The Eternal Traveler Syndrome

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The eternal traveler syndrome is this feeling you get of not being comfortable anywhere you go because you always want to be somewhere else. It’s the anxiety you feel when thinking you will never be happy in just one place.” That’s the diagnosis. Among other madness like bipolar disorder and, of course, my phobia of people with animal head or a head that is definitely not theirs.

Of course it has to be a disease. An alteration. And an alteration is something that is not normal. It’s not normal to want to be nomadic when, since prehistoric times, humans discovered it was much better to stay in one place and thus, they invented agriculture, the wheel, writing (my passion) and finally, everything that makes the world be the world. That means, if it were normal being nomadic and all people were like me, we would not even have reached the Metal Age yet, or this thing would be a worse apocalypse than The Walking Dead’s one. At that level! It is an illness. My illness.

Some time ago, in Leipzig, Germany, I met again with a backpacker friend, one of these friends you met on the road and who leaves your novel like many other characters: not knowing if you will ever see her again. In this case, she got lost between the Cuba‘s chapter and after five years of skipping pages, she gate-crashed into a short German chapter. Or rather, considering she is German, it was the other way around: it was me who broke into one of her German chapters five years later.

With Maria, in La Habana, a few years ago.

With Maria, in La Habana, a few years ago.

Sitting on a terrace near the Market Square, at one of those sausage stands that are as German as greasy, I saw her happy. Happy. A happiness I don’t know: the one you feel when you’ve found the place where you feel comfortable. While she no longer gets lost, the night before I got lost in Leipzig (to the point of entering a restaurant’s kitchen since I opened a rear door of what I thought might be a hostel). She didn’t feel that anxiety anymore, like the one you feel when you lose your house keys and you are late and they don’t appear anywhere.  “I don’t feel that anxiety anymore”,  she said , on that gray spring afternoon. She had left the backpack. He had left the addiction.

I looked at her with that envy I usually look at many people. That envy I feel when I look at how people can be happy for years in the same job, going on vacation to the same places (they even have beach houses because they feel comfortable going on vacation to one single place!) and who can buy a red sofa like the one I saw last Sunday in a mall and sit down and watch a movie in peace, without thinking they are sitting on $600 that could have turned into a ticket to Ecuador. They don’t need anything else. They are happy with what they have. And I ‘m not.

It’s not a bad kind of envy, I must say. It’s not that seeing smileys everywhere depress me, especially if we consider yellow is my favorite color. It’s the kind of envy of wanting to emulate something I can’t. Knowing that I can’t even parody such happiness for more than three months without suffering the symptoms of my eternal traveler syndrome, when the good intentions of smoking less start to divide in many night cigarettes, when memories of travel begin to acquire the golden sepia of happy times (though they not necessarily have always been the happiest) and I start to be workaholic, adding and subtracting salaries, to feel that I’m really moving somewhere, even if I’m exactly on the same spot.

Eternal Traveler Syndrome (2)

My backpack, waiting to go!

My eternal traveler syndrome is tremendous. Maybe because, one way or another, it makes me more aware about the fact life is extremely short, about the fact youth is even shorter and about the fact this world is immensely large and, therefore, they don’t fit together, as the Saint Augustine’s parable about the little boy who wants to fill, with all the seawater, a tiny hole on the beach. I feel my life is getting over just after three months in the same place, and while I lay dying, my eternal traveler syndrome makes me envy how others perceive time. Their time seems to go slower than mine. They always seem to be calm because they have some day to go to Angkor Wat, to a carnival in Rio, to Antarctica, and I keep thinking today was not that day, but another day less of youth, a day that was exactly like yesterday and it will be exactly like tomorrow. Their dreams always seem to be guaranteed, but I feel mine are not, and therefore I should accelerate twice, three times, four times, five times, six times and other numbers I don’t know, because I won’t have enough time. I envy others, definitely: I get the feeling they are immortal.

The contradiction is I know sometimes this is an exchange of envy and some people rather envy the lifestyle I have (I hope it’s not the bad kind of envy either, huh?). But I must be honest: although I make this seems very cool and try to convince everyone who let himself hear me that you should travel, I must also warn you: it can become an addiction.

And, like all addictions, it has a vicious circle: the more you travel , the more you know, and the more you know, the more you realize how many things you still need to know, so the more you travel and so on. It’s like when people ask how we managed to live when there was no internet. Well, we lived and we were fine without it. I survived high school and college without Google. I didn’t need it. But now, if somebody took internet away from me and I had to catch the bus to spend an hour or so in the middle of the city traffic on a rainy afternoon, if I had to get off the bus to plunge into the puddle of a flooded drain, if I had to walk with my soaked shoes to the library to open a drawer, to search in alphabetical order among thousands of cards, if I had to take a pen to write a code on a piece of paper and then search through shelves and shelves a book that matches that code, if I had to take a bench because I can’t reach the top shelf where the book I need is, if I had to go up the stairs to the second floor, queuing in front of the librarian desk  in order to give him my student card, if I had to wait to get a stamp so I can take the book with me and then go out again, re-open the umbrella, cross the street,  get wet by a car that has passed at a supersonic speed over what was a puddle of a flooded drain and now is a pond, just to catch the bus again to spend an hour or so in the middle of the city traffic on a rainy afternoon and then endure a flu for a whole week,  just to find out what Lacan used to think about the signifier, when now I can do that in less than three seconds from the comfort of my bed …No way! This happens when you travel: you discover that the world is so wide that you just can’t give up on everything you didn’t know. You can’t be happy without Google anymore.

At the Parthenon. Athens, Greece.

At the Parthenon. Athens, Greece.

To make things worse, it’s an addiction that, to the eyes of our society, is good for the Eat. Pray. Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert, for the On the road’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, and even for the poor Into the wild‘s Alex Supertramp, who died of starvation, but not for you. Not for “real life”. In “real life” such romanticism is not allowed beyond your 30s without feeling that, since you lack of these two pillars our society is built on, an 8-5 job and a family, that’s why your life goes lame and tumbles here and there.

Because the eternal travelers are not normal. We are not sedentary and, therefore, we give the impression of being unable to contribute with something useful to society because we’ll hardly stay until the end of the school year (do you have any idea of ​​how much can you travel in 9 months ?) or we’ll hardly stay to put the last building’s brick (do you have any idea of how long does it take to build a building and how much can you travel in the meantime? ). It seems we can’t be trusted to even deserve another human being’s love, like a child’s or a partner’s, although we want it so badly as anyone with an 8-5 job. Because we are “unstable.” “Immature.” “Irresponsible.”

Victoria Falls' between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls, between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

That’s why I think that, as it happens in the vicious circle of every addiction, I always end up leaving. Try swimming for three months against a current in which water every day drowns you with wedding and precious children’s pictures, and with a turbulence that says you’re a spoiled person who doesn’t know what she wants and that tries to dive you into the whirlpool of a mortgage, and tell me if you don’t prefer to change river and be carried away to wherever you feel you must go.

And so I end up taking my backpack, and when I walk into a hostel I feel, for once, I’m normal. It’s like in Blind Melon’s video No rain, when the little bee finds the garden with other bees like her. For once it’s ok not to behave as humans have done since the Neolithic. Suddenly, you are not the crazy one who quit her job at a call center on a Monday afternoon and left with all her savings to Peru with an Austrian who proposed it on Facebook. It’s ok you have never lasted long enough in a job to be able to say, “Oh yeah, it’s like in last year’s Christmas party…” You don’t care if on a Sunday afternoon you have seen that fucking red sofa at the mall and you’ve realized you’ll never buy it. Economic insecurity and loneliness are no longer a problem and they become a challenge you win every day, so every day you end up being stronger. That lame life, that makes you tumble, ends up taking you beyond the horizon. And so, you’ll feel you are in the place you need to be. Although after three days you want to move again.

So, consider yourself warned. This thing is harder to quit than smoking. In fact, I recently saw my German friend uploaded new pictures of a faraway San Francisco, far away from that Leipzig where, on a gray spring afternoon, we ironically ate a salad at a sausage stand. If you travel, you take the risk of moving forward, but you also take the risk of getting stuck in an eternal state of dissatisfaction. If you travel, you may suffering eternal traveler syndrome and feel more than ever your littleness in front of the world’s immensity and everything you don’t know.  So think about it. Think about it twice before you bite the apple, because you can end up without that paradise you knew in which you had been so happy until Google appeared.

In Peru, after impulsively quitting my job at a call center on a Monday afternoon.

In Peru, after impulsively quitting my job at a call center on a Monday afternoon.

PLEASE NOTE: English is not my mother tongue! These ones are rough translations from
the original Spanish version Sobre el caballito.Sorry about the mistakes!

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One Comment

  1. Lovely piece of writing! I can identify with every word you’ve written. I have grown up as an Army kid all over India. Never in one city for longer than 2 years. Always restless to move on to a new place, a new adventure. I consider myself a nomad as well. Which is why your writing seemed to reflect my thinking in many ways. 🙂

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