by, but you’re physically repulsed by… THE SAME CONVERSATION. It’s a totally-understandable yet fiercely dissatisfactory social interaction all backpackers face. And it goes a little something like this:
- “Hi, what’s your name?” Forgets the name.
- “Where are you from?” Reply *ironically* with a stereotype about their country.
- “How long are you travelling for?” It’s the first time they’ve heard this one.
- “Where have you been?” Wait for a chance to squeeze in your own experience there.
- “What do you listen to?” And change the conversation when they say crap.
- “What do you do/study?” Reply *ironically* with a stereotype about their area, receive the awkward response and continue to recommend places for the other person to go to while knowing that they will not take any of it to heart.
- “What’s the WiFi password?” And so, the conversation dies until they’re done with dumb videos do something of importance.
- Spend the remainder of the day listening to them read from their Lonely Planet book about what they have permission to see, eat and do in the given location and hope they casually drop their name so you don’t look bad when you forget… just like they have.
The average backpacker means well with this shitty habit, but by this point I can tell when the person on the other end of this torture is going to contribute something of value to my day or whether it’s going to be another painful day of awkward, depthless mini-conversations shared over complaints about prices of stuff and spending that said money we whined about on another useless museum.
I’m tired of making new friends and having them leave 1-3 days later. I have far too many 3-day-friends who I’ll likely not see again for another few years AT LEAST, if not ever! The only thing I’m more tired of than this droning conversation is goodbyes. It is possible to say goodbye too many times in a year.
Lesson 3: Every City Looks the Same
Europe is bloody expensive. The first time, its all sunshine, rainbows and blowing unnecessary money on crap. But with a dwindling bank balance, staying in European cities is about as interesting as listening to AM radio… good for the easily impressed.
99% of European cities have the same menu for you to choose from when you arrive:
- Old Cathedral regardless of your religious creed!
- City Hall with nothing to see or do inside.
- Art Gallery with unimpressive contemporary art.
- Museum to some famous person that was born in, but didn’t live in, that city!
- Shopping Precinct with 20 McDonalds and 21 H&M’s. So local!
- River tours with dinner and a show.
- Historical House or field where historical house was before the war.
- Half-arsed Amusement Park.
- Brewery for a sub-par, yet mainstream beer.
- Farmers Markets!!!!
- Architecture. For this one you don’t need to know anything about architecture. Just look at old stuff and say to the other person with you that the architecture is so so good!
Which is all well and good the first 20-30 times, then you find yourself in a cafe on your computer (surprisingly not unlike the antisocialites in Europe’s hostels) writing a blog so people at home can know how much of an eloquently-worded douche you can be when you’re bored. Alas.
The final lines of Paul Kelly’s epic backpacker comedy song ‘Every Fucking City’ perfectly encapsulates the plight of the jaded backpacker in Europe and it has never been more true.
Now I’m in a restaurant in Stockholm
And the waiter here wants me to know his name
But I can order sandwiches in seven different languages
And every fucking city looks the same.
Arrivederci, au revoir, auf Wiedersehen, hasta la vista…. baby
Yeah, every fucking city’s just the same
Lesson 4: Hard Work
Plain and simple, travelling for a year is being unemployed for a year. And to be honest, its not rewarding to be always spending. I want to go back to work and earn my money again, to contribute something however small it is. I want to run again. I want to get back to my hobbies.
The Way Home
With my return date to Australia set for 13 days from the date, all my doubts and woes are largely irrelevant. And yet its the part of the year I have felt the force of homesickness the most. Travel is beautiful, and I am still enjoying it make no mistake. But where my body and mind are in one place, my head is in another.
After my last blog post, someone told me to shut up and be grateful because it was raining at home. They weren’t wrong, but gratitude was not the issue. It was my own planning that killed it. I still wake up every evening with a big smile on my face and it never feels out of place.
I’m often reminded of how much I am going to miss travelling when I get home. Firstly, that’s a great reason to go travelling again in the near future, but secondly, I’m now learning (in places I don’t really care too much for) that you can find the change you seek while travelling at home. Because setting does not matter as much as letting your thoughts, opinions, emotions, friends, activities, occupations and personal hang-ups change. And you can do that anywhere with an open mind.
Until next time I’ll be loving my life, reigning in the New Year alone in Berlin (for my sixth visit this year). Because if there’s one thing I know to be more true than anything else in this post, it’s that it is impossible to be bored in Berlin.
Happy New Year and may your resolutions be as successful as your last ones!