Turns Out We Don’t Like To Travel. Oops.
This may surprise you, but Kevin and I have recently realized that we don’t like to travel.
I know I know, what the heck are we doing living over here in Southeast Asia if we don’t like travel? We’ve been asking ourselves the same question, and we are more than a little surprised by this realization.
When we were living and working in Seattle, we would plan these fantastic, action-packed vacations, designed to squeeze every hour out of our accrued vacation we possibly could. I had a ridiculously elaborate spreadsheet that laid out our vacation hours well into the year 2017. Shame on you if you surprised us with a destination wedding, causing me to re-jigger my schedule (now how will we see Machu Picchu in 2016?!)
We looked forward to these vacations all year long, cherished every day of our trip, but were usually exhausted when we got home. We felt trapped by our limited vacation hours, but we were also disappointed at the way vacations wore us out. This is one of the biggest reasons we cooked up this move-to-Southeast-Asia scheme. Don’t get us wrong, we definitely feel lucky to be here. We just want to be honest about the disappointments and share some of our thoughts.
Three Types of Travel
Kevin and I have been having a lot of philosophical conversations lately about travel, and have decided that there three types of travel:
- First, and most common among working Americans, is the frenetic fast-paced see-it-all-do-it-all trip where you hop from destination to destination in an effort to maximize every last minute of your 2-weeks of vacation. It’s common at the end of these trips to feel like you need a vacation from your vacation, but usually it’s just time to go back to work.
- Second is the “Slow Travel” movement. More on this next week, but this type of travel tends to be the type where you stay in one place for a month or so, and get acquainted with the local culture. Spoiler alert: I think this style of travel is the most appealing.
- Third is the “Living Abroad” or “Extreme Slow” style of travel. This is what we’re doing right now, living for 6+ months here in Thailand. The problem with this type of travel is that you’re in one place long enough to get through the “This is awesome” and “I could stay here forever” phases, and run into the jaded “Why can’t they do things like in Amurrrrica” phase.
The Pitfalls of Fast Travel
When is the last time you’ve returned from two weeks of vacation feeling rested? Many of us have experienced a vacation where you try to pack too much sightseeing into a limited amount of time. My parents might remember our family vacation in Southern California when I was 12 years old and wrote out an itinerary designed to maximize our trip by scheduling everything down to the half-hour. I wanted to ensure we got to hit both Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe for meals. This has apparently been a lifelong problem for me.
Let’s face it, fast travel is not super fun. With a tightly packed schedule, a problem like lost luggage blows up into an all-consuming catastrophe. You might end up missing out on an entire beach day because you had to go shopping for a new bikini and sunblock. There’s just hardly any margin for anything to go wrong. Fast travel also usually leaves me with a sense of homelessness from packing up and moving so often, and you can end up spending more time getting to new destinations than actually getting to see them.
Even though we’re now unemployed, Kevin and I somehow STILL fall into the fast travel trap when we go on little mini-trips here in Southeast Asia. When we were recently in Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, we couldn’t wait to get back “home” to Chiang Mai. When we finally did get back, Kevin had an ear infection, I was having headaches because my sinuses got so dry, we were cut, scratched, bumped and bruised, and we both pulled muscles getting back into our gym routine! Fast travel literally takes a physical toll on us, but we still can’t seem to help ourselves.
The Fast Travel habit is such a hard one to break, and I think a lot of it stems from America’s fast-paced style of living and the fact that most of us only get two weeks of vacation per year. Naturally, we want to make the most of those precious two weeks. But how do you satisfy the I-want-to-see-the-whole-world mentality without traveling so fast that you miss out on some of the best things a culture has to offer? If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, how do you see all the major cities without feeling like you only scratched the surface of each one? How do you “see enough” without “seeing too little”? I don’t know the right answers to those questions. I have a feeling that winning the lottery might help, though.
The Pitfalls of Living Abroad
Kevin and I fall into the Extreme Slow Travel category right now, and some of the cultural differences we used to find “cute” are now just exasperating. For example, I am beyond annoyed at the fact that pedestrians in Chiang Mai never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER have the right of way. Ever! Even if you’re at a cross walk stoplight, and the light is red for the cars, they’re very likely to run through the light. I’m currently working towards perfecting my New Yorker accent on the phrase “heeeeey, I’m walkin’ heeeere!” Also, we just spent a ridiculous amount of time lost in the Thai medical system and only have 10 sleeping pills to show for it (see last week’s post).
I also had an absurd realization today. Kevin and I regularly shout “POOP!” at each other when we’re out and about in Chiang Mai. This is sort of to be expected in a city with so many stray dogs – there is dog poop everywhere, and (understandably) no one cleans it up. I get that – if it’s not my dog, I’m not scooping it. I just think it’s funny that we probably say “POOP!” to each other probably more often than we say “Hello”.
I do want to defend our cultural insensitivity a little bit here by saying that this is not something that only Kevin and I are experiencing. It’s also something that’s not isolated to just Americans or people from Western cultures. We had quite the discussion with a nice Thai woman who has spent a lot of time in England because that’s where her husband is from. As it turns out, she’s super irritated with a lot of things about the British culture (speed limits, the cold weather, the food) and she doesn’t like to visit!
It seems like no matter what country you’re from, it’s tough to adjust to a new culture that differs from the one you’re used to. So that’s a relief – I’m not just an asshole traveler. Phew!
Traveling is like Eating Cake
I love a good cake metaphor. So here’s my thought. Traveling is like eating chocolate cake. If you travel too fast, and only get a taste of a location, it’s like having a tiny slice of cake. You’re left with regret and a desire for more. However, if you move to a new country and stay long enough to get a little bit jaded, it’s kind of like sitting down and eating the whole damn cake. You might never want to have a piece of that cake ever again. (Unless it’s my Grandma’s Angel Food cake with the heavenly frosting. I could sit and eat five of those cakes without a drop of remorse.)
We Want to Hear from You!
This is part 1 in a 3-part series I’m planning on the topic of traveling. I’d love to hear your thoughts on travel. Do you like to travel? Which category appeals most to you? Have you regretted any too-short or too-long vacations?