It all started with hitchhiking to Alaska from Texas when he was 18. (I normally don’t condone hitchhiking for safety reasons, but when you’re 6’8” (203 cm) and of substantial proportions, safety rules tend to shift.) Since then, Bill’s wandered around all the continents except Antarctica. But this isn’t about any laundry list of countries visited, but how Bill’s completely over it. Sick of traveling. (At least for now.)
Un-bitten By The Travel Bug / Bill Ethridge
I’ve been traveling since September. I started in London and Paris, and then walked the Camino Frances in Spain. I crossed Europe by train, made my way down to Turkey where I got an Indian visa and flew to Mumbai for a few days. On to Nepal for some trekking, then flew to Bangkok and across Cambodia by bus, then a boat here to Vietnam, where I’m locked in my hotel for the night. I guess they worry about people stealing the motorbikes parked in the lobby.
I’ve always traveled a lot, but this is my first experience with burnout. It really snuck up on me. It started in India, where everyone I met was gushing about how “beautiful!” everything was and the “wonderful!” food and “Oh, the people!” All I could think was “Are. You. Serious?”
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to see, do and eat in India (as with most places, really.) But those things hardly make up for the bucket of water substituting for toilet paper. Or the knowledge that the guy handing me my naan (bread) with his bare hands had no soap last time he went number two. With every tasty meal in India comes the inescapable question, “Is this going give me diarrhea for the next three days?” Far too often, the answer is “Oh, yes.”
For the most part, people all over the world are lovely and Indians are no different. Of course understandably, the ones who most of us travelers encounter, see Westerners as little more than cash machines. And I get it; I’m not expecting to become an honorary member of anyone’s family or anything. Just after awhile, the money-motivated, self-serving “kindness” gets to me. But on to Nepal.
How long I could stay in Nepal is in direct proportion to how many days in a row I could eat Dhal Bat (curried veggies and a huge plate of rice.) The touts (street solicitors) persist the entire day, “Taxi?” “Hashish?” “Girls?” “Taxi?” “Hashish?” “Girls?” “Taxi?” Yes, I see you have a taxi. You are standing right next to it. You pointing that out is not going to make me suddenly need one. No offense.
In Cambodia the sun doesn’t shine, it pounds. One thing the striking photos of Siem Reap don’t include: a man taking his shirt off, wringing out a few cups of sweat and putting it back on again. I saw it and I did it. Angkor Wat is impressive, wondrous and makes great photos for facebook (if you’re that type.) But know, the photographer was sweating buckets.
In Cambodia I kept thinking, “I wish I could trade that umpteen-hundredth temple for a hotel with a pool.” Now, here I am in Vietnam locked in and being eaten by a family of mosquitoes. The last seven months have given me enough “authentic” travel experiences to last awhile. Now I wake up in the morning and think, “What the ___ am I doing here?!” Maybe it’s time to go home.
I want to share the reality of travel with friends, but many of them are too busy exclaiming, “I wish I had your life!” I want to say, “You know, the planes in the sky? They fly every day.” Many of them would gain a lot from travel, but “other things” are more important. To paraphrase a quote I heard once: You can tell what someone values by what they spend their money on. Any “reality” from me would surely invite the “Then why’d you go to begin with?” which misses the point. I do love travel. All said, the pros outweigh the cons. But there’s an “enough is enough (for now)” point one gets to and it looks like I got there a few countries ago.
Bill does not have a blog of his own, but welcomes comments and questions below. Have you ever gotten burnt out from traveling or just been ready to get home? (Tell us in the comments!) Mouse over pics for a description. Click to enlarge or to launch slideshow.
For another post on travel burnout, check out Nomadic Matt’s The Downside To Long Term Travel.