Why You Should Let Travel Break Your Heart
A little while ago, one of the members of our Travelettes Facebook Group asked whether anyone had tips for dealing with the bottomless despair she was feeling upon her return from an amazing trip. In the preceding months she had been discovering new places, sharing rides with strangers, living in a big collective house with like-minded folks, and gotten swept off her feet by a new love who she had little hope to ever see again.
Indeed, parting with the excitement of life on the road can feel very much like getting your heart broken. Suddenly an abyss opens up under your feet: the discovering and the adventuring and the agitation which had become your world for these magical few weeks/months are gone, and all you’re left with is an uncomfortable stillness and a newfound distance with the life you are coming back to.
So, how do you mend a travel-broken heart? Numerous fellow group members advised the above Travelette to try to distract herself from sadness by planning her next trip. Sounds comforting, right?
Well I don’t think so. I started typing a 100+ word answer in the Facebook comments before deciding this matter called for proper argumentation — hence this blogpost. The thing is — when coming home from a great trip feels painful, I don’t think you should try to get away from that pain. Actually, I think you should embrace it and roll yourself in it and nest there for a little while. Here is why you should travel break your heart.
How travelling gets you high
Do you know why you enjoy travelling so much? Because it makes you feel high. It does! Everything is new and unfamiliar and a bit scary, so you’re incapable of relying on habits and automated responses. Which means your brain is in a constant state of urgency: sounds! smells! a new alphabet! what-the-hell-is-this? Your eyes are wide open and all your senses are mobilised and new connections are made in your mind.
This is why being on the road feels like living life to the fullest: because having all your captors in high alert brings a sense of excitement and drama and really strong feelings. And this sensory overload gets you high.
The thing is, your body can’t stay in that state forever. Even if you never had to stop travelling, you would eventually get used to it and grow numb. What, another tuk tuk ride? Another beach? Another 12-course curry? Sigh. With the novelty factor gone, travelling is just another form of routine. (This is why, if you’re going to travel long-term, you need to go SLOW and stop often. But that’s material for another blogpost.)
Like any good high, a great trip will be followed by a terrible low. It just will: it’s a law of nature. So if you’re painfully reading these lines through your puffed-up eyes because you haven’t stopped crying since you got off the plane, I’m very happy for you: feeling that low now means you must have had a hell of a good time while you were away.
The down phase
Now, what’s our instinctive reaction to feeling low? We try to get out of it. Feeling low sucks. Nobody wants to feel low. Except if there’s one thing I learnt out of doing meditation, it is this: you can’t leave a place you’ve never been. i.e. hurtful feelings can’t go away if you refuse to go through them. You can try to distract yourself from them, but in the back of your mind you’ll know that they’re there, lurking in the dark. Fun fact: if you actually focus on those feelings, give them space, hug them and pet them, they end up looking a lot less intimidating. Negative feelings really just want to be loved. Try it.
But this is not a blogpost about oriental philosophy, so I’ll get to my main point: if you want to learn something out of your trip, if you want to grow from experiencing the world, if you want to actually travel and not just go on holidays – then you need (let me repeat that: need) the down phase that comes after a trip. The down phase is actually just as important as the trip itself. Possibly more.
While you’re living your trip, you stock up on new experiences and are too busy to make anything out of them. For these experiences to positively alter you, you need to digest them. As in – find the nutrients within all the raw material and break them into assimilable pieces, so you can let them nourish you.
This is a slow process, which requires quiet and stillness. It requires you to reflect on what has happened. Maybe consciously — writing about them, singing about them, printing out a zine to send to the friends you miss —, maybe just nursing them like you would with a bad hangover. But if you don’t let the feelings of sadness get to you, if you try to dodge them by hurrying into booking your next holiday, then sure — you will immediately feel more comfortable. But you’ll just be buying holidays and consuming them. Enjoying immediate satisfaction, then discarding the experience when you’re done with it. What a shame! It’s so beautiful to let an experience move you.
So, dear heartbroken Travelette, I have no immediate solution to relieve you of your pain. All I can say to you is: as excruciating as it feels, if you accept it and go through it instead of around, it will eventually go away. Not just because time has passed or because you’ve mindlessly thrown yourself into another trip, but because you have processed what you had to process out of this adventure. Then, and only then, will you be ready – ready to let the next one break your heart all over again.
All photos by Marie Colinet, taken in Sri Lanka.
Thank you Sara for inspiring this post.