It’s been 10 days since I last posted anything here. A lot has happened! We made it back from Colombia without too much incident. We re-established our home base in Milwaukee – though not either one of our ideals, it’s not bad either. My dad is an amazing chef so I eat like a queen here, my parent’s house is wonderful – each morning I wake up to an ever-changing view of Lake Michigan, there’s a great yoga studio down the road, I get to cuddle with my favorite pup, and I have lots of quality time with my family. It’s hard to complain about all that wonderful stuff, but Rick and I must certainly admit that we want our own space as soon as possible. We had such a wonderful routine back in Australia, and since coming to the United States stability in the patterns and timing of our lives has been such a rarity that it’s been hard to really feel like ourselves. Couple that with having our belongings scattered across at least three, though possibly four states and you can begin to understand why we feel an urgency to establish our lives in one place soon.
Oddly, we had not anticipated that we would be mentally ready to settle as quickly as it’s happened. Our initial plan had been to bike tour through Cuba for a month, then travel in Colombia, Bolivia, and possibly Brazil for another two months or more before we settled back to real life. We nipped that plan in the bud about a month and a half ago somewhere in Nebraska in a fit of really wanting to be together and to start a home. And I think we are both thrilled with that decision to this day, though it would be nice to just move forward with the settling part.
Here I feel compelled to make a note on traveling. I love traveling and experiencing different cultures and parts of the world. I think it’s valuable and enriching, and I encourage everyone to make time to venture out of his or her homeland and to see life in other places – see what people do for fun, for work, for food, and then come back home and try to feel ungrateful for what you have. It’s hard. We have it really good – at least in the US. We also have what I consider a responsibility, to be aware and cognizant of our privilege and of the realities – political, physical, and psychological, of life in other parts of the world.
With that preamble out of the way, I want to discuss my experience traveling in Colombia now that I have had some time to digest it. To preface this, we undertook our travel with the understanding that we wouldn’t be spending all our time actively being tourists – much of our time was spent engaging in other activities we deemed crucial to the larger picture – e.g, applying to jobs, attending spanish school for two weeks, and participating in yoga teacher training. We kept ourselves fairly busy with that, but still made time to get out and see Colombia as we moved through it. It was a different style of travel than I’m used to.
This style of travel had some significant drawbacks in my mind. In having to be fully engaged with the real world (in the US) as we traveled, it was somewhat difficult to put ourselves mentally into travel mode and embrace some of the joie de vivre that typically accompanies adventures abroad. I felt I was doing a constant dance between investing serious time and mental energy in tasks like homework, yoga, and job applications and trying to become fully immersed in Colombian culture. Our travel constraints also often revolved around things like whether we had decent internet at our hostels, our ability to make phone calls, and our ability to be within walking distance of the activities we chose – which admittedly put us in both very heavily touristed areas (in Cartagena) or (in the case of Bogotá) very hip, nice neighborhoods that might not reflect the greater whole of the city.
Altogether, both Rick and I came away from our travels feeling less like we just came off a long and exciting vacation, and more like we just came off a month of existing much the same way we have been in the US, traveling from place to place and living our lives – albeit more foreign places. We felt somewhat less like we let go and engaged with the culture and more like we were simply two Americans living abroad – much as we had been in Australia.
Unlike the dreamlike travel experiences I have had in the past in places like Bali, Morocco, or Vietnam – experiences where I felt fully immersed in a new place, senses stimulated and constantly taking in new and wonderful vignettes or different cultures – my travels in Colombia tread a thin line between of being amidst a completely foreign culture yet entirely connected to a familiar one. Mentally we were in neither place. That made the experience, in some ways, less fulfilling than some of my previous travel.
I have to say that I don’t in any way regret our travel style – it was exactly what we needed and allowed us to achieve many diverse goals all at once. But, I do think that perhaps in trying to do as much as we did, we may have slightly diminished the overall experience. Plus, there is the simple fact that when travel is no longer a vacation from real life, but simply real life taking place outside of its normal parameters, some of the magic and sense of wonder is removed.
I don’t know why I feel compelled to note all this. I loved our time traveling and don’t regret any of it. But, I think sometimes travel can be overly romanticized. There is an important line between travel as an escape from your typical life and travel on a long-term itinerary with a mixture of goals, budgets, and restraints. Though both have their merits, I have to say that I may not be cut out to be a long-term traveler. When traveling for long periods of time I feel constantly a stranger visiting places where people see me as an outsider. I feel a lack of purpose at times, and I desire greater engagement with the places I move through. I marvel at the mental and physical endurance it takes to travel for months at a time – both for the ongoing lack of stability, and for the feelings of constantly being without a community. Perhaps it’s my rootlessness speaking right now. It’s hard for me to separate my deep desire to invest myself in a place and community for the long-term, from my feelings of itineracy while traveling. They say that all who wander are not lost – and I’ve long thought that true, but when you are constantly moving it’s hard to invest in finding yourself and your purpose. I want to be invested. Perhaps I can thank my last trip for confirming to me just how deep-seated this desire is.