I genuinely appreciate every comment I receive here. Each time someone comments on a post, I am encouraged to continue writing. Occasionally, a comment really gives me pause and causes me to think. I recently received such a comment. It was so insightful that I felt compelled to write a post answering it. This is part two of my response. Again, thank you to the commenter.
The comment reads:
I have always loved the idea of being a mastered traveler. I have several friends, including you, who are modern hobos, seekers, and/or travelers. Part of me loves watching their adventures and growth, but the other part of me knows how lonely it can be to be a traveler. Can you be a master traveler and still have a community/home that is fulfilling, or will you always be wandering?
This post will deal specifically with the question about community.
What is assumed first of all in the question is that community is important. Community is where we feel accepted. It’s where we find companionship. With our communities, we celebrate the joyful moments of life. It’s also in the midst of our communities that we can get through the difficult times. Much of life, though, consists of the ‘in-between’ moments, those that are neither exceptionally joyous nor painful. It’s in these moments that community is established and maintained, making even the seemingly dull moments gratifying.
Now, a brief caveat: despite consistent thoughts about going abroad, I am not necessarily in a place where I can speak perfectly about the community of a traveler, master or otherwise, because I am not currently traveling. I have established community around me. All thoughts and comments about this aspect of traveling are going to come from memory rather than from my current surroundings.
The intensity that travelers experience while traveling is one of the main elements that continually draws people back to ‘the road’. Seeing the sights is certainly part of the motivation to travel, but I would argue that seeing the sights is a secondary feature that merely contributes to the overall intensity. In part one of my response, I mentioned feeling alive while I’m traveling. It seems as if food tastes better and that colors are brighter. Every sight is new and exciting. Each day seems to hold some new adventure and something previously undiscovered. The ‘job’ of travelers is to explore their surroundings and to expand their horizons.
Impermanence in life is true for all of us. Travelers, though, are faced with this reality in a very tangible way.
In my personal experience traveling, I’ve been so tired, running on fumes after hours on planes, busses, and trains, often with little sleep. Yet this is almost never enough to slow me down entirely. A day off here and there is necessary, but that’s only required on occasion because there is always something more to see and do. While traveling, I refuse to let fatigue get in the way. Due to this intensity, I am able to find fresh reserves of strength and energy beyond what I have in my normal day-to-day.
Simply put, everything is heightened and amplified while traveling.
This most certainly extends to the relationships one forms during travel. In my daily life, I’m more introverted, even shy, especially when I’m in an unfamiliar setting and/or surrounded by strangers. While traveling, though, I’m always in unfamiliar situations, surrounded by strangers. Being so far outside of my comfort zone forces me to interact with others when I would not normally do so. I’ve met some amazing people as a result. This creates a traveling community. Yes, it can be exhausting to meet new people all the time, but it’s also exhilarating. You never know who you’re going to meet next.
There can be a level of superficiality to some of the relationships formed because of the fleeting nature of the encounters. Sometimes, a person is only around for a day or two before heading off to another locale. Although this shortens the relationship, it also often intensifies it because it emphasizes the fact that the current moment is all there is. Nothing in life is truly guaranteed beyond the present. People come and go; we may see them again, or we may not. Impermanence in life is true for all of us. Travelers, though, are faced with this reality in a very tangible way.
However, superficiality in these relationships isn’t always the case. For example, during the trip I took during 2015, I was in Germany for about 2 weeks. I didn’t spend anything on accommodation in Germany because I stayed with people I had met either the year before or earlier in that trip. I am so grateful to my German friends who hosted me, both for their hospitality and because they showed me that relationships built through travel can endure.
In my experience, if a group of travelers is in a room together, there won’t be many dull moments.
The alternative to meeting others is to be entirely alone. This is, in part, where the loneliness mentioned in the comment comes from. I say “in part” because, even with the community of travelers, there is still some loneliness that, at times, persists. This reminds me of something someone told me during my travels last year about being away from home/family/community. To paraphrase, she said that, at some point, a traveler hits a wall. Upon doing so, a strong longing for home will come. When this comes about, one of two things will happen. That traveler will either give in to the desire and return home, or the traveler will break through the wall and continue his or her journey. If it’s the latter, those ties to home, family, and community could be severed.
I understand this concept of hitting a wall because this is basically what happened to me. As I was nearing the end of my 90 days in Europe’s Schengen Zone, it was also nearing the Christmas season. I considered going to a country outside of Schengen, perhaps to Croatia, Bulgaria, or Macedonia. I would have been able to stay in Europe, but it also would have meant spending the holidays in a hostel with a group of strangers. Any of us who were together would have spent the time together, and we could have formed a community. However, this seemed to be the time for me to return home. I hit that wall, and I wasn’t ready to keep going.
This demonstrates the potential limits of the community of travelers. It is a community, but it’s still difficult to replace home, family, and established friendships. This is especially true during certain times of year, such as Christmas. I can’t say that I love what Christmas has become, with its commercialism and such. Despite this, it’s a time for many, including me, to be around family and loved ones.
Still, the community I found while traveling was mostly sufficient. As a traveler, I met a lot of like-minded people with whom I frequently had a lot in common. In my experience, if a group of travelers is in a room together, there won’t be many dull moments. I missed my family and friends at times, and this was obviously enough to bring me back home. Yet there is still something real going on among this traveling community. I recently received an email from my friend Amanda, who is yet another non-superficial friend I made while traveling. In the message, she said, “I suppose there’s something comforting about knowing that a random encounter with a stranger can lead to a moment of real human connection.” Whether that connection becomes something lasting is uncertain, but it is a connection nonetheless.
For those who haven’t yet traveled, some of what I wrote here likely won’t resonate with you. Yet you still have community. Whether the moments we experience are happy, sad, or otherwise, community does so much to improve the quality of life. Wherever you are, traveling or at home, embrace those around you. Be a part of your community.
A pilgrimage is an intensely personal journey, but it is not one that a pilgrim undertakes alone. I don’t want to ‘talk’ into a vacuum. I want to hear other voices, too. What I’m trying to say is, I want feedback! Have I spoken something to you? Is there something you think I should know? Do you have a question about something I said? Please leave a comment below or contact me at Pilgrim.Brett@gmail.com
Also, follow me on the Pilgrim Shelter Facebook page to stay up to date on any new releases and for information about future posts.