When a bucket list trip doesn’t live up to expectations

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On the rooftop of hostels around the globe handfuls of scruffy travelers sit cross-legged, sipping local beer exploiting their exploits. The laundry list of destinations, of activities partaken at that destination, and of their future destinations round the circle, getting bettered by the next traveler. I snuck into the Parthenon in the middle of the night; Well, I saw a lion eating a zebra in Tsavo West; I participated in a sex show in Amsterdam and only remembered it because my friend posted it on Facebook. It is safe to say that we live in a world of people wanting to outdo each other, financially, professionally, politically, and socially. But beyond the typical need for validation that occurs across college campuses and in office buildings worldwide, one of the most vapid shows of competition comes from backpackers’ attempts to top each other’s journeys.

Given, if we do not share the experiences we have cultivated, paid for, suffered through, there is no justification for having had the experience. And as a backpacker who three years after having a kid just invested in her first rolling suitcase—albeit a backpack—I can honestly admit to having both participated in the competitive spirit and become disgusted by it. However, this need to outdo other travelers has ultimately created a creed of been there done that, a soulless tribe of wanderers, who aren’t truly present in their surroundings because they are constantly trying to better their experience with our posts and blogs and Tweets–I do see the irony on this, my friends.

Three summers ago, I was guilty of trying to cross a destination off my bucket list without actually being fully present in the location. My husband and I had scored cheap tickets to Cairns, Australia so we could experience the Great Barrier Reef. Our preschooler in tow, we flew around the globe, checked into a series of hotels along the coast, dutifully swam with sea turtles, passing giant clams and anemones teeming with Crayola hued fish, then came home feeling a sense of apathy about the entire event.

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We didn’t connect with any of the people living in Cairns because we were in and out of our hotel, busily checking off our to do list. Our entire trip felt empty. Not because of the destination—which initially I tried to blame, by comparing it to Hawaii, and Florida—but because of us. We had ceased to be enchanted by the mere experience of being on a new latitude and longitude. I was more excited about a new passport stamp than Australian food. Essentially I had stopped marveling.

Since I am travel writer, you might assume that travel apathy is part of the game. After a while every hotel room starts to look the same, or pitting one meal again another becomes impossible, or climbing one mountain, seeing one ridiculously blue sea, starts to all seem identical. Yet, I didn’t go into traveling, or writing about my travels to become bored. I did it because I cannot stop the itch. Traveling is in my blood. I was almost born on an airplane and had been to forty nine states by the time I was seven; thirty countries by the time I was twenty two; and now, when opportunity calls to get on a plane, or drive to a remote part of California, I rarely say no, carting my kids along for the ride, hoping to infuse wanderlust into their bones.

So, why was this travel writer bored by Australia? And ultimately why do places fail to call us into their deeper reaches?

These are questions I ponder as I continue my journeys.

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3 responses to “When a bucket list trip doesn’t live up to expectations

  1. I think having kids changes your priorities and what you view as fullfilling. On my trip to Costa Rica last year, I brought a rolling suitcase instead of a backpack (much to the chuckles of the other three women I was travelling with), but I was like..we are renting a car…why do we need backpacks? LOL..but yes, I got more from the trip just reconnecting with old friends more than anything else…

    • We just got back from Japan and I saw this young woman heaving her backpack on a train and not even putting it down, because it was too big. I remember those times as a backpacking thinking the struggle made the experience authentic to some extent. But now, as my kids climbed all over the seats, I realized that traveling with little ones makes me want to relax. To slow down. I get why people take their kids to Club Med and resorts. A fruity cocktail with an umbrella is just want I craved as we stomped through Japan.

  2. Pingback: On Restlessness |·

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