Tue Sep 18 13:49:25 EST 2012

The Curse of the Traveller

The idea of this post is something that I've felt for a while, but I'm moved to write about it because of darien_gap's excellent Reddit comment that gave it a name:

... have you ever heard of The Curse of the Traveler?

An old vagabond in his 60s told me about it over a beer in Central America, goes something like this: The more places you see, the more things you see that appeal to you, but no one place has them all. In fact, each place has a smaller and smaller percentage of the things you love, the more things you see. It drives you, even subconsciously, to keep looking, for a place not that's perfect (we all know there's no Shangri-La), but just for a place that's "just right for you." But the curse is that the odds of finding "just right" get smaller, not larger, the more you experience. So you keep looking even more, but it always gets worse the more you see. This is Part A of the Curse.

Part B is relationships. The more you travel, the more numerous and profoundly varied the relationships you will have. But the more people you meet, the more diffused your time is with any of them. Since all these people can't travel with you, it becomes more and more difficult to cultivate long term relationships the more you travel. Yet you keep traveling, and keep meeting amazing people, so it feels fulfilling, but eventually, you miss them all, and many have all but forgotten who you are. And then you make up for it by staying put somewhere long enough to develop roots and cultivate stronger relationships, but these people will never know what you know or see what you've seen, and you will always feel a tinge of loneliness, and you will want to tell your stories just a little bit more than they will want to hear them. The reason this is part of the Curse is that it gets worse the more you travel, yet travel seems to be a cure for a while.

It's a rather sad thought and it struck a note with a number of other people in the thread. I wouldn't be writing this if it didn't resonate with me, too. darien_gap goes on to suggest that part B is mitigated these days by modern communications technology, but I find that part A is helped most by the internet. I could live just about anywhere and do the things that I do. But for each place I've lived, I've only kept a few really strong friendships, despite all the talk about keeping in touch when I move on. I keep in regular contact with one friend from Leeds, none from Sydney and a handful from Melbourne. It'll probably be the same with Hobart. Worse, every time I return to Canberra my longtime friends are just that bit more distant. The experience of living on the ship is also so alien that it's hard to share that with anyone who wasn't there, either. The photos don't cut it and I don't have the right words to describe it. And then there are the true super-seamen like Irving Johnson. Their experience is as far removed from mine as mine is from my friends'. Even with the video and his commentary (he took a hand-held video camera to sea in 1929, making the video Around Cape Horn), there's no way I could understand what he's been through.

This post isn't meant to kick off a pity-party. After my return from Leeds, I knew what would happen with each move, and yet I've continued to move from city to city, knowing on some level what would happen.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: windeward_bound, miscellaneous