I’ve never been able to say this in a succinct or particularly meaningful way, it just never seems to come out of my mind the way it’s supposed to, the way it feels.
Whenever I try to voice it to myself it seems petty, common, exaggerated. But since that is specifically the purpose of this blog, I figure I might as well get on with it.
Travelling is not something I really dream about doing, at least anymore. I AM travelling. I live in one place for an extended period of time to work, I finish working and visit various locations for a few months, then I work in a different place and repeat the process.
I no longer feel like travel is life’s primary goal. Perhaps I never did. When you ask people, what would they do if they won a million pounds, the answer is almost unanimously ‘travel the world’.
I worry that most people’s definition of travelling the world is seeing different beaches and exploring different shopping centres, visiting all the land marks you see on Google image search from time to time. Check-box vacationing. But whatever, that’s not my issue here.
Ageing is one problem I have, as do we all, but there’s something much more timeless that affects me deeply, and I suspect it affects everyone living the same sort of homeless living lifestyle that I do.
I most felt at home in South Korea. This was the first time I managed to make my own life, for me, by me, specifically tailored to suit me. My friends were ones that I chose, my job and my hours, my spare time was how I designed it. I had money and anything else I can imagine asking for – and I don’t ask for much in life.
I was settled. But the contract was for one year. But when a person settles, it’s kind of hard to just ruffle some feathers and start moving again, like nothing ever happened. I necessarily left something behind, a part of me. My friends, my life. To go back to England.
What was in England? Family, estranged friends who had in their entirety continued their lives unaffected by my absence, and any gap I might have created was very quickly filled with something else, leaving very little, or no room at all for me on my return. I had no permanent home, only able to crash at my Mum’s or my Sister’s.
My choice was to re-settle in England, where, aside from the aforementioned, there was utterly nothing for me; no job prospects, no money, no fun. Or, return to Korea. For some reason there was no third option. I needed to reclaim that which I had lost in Korea. It was mine and I wanted it back.
Unfortunately that was rather short-sighted of me. Just because I could return to it this time, doesn’t mean I can have it back. Unfortunately, it was settled and it wasn’t about to budge.
When my second year contract ended in Korea, the same feelings were present, multiplied.
Most friends had moved on even from Korea, my job was dong and a little personal tragedy happened which, when combined with the rest, left no logical basis on staying in the country anymore.
So I left. Staring back at my friend at the airport, desperately holding back tears – a rare thing for me – I let them out after I got through the gates. Not just because I would miss my friend who helped me for months on end get by, but because everything I had made and held dear to me, I was just throwing in the trash, and I had to start from scratch. Somewhere else. With nothing.
Where was I going? I decided to go to visit my friend in China for 3 months. What happened here? Well, I created a life for my own, I rented an apartment, I met new people, I was home. Then I left. And again, something else was left behind. I’m getting lighter and lighter every time I make a move. I worry that soon, I will be left with the most accurate definition of ‘nothing’ I can conceptualise.
The next new location I visited was Nepal. A month in the mountains, hiking up 5,000 metres, through jungles, deserts, rivers, tundra. This was the most unbelievable time of my life.
I spent every waking moment (and indeed, every sleeping moment) with two people I met on the internet days before meeting them in a hotel and setting off on our travels: A Russian girl and another British guy, neither of us previously acquainted with one another.
Needless to say, we created quite a strong bond of friendship. But not only this, the land itself affected me easily the strongest, despite a mere month of travelling. To this day, I find myself frequently getting lost in thoughts, wishing I could conjur up the courage to spend the money all over again and return and hope things are the same. But they won’t be.
I left a great chunk of myself behind in Nepal, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to remain my property for long. Soon it gets donated to the Universe, and that’s something I am reluctant to accept.
One location, where we rested for a day to freshen up and wash clothes (ie, a bucket of water), was a small village deep in a desert valley, immediately after crossing the highest peak. From the icy land above, we had entered a kind of desert land, similar to a sort of Utah/Nevada desert, only considerably more beautiful. The village was a little oasis in the shade.
Far below, I could see the first trees I had seen in a significant distance. Apple trees, orchards. Beautiful. Farther on, yellowing trees were surrounding the village itself. small, adorable and innocent buildings, completely ignorant of our conspiracies, our corruption, our crimes, our politics and media, our hunger for power and our greed. Deep in this valley, all was pure.
The people, especially the kids, had almost definitely never seen a city in their life. The kids probably aren’t even aware of the concept. There was a small school that kids perhaps went to when they felt like it, but mostly they were either playing or helping their parents carry various farming gear or supplies throughout the day and evening.
A small river trickled around the town, in between pathways. The people obviously decided not to interrupt the stream and so build a path innocently around it, meaning you occasionally had to jump over it in order to keep walking on in your desired direction. Horses, Donkeys and Oxen were also hard at work, sometimes completely taking over the only significant bridge to be found (the rest being a couple of planks of wood precariously balanced).
When reading my Kindle around this centralised bridge area, some of the kids were fascinated. I was also fascinated by the kids. I hadn’t seen hands and faces so thoroughly coated in mud since I was digging around for worms myself as a kid, and I wonder if even I had reached their level of filth. This was obviously a daily occurrence for them. It wasn’t that they didn’t wash, it was that they enjoyed getting their hands dirty. They had never seen a Kindle, and perhaps only vaguely aware of phones and smart phones due to trekkers holding them as they went around the town.
I visited their temples, I observed and spoke to the farmers – the one that spoke to me in English first – I climbed around their larger rivers which surrounded the distant half of the town, which led into a kind of salty dried up river bed that stretched for a few miles up to the mountainside an hour or so’s walk away.
These words don’t justify the feelings I acquired from just observing this town for a day, but needless to say, I left a large chunk of myself behind there. And in many more placed around Nepal.
Eventually I ended up here in Vietnam, and eventually I will leave here. And inevitably I will leave something here that I want, but I can’t have. A part of my being.
I have become scattered, and that feeling will probably haunt me to my grave. I can’t see a possible way of gathering up my scattered shards and jig-sawing them back together. It’s just not that simple. Those pieces are long gone, but they are annoyingly trapped in my consciousness, in my memories. And I will lose more jigsaw pieces until I stop this.
So that’s it. That’s my problem with travel. Maybe I should stick to the package holidays after all and just keep everything locked firmly inside.
I can’t call this loneliness, because there is a certain taste of bliss about it when I start to get into these trains of thought. Loneliness can be cured largely by not being alone, and failing that, keeping busy will mostly suffice. Perhaps this is closer to what people suffering from depression feel like, but it’s not a feeling of nothing, of meaninglessness. There are strong feelings there, It’s just hard to pinpoint.
Of course, the other major problem with this kind of lifestyle is saying goodbye. That is, unfortunately, worth a separate post of its own. One that I’m not going to write because I hate it, I haven’t learnt to improve upon it, It’s futile to even try to improve on it, and it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Nobody should have to say ‘farewell’ to people they are close to, and so I, as well as most others probably do, lie to their friends and themselves that they will meet again, come back to visit etc, before slowly deteriorating the online friendship it had become, into nothing but inane small talk, and eventually nothing at all.
Knowing this inevitability when I’m standing at Incheon Airport, at Beijing Train Station, at Pokhara Bus Station, is perhaps the only thing that can possibly, and does, make me cry.