A few days ago I met a young guy from England in Tajikistan. I had just arrived in Kaleikhum and saw the Afghan mountains for the first time in my life when he stopped by with his tour guide in the same guest house I stayed. As the only westerners we started to share infos and talk about our way of traveling immediately. When I asked him how long he had been on the road so far, he told me that it had been two years. And to my question how long he plans to go further he replied after a short pause: “I can not go back for now. The people at home do not understand. Only we long-term travelers do.“ At first his statement came across quite arrogant and I was wondering if this young guy was living in his own world of stereotypes. I thought of my friends at home – even if they are not on a trip around the world they are well travelled people who know what the word wanderlust means and who look beyond the box. What could be there, that these people that are the most close to us cannot understand if we would share our experiences with them?
“The people at home do not understand.”
Only a few days have passed since I met this young man, but it feels like weeks – nearly like a whole different life. After I crossed the Tajik border to Kyrgyzstan and had arrived in Osh, I suddenly understood what this young Englishman could have meant. And it makes me sad that his statement actually has nothing to do with arrogance. As simple as it is: Most people will not understand. How do you know what a broken heart feels like if you never had one. Or how do you know how fulfilling love can be when you have never truly loved. Of course you would be able to comprehend when others tell you about their experiences. But you will never fully understand the joy, the despair and the pain if you have not lived through those things yourself.
Traveling itself is your everyday life
There is a difference between travelers. That difference is based on the fact if you still have a daily life and home that you plan to go back to or if you planned for an indefinite time of traveling. Even if someone spends months on the road but plans to go back to his old life, this could affect his way of traveling and perceiving the experiences gained. Short time travel is an episode. An escape from everyday life. The trip will always stand in relation to the normal daily routine. Was it more exciting? Has it been more fun than life at home? Was it maybe that joyful, that you want to make another trip soon again? Or are you glad to be back home? A long-term journey lacks this relation. You cannot compare it to everyday life anymore. Because traveling itself is your daily routine. It is no longer a short adventure, but your life.
This life consists of the people you meet on your way. The locals of the country. Other long-term travelers. Tourists. Secondly, it consists – likely the “normal life” at home – of the experiences that you make. As any traveler knows, these encounters and experiences often intensify during traveling or on a vacation exponentially. The days on vacation are packed with more activities than weeks at home. And you are open to those experiences and allow yourself to live them to the full. And it does not matter that the time you have is usually much shorter than you give yourself in a normal surrounding for things to develop. While on a normal trip you always know that things will probably never be a part of your daily life. But these things – as short as they may last – become your everyday life on a long-term journey.
Traveling is a subject to changes
Traveling is a constellation of circumstances you find and persons that you meet. If you decide to travel for a week in a group, this group becomes a part of your life, nearly like a new family. But the devastating fact of these constellations while traveling is that they are usually fragile and subjected to much more rapid changes than in a normally set and everyday surrounding. The people you are traveling with have their daily lives, which they will return to or ways will simply separate because of different plans of each traveler. Normal daily life is a subject to change too. But usually those big changes don’t take place in short intervals like days or weeks.
How can you explain what a broken heart feels like?
How can you explain what it feels like to give up your everyday life day after day, week after week? How can you tell someone about your old home no longer being your life anymore but that you now lived and abandoned countless different lives? How can you explain that these lives were so different from the life that you shared with your friends at home and that you lived before? How can you tell them that you played a different role in these new lives than you ever did before? How can you explain that the importance of these new lives has nothing to do with their duration? How can you explain that five days of a different life can change you more than a year in your old life at home? How can you describe the pain when one of those lives suddenly comes to an end – when that constellations that became your daily routine dissolve irrevocably? And how can you explain what it feels like if you have no normal life at home anymore that catches you when you fall – how it feels like when you lose again one of these lives without an exit strategy? How can you tell someone how hard it sometimes is to get going, to do the first laborious steps to another new life – without a clue what it will bring and maybe only to let it go again a few days later, feeling like not having a life again. And how the hell can you return to your former life and surround yourself with people who have never experienced that feelings? With whom you want to talk about love, even though they themselves have never loved?
You can never fully understand
Maybe I’ll be able to explain all of it. But no matter how many times I will try, you will not be able to understand. You can maybe get a grasp. Or you will think you understand because you compose a puzzle of the feelings that you have lived through yourself. But I now know what the words of the young Englishman meant: You can never fully understand, even if you fancy to. If you will ever go on a long trip like ours you will eventually understand and realize that you really didn’t understand before. And then you will be able to laugh and cry with me.