Travel Blues

It’s finally happened, friends and readers. I’ve just passed the three-month mark on my long trip and the travel blues are starting to hit me hard.

It’s been rough this week especially. While I’ve been having fantastic experiences in Buenos Aires, making new friends, practicing Spanish, and getting to know the city, I’m also beginning to deeply miss familiar things like my car and my cat and my friends in the States. Lack of sleep and proper exercise are taking a toll on my endorphin levels. And traveling is exhausting, readers. There’s seldom a daily routine to provide structure for things like eating well, exercise, writing, and reflection, so you have to take them where you can get them. Experiences are intense and the emotions are all magnified – loneliness, joy, wonder, and isolation.

And, though I haven’t written much about this here, I’ve known for years that I have problems with depression and anxiety. For the past couple of weeks – probably due to some of the bad habits I wrote about above – I’ve felt really low emotionally despite the presence of friends and fun experiences. That’s one of the tough things about depression, for me. Sometimes I feel sad, anxious, and deeply self-critical regardless of how many objectivity good things are going on around me. It’s a terrible feeling to be so sad, and even worse to feel that you have no right to be, and to blame yourself for your own sad feelings. It’s in these cases that I especially miss my good friends at home. It’s very difficult to talk about sadness with people you don’t know very well, and perhaps aren’t interested in hearing about a stranger’s problems. This is one of the very hard things about traveling alone, readers.

I’ve had plenty of blog-worthy experiences the past couple of weeks that I will try to share with you, unseen readers, when I’m able to write more again. In the meantime, please think well of me. I’ll be all right in the end, but right now I need your good thoughts.

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Farewell to Tucson

The first leg of my trip is coming to an end, and I’m heading for Utah tomorrow.

It’s been a relaxing couple of weeks as I transition out of a typical working life and into a life and schedule of my own choosing.  As the pictures show, I’ve had a few adventures.

thunderstorm over a valley near Tucson, seen from the top of Mount Lemmon

Thunderstorm over a valley near Tucson, seen from the top of Mount Lemmon

I’ve had fun seeing friends, traveling, and relaxing, but it doesn’t feel entirely successful, yet.  I’m still getting the hang of a rhythm – is there even a rhythm to a life with no schedule? Day and night happen pretty predictably – everything else is subject to change, and I’m the one who decides when to sleep, eat, exercise, read, see friends.  It’s tremendously freeing, but also scary, to have so much freedom and so much responsibility together.  I really need to know who I am and what my priorities are in order to avoid being buffeted by the tides of whims, passing emotions, and the desires of others.

night-blooming cereus flowers - they bloom in the desert only once a year

Night-blooming cereus flowers – they bloom in the desert only once a year.  I feel so lucky to have discovered these, entirely by chance, as I found out about the opportunity from the news while watching TV for the first time in probably a year.

Tomorrow I begin meandering back to Reno via a couple of Utah’s gorgeous national parks.  I’ll say farewell to Tucson’s formidable heat (yay), lots of cacti (bummer), old and new friends (boo), and my cat (boooo).  My goal for the next week is to do my mini-road trip Mary-style.  I have a bad habit of worrying about what someone else would do in my place when I’m on a trip.  I worry that I’m wasting my time, or not doing it right, or that if I’d only planned better I could have done something really spectacular.  That worry poisons my experiences.  This week, I’ll try to go a few days without poison.

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Sunset over Tucson, midway up the hike to Romero Pools

The Imperfect Drive to Tucson

The first leg of my long travel journey was the trip from Reno to Tuscon to temporarily re-home my sassy cat, Pixel.  It felt like the first step of my long year of traveling, and I had high expectations for everything to go well so I could feel like I’m making a fantastic decision by quitting my job to go exploring.

beautiful open road

beautiful open road

So, of course, it didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted.  Even with all the extra time I took to pack and get ready, there were speed bumps – I managed to leave a lot of packing until the last minute, and had to make frequent stops to check on the cat when she decided to dramatically flop around in her crate like a beached marine mammal (she was faking it.  Drama queen.).

I put a lot of pressure on myself to have this first step go impossibly smoothly, and I put myself through even more mental stress by telling myself I was supposed to be having fun, dammit.  It certainly didn’t make me feel like a cool, confident, seasoned traveler when I didn’t enjoy myself.

But I had an interesting revelation when I looked through the pictures I did manage to take once I calmed down enough to enjoy the drive.  It was a day that was supposed to be filled with adventure and wanderlust and seeing new places, but was actually full of stress, worry, and self-doubt.  The thing is, you can’t see it in the pictures – you can’t see any of what I was feeling. It looks like a perfect sunlit day, gorgeous clouds, blooming cacti, Joshua tree forests, and quirky roadside scenery.

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some of the aforementioned quirky roadside scenery

What does it mean? Did the pictures give me an objective view of my experience, reminding me that all things considered, it wasn’t such a bad day? Or is it about the story I tell – as an optimist, I’ll focus on the positive regardless? And what about other travel blogs I read where everything always seems to go right and everyone’s hair is perfectly tousled and all the pictures are perfectly set against picturesque seascapes? What’s the hidden story behind those impossibly beautiful images?

In any case, I would like to offer the following caveat to accompany these pictures: I was worried almost the entire day – worried the bike would fall off the car, worried the cat would OD on the sedative I gave her, worried the car would break down in the middle of July with us far from friends and help – hell, I even beat myself up for worrying about anything at all, telling myself if I were really cut out for this life, I wouldn’t be so anxious. And still, it was an absolutely perfect drive.