Travel is... a lot of things. Amazing. Disgusting. Enlightening. Disheartening. But one thing I love about it is that it feels like kindergarten, college, and adulthood, all at once!
This is something I started thinking about the other morning when I met Tom. "Met" is definitely an overstatement. We'd both woken up early to catch the 7am but to the 8am boat to Bako National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia.
Because of this coincidence, we also started hiking the same trail at the same speed at the same time, and eventually started talking to each other if we spotted any wildlife (or didn't spot any wildlife).
There was no, "Hi, I'm Eva, what's your name?"
There was no official declaration that we would be hiking together today or discussion over trail maps.
We were just two people who ended up in the same place at the same time... and began engaging in what developmental psychologists would call parallel play -- a form of play during which children play adjacent to one another, but don't try to influence one another's behavior. They play alone, but still show interest in what the other children are doing.
And this is exactly the kind of thing that happens every day when you travel alone. Which is why I always say you never get lonely when traveling alone. In fact, if you struggle to meet new people when you're at home, the best solution for your loneliness might be to travel alone.
But this particular parallel play incident got me thinking about another blog post I wrote once: Kindergarteners Make Friends More Easily That You. Here's Why. In it, I wrote:
In psychology, we say there are three requirements to making new friends:
During travel, requirement two is rarely satisfied.
But one and three are, times, like, a million.
With travel, not only do you have proximity, but you also have proximity in a place neither of you had been before, where you might be hot, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, confused, or experiencing stomach issues (because you didn't read my post about how probiotics can prevent and alleviate traveler's diarrhea).
FLIES! SO MANY FLIES! Image: The Happy Talent on Facebook.
Not only are you near each other, but you also kind of need each other. Sometimes, you just need someone to look at and be like, "WTF?" with.
Number three, a setting that allows for openness and vulnerability, is also satisfied during travel. No one has to hold anything back -- and no one does. If you don't like me, that's fine. You're not my co-worker. You're not my boyfriend's college roommate or my basketball teammate. You're just someone who's hiking the same trail I'm hiking at the same time as me.
So... why should I hold back? Why should I care what you think?
During travel, it's almost as though we've put ourselves in a setting and mindset that closely resembles a kindergarten classroom, rather than a rigid, self-conscious, adult-like environment.
Travel is also like being in college.
Of course, there's the fact that you likely drink more when you travel than you would normally. For example, last night, I sat on a bag of rice in a local market and drank duty-free wild tea vodka.
The night before, it was sauv blanc in a kayak at sunset -- it was like the boat was designed for wine drinking. (Or possibly crab fishing.)
And, really, every night, it's been something. Every night, I think I'm going to go be "productive," perhaps booking that flight to Lombok, paying that liveaboard deposit, updating my forlorn blog or website.
But each night just turns into a snorkel party, jam session, and/or sampling the local tuak (rice wine) and langkau (distilled tuak).
But even when there's no alcohol involved, travelers are super open to meeting new people, and including newcomers on their adventures. (Which I think people should try to live their whole life like they're traveling.)
This hyper-social side of travel is part of what makes people love travel so much... and it's also part of why people think "poor people who have nothing" are "happier" than citizens of developed countries. (Don't even get me started on those ignorant tourists who think "kids who sleep on dirt floors are sooooo happy." They're not. They're literally dying of diarrhea and parasites.)
It's not that they're happier. It's more that their poverty forces them to develop and maintain strong social bonds.
Kind of like college students. (But obviously different.)
Stuffed together in tiny dorm rooms, eating the same food in the same dining halls, stressed out by their classes and away from home for the first time, discovering "who they really are" and constantly exposing themselves to new ideas, information, and experiences, college students are actually a lot like travelers.
Plus, with travel, the more people in your group, the more ways you can split expenses. You can try more new foods, without committing to a whole plate. You can take turns driving. You can watch each other's stuff while the other goes to the bathroom. In more ways than one, it pays to make new friends.
Image: @TheHappyTalent on Twitter.
Time for some honesty:
I thought I was completely over the whole "hostel culture" party scene that is so prevalent among backpackers. As I recently admitted, I'm guilty of spending my money in anti-social manners that probably make me less happy -- in travel, that's meant never, ever, EVER staying in a hostel or dorm. Not since I was like, 20 and broke.
But on my current trip, situations beyond my control have forced me to stay in three different dorms (to get the permit, I have to stay in the place; the place is out of private rooms and only has shared dorms). I kind of hated it -- I love letting my stuff explode all over the room, and I hate having to be quiet out of consideration for the people who are already sleeping, then being woken up by the people who get up before you. I like doing what I want, when I want.
But... it was also kind of amazing.
It was kind of like...
Living in a dorm. Being in college again.
I also love how the culture is so accepting -- more and more older travelers (by older, I mean 30-year-olds, but also, like, 60-year-olds) are staying in dorms, and that is totally fine. In fact, one of the things that impressed me on this trip was the round, intent eyes I saw on a 20-year-old Dutch girl as she listened to a 30-something talk about her career development. She listened carefully and asked thoughtful follow-up questions, and I was just like, this is amazing.
There are tons of people here, all with one big thing in common (travel), and all eager to learn from each other -- whether small things, like, "How did you get from Semporna to Danum Valley?" to bigger ones, like, "How did you discover your life's purpose?"
Apparently, there is also a lot of hooking up in both college and in travel, but that's never been my thing. (For me, physical touch means something, so it's not really compatible with random hookups. Learn more in my amazing, completely not problematic or judgey original, Eroticism is Dead, which was inspired by Phil Zimbardo's Man Interrupted: Why Today's Young Men Are Suffering and What We Can Do About It, and Peggy Orenstein's Girls and Sex: Navigating The Complicated New Landscape. Plus, the other thing is, I kind of assume everyone I meet while I'm traveling has hepatitis and herpes and AIDS -- or, at least, that they've been petting the diseased, unvaccinated street cats.)
Nevertheless, even I must admit, these conditions are great for meeting lots of people, many of whom are quite attractive, and all of whom have at least one major thing in common with you. There's no pressure of, "Is it too soon?" or, "What does this mean for the relationship?" or, "I value our friendship too much."
And... it's not like it's always a random, one-time thing. I know multiple married couples who met while traveling.
More than any of this, I think travelers bond and feel like college students because we are all experiencing a completely new, mind-blowing world together, and it fills us with wonder.
So, yeah. Travel is just like kindergarten and college.
But it's also just like adulthood.
Which makes sense -- we are adults.
There's so much that sucks about adulthood: responsibility, debt, insurance, taxes.
But... there's so much that's wonderful.
You have more independence than ever before (until you get married and have babies). You have more money than ever before. You can do whatever you want without anyone's approval...
Which is kind of exactly what travel is.
It's not always awesome. There's something so comfortable about waking up and knowing what you're going to do today, because it's Monday, and on Mondays, you go to work, then you play basketball with your friends, then you watch Game of Thrones. (That's a thing people are doing in the States right now, right?)
It's so much easier than waking up and thinking, I can literally go anywhere in the world today. Where should I go? How many days should I stay How do I get there? Is there an ATM, or do I need to withdraw money before I go? Can I leave whenever I want, or is there literally one ferry per week?
And it's definitely easier than going through all that, then having to do it all over again because travel happened. (I woke up yesterday morning and helped three different people I met in the last month who were all in the, "Shit! Now what?" camp -- the one was supposed to go to Sri Lanka but terrorism; the other was supposed to go to the Derawan Islands, but there's literally no less-that-11-hour-and-hundreds-of-dollars way to get there; and the last just... ended up not liking a city he'd planned on spending a lot of time in (Bali), and wasn't sure what to do next.)
That said, I love the independence and autonomy of travel. Yeah, you're constantly making small travel decisions, you have to think things through, put out fires, and be entirely self-reliant. That takes energy and it kind of sucks...
But the payoff is so huge.
It's kind of the perfect metaphor for adulthood. Every decision is yours to make, and sometimes it's hard, but it's also kind of the most amazing thing that's ever happened to you.
Travel keeps you young, healthy (except for when it almost kills you), mindful, accepting, and grateful. AND it's a way to magically transport yourself into three distinct parts of your life, all at the same time.
That's pretty epic.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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