It hit me, really hit me, when I was sitting along the Seine. I had had a perfectly pleasant day which included going to see the new Batman film (co-starring my future husband, JGL), french pastries and pizza (the best foods ever), and a stroll through my favorite area (Montmartre) of my favorite city (Paris). So, there I was, sitting next to the Seine with my two traveling companions and a bottle of wine in view of the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the night sky. That, of all times, is when it hit. The realization that I was exhausted and all I wanted was to hop on a plane back to the States, curl up in my own bed, have a good long cry and sleep. Sleep for a very long time.
Traveling can be exciting. It can be epic. It can be eye-opening and life-changing. But what they don't always tell you is that traveling can be exhausting. Really exhausting.
Every fews days packing up and moving to a new city. New people, new foods, new languages. Every few days searching for a new hitchhiking spot, a new way to get out of the city we just had researched getting to a few days before. Sticking out your thumb, knowing that you could be doing that for the next 30 seconds or the next 3 hours. The same conversations with each lift, the same worries (will I get dropped off in the right place? Will I be able to communicate with them even just the essentials?): the same routine but always different.
After doing that for ten weeks straight, I suppose it's no wonder exhaustion might set it. But no matter how reasonable it is, it's still not enjoyable. And not only because of how it makes me feel but because of how it makes me act. I'm grumpy and short with my co-travelers. I'm less warm, engaging and appreciative with CS-hosts and hitchhiking lifts. I laugh less and sigh more.
The truth is, sometimes I feel like I've entered some sort of survival mode. I'm preoccupied with figuring out how to get to the next place (or if we will get to the next place), what I'll eat that day (will it be something healthy, filling, within my budget, and palatable? Sometimes all and sometimes none of those things), where I'll sleep that night or in the coming nights if we don't have a CS host, and if we do, worrying over if we'll click and if conversation will flow naturally or if it'll just exhaust me. And, with this, I find myself just treading water, keeping my head above the waves.
Goodness, I sound awful, I know. So, don't get me wrong, I beg you. It's not that I haven't seen or done wonderful things, met amazing people, had experiences that I'll never forget. But when you enter this mode of survival, all you can focus on is what it takes to survive. Even as I write this, I'm wondering how I'm going to make it to my next destination which I spent 6+ hours yesterday trying to get to in the finicky Dutch weather and ended up barely traveling an hour and a half. On my own, at that, since I split up with my fellow travelers to spend an extra day with a close friend in Utrecht.
But here it is, while I've been trying to survive, I've forgotten to live. I'm so focused on basic existence I've forgotten how full of joy life can be if we let it. I've stopped feeling humbled and overwhelmingly thankful when someone stops at the side of the road to offer me a ride. I've stopped appreciating how amazing something like couchsurfing can be--the opportunity to spend significant time with, get to know, and learn from such a broad spectrum of people full of an endless range of ideas, experiences, and beliefs. I've stopped being in awe of the cities I'm seeing: the architecture, the culture, the history. I've let these experiences, which should be treasured, become commonplace and ordinary because of repetition and worrisome thoughts. In keeping my head above water I've forgotten how much I've always loved to swim.
Does this mean that I'll wake up tomorrow and be SO EXCITED about trying to make it to my next destination? That I will rejoice when I have to repeat the same conversations again and again? That I will begin to love being uncertain about where I might sleep that night? No. No, probably not. But I do want to sigh a little less and laugh a little more. I want to skip with joy when someone pulls over for me at the side of the road like I did the first time I hitchhiked. I want to awe when I see a beautiful building hundreds of years older than anything I'd see back home. I want to laugh at the unexpected instead of worrying about it, because sometimes unplanned situations can be just as hilarious as they are worrisome. Most of all, I want to appreciate and revel in the fact that I even have the chance to do what I'm doing when most people only spend their lives dreaming about it. I want to remember and rejoice in how blessed I am to swim, even in turbulent waters, when some people never even get to see the ocean.