One of the stages of the hero’s quest is to leave one’s community. This probably explains the deep-seated, archetypal appeal of travel. People long to travel. They long to get away from it all and have meaningful experiences in “exotic” locations. They look to travel to reinvigorate, recharge and refresh them; and they hope for personal transformation, a new outlook and a broader perspective. Sometimes, people travel to find something or someone; and sometimes, it’s to leave something or someone.
I am one of these people. I left for a six-month trip across India after a series of painful losses left me feeling flattened. And it worked. India completely revived me – my trip gave me a new man, a new family, a second home, a spiritual teacher and a focus. As a writer, India became my muse. I have returned three times since that first trip, started a new career and launched an India travel blog.
In the excitement of dreaming and fantasizing about long-term travel it’s easy to forget that it is not a panacea. You cannot run away from yourself; and the process is not always smooth, nor as glamorous or exciting as it seems. Here are five hard truths about long-term travel.
1. It can be expensive.
If you make travel a habit, it can really divert funds away from savings or upgrading your wardrobe, technology or household goods. I mostly wear cotton kurtahs (long shirts) I bought in India because I can no longer afford to shop in Canada. I don’t have a TV because I couldn’t replace my 25-year-old box when it died.
2. It can be lonely.
Unless you travel with an equally keen partner, you will often find yourself alone, and out of the sync of things back home. It’s great to be alone, don’t get me wrong, but long-term travel can leave you feeling rootless. And if you are of a “certain age,” this can be an anxiety-provoking feeling.
3. It can be disillusioning.
On my fourth lengthy trip to India, I realized that the honeymoon was over. India had become so familiar that the spell of the “exotic” had worn off and many of the sights, smells and sounds were no longer charming, novel or exciting – they were commonplace, tiring or annoying. At one point during my trip, I can remember thinking, “what am I doing here?” And with two more months to go until the trip ended, confusion and tedium loomed large.
4. It can be addictive.
Running away from it all can become an addiction. And like all addictions, it has of course a dark side. Your original idea may have been to genuinely re-connect with yourself, but over time and repeated trips, you may find that you replaced one persona with another: now you’re the person who travels all the time instead of the person who worked 9-5 as a marketing coordinator. You can’t run away from yourself, but you can do a pretty good job of deceiving yourself for a good long time.
5. It can end.
When I first went to India, I gave very little thought to life after “the big trip.” But someday, you will be standing in a new apartment surrounded by boxes wondering what next? It can be exciting, and it can also be a big let-down.
My six-month trip to India was originally a way of getting out of my tomb-like apartment, shaking up my life and, most importantly, manifesting a long-held dream. I have achieved all of these things and more, and I am now at a new stage in the hero’s journey: amalgamating my “boon” from those travels and studies in India and finding ways to share and incorporate those truths into a building a new life for myself.
It has been a bumpy transition, mostly because though this phase is just as exciting and rewarding, it gets a lot less press. However, like all things in life, being able to change and move with the flow of life, the flow of energy, is always the healthiest and most satisfying thing to do – so I am now embracing being home.
Mariellen Ward writes about India, yoga and transformative travel on her blog BreatheDreamGo. She has traveled for more than a year in India and leads small group tours to some of her favourite places. You can follow her on Twitter @breathedreamgo and on Facebook.