But then, just as you missed home while you were away, you start missing away while you’re home. You remember the other coffee shop, the one you discovered on your adventure. The unfamiliar foods, so strange at first, that you learned to enjoy. Your small-but-important victories in learning to communicate in another language.
Many of your friends and family, who are otherwise intelligent and compassionate people, don’t understand what’s happened to you because they have no context for it. To them, your experiences far away are an “other,” in a place they’ve vaguely heard of but whose connection exists entirely with you. They listen politely to your stories, but they’re ready to move on long before you are.
“You’ll never guess what I saw!” you tell everyone you meet for weeks on end. “I’ve learned so much about the world.”
“That’s great,” they say. “Have you seen what’s happening with American Idol?”
When you went away weeks, months, or years ago, you were prepared for culture shock in your new surroundings. Coming home, the reverse culture shock hits you out of nowhere, which is all the more difficult because you didn’t expect it to be so strong.
For what feels like as long as I can remember I’ve had the impulse toward wanting to travel. It’s not dissimilar from feeling guilty about something. It sits like lump in my stomach and puts me on edge. I find myself daydreaming about the smell of diesel fuel mixed with garbage mixed with spices (because that’s pretty much what India, Cuba, and Thailand smell like on the street).
It’s a compulsion. A twitch in my eye. An urge to go into a new place and see things I’ve never seen before and may never see again. It’s the desire to see it before it’s gone or I’m gone. I travel, because I’ve been struck with a sickness. It’s called curiosity.
Curiosity has all kinds of strange side effects. You’ll know you have it when you find yourself at 3:30 in the morning looking at maps and flickr accounts. Reading blogs and wikipedia. Trying to understand what makes the baguettes in France taste better. Or why there isn’t anything like the Chai on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi.
“We construct a narrative for ourselves, and that’s the thread that we follow from one day to the next. People who disintegrate as personalities are the ones who lose that thread.”
― Paul Auster