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Ruined by the road: The dark side of travel addiction

Travel Addict

My name is Chris Dame, and I am a travel addict.

It started when I was young, taking road trips to cities outside my state. I enjoyed exploring new places, seeing the history they found special, and meeting people who had different expectations of what the important things in life were. Both of my parents were choir directors who traveled for competitions and conferences, which led to me exploring new places on my own while they hobnobbed with other directors and got serious research done.

While they spent their days listening to music, I spent mine listening to rivers, talking to crickets, and reading books in crowded shopping malls. I explored the Alamo on my own and made friends with random children and adults who were strangers minutes before by figuring out what “common ground” was.

By the time I rode an airplane for the first time at the age of 10, I had fallen in love with the journey. I spent the entire time exploring the culture of airplanes, how people acted differently, what different buttons did, and when my father finally settled me into my seatbelt, every new thing that passed by the window that I had never seen before. It was intoxicating.

In the years leading up to getting a driver’s license, I would seek out faster transportation that would let me explore further away, faster. I would bike or skateboard for hours every day, trying to find new places. On the weekends, I would be gone all day, taking little breaks to refuel, chugging down a gallon of liquid and eating a sandwich quickly so I could head back out.

Once I got my own car, I left those smaller wheels behind, now able to reach bigger cities in less time than it took me to get to my friend’s house across town on bike. Gas was cheap then, and I would go on road trips to nowhere in particular, searching out the unique and different.

Eventually, I became a college student in St. Louis. I would study, and I would eat, but I wasn’t a big drinker. I spent my time on the internet, learning about new things and new people. As a result, some of my girlfriends lived in faraway cities that required flights to visit. And we did. And we explored new cities we had never heard of, meeting new friends, discovering new microcultures, and enjoying the open road.

At this point, travel was a necessity for life. If I didn’t leave the state where I lived at least once a month, I would get antsy. I lived in Portland, Oregon for 7 years, regularly driving to Seattle, taking the Greyhound to California, or flying to the east coast to visit friends. I didn’t care how I got there, as long as I was moving. I had friends in other cities that were closer to me than ones where I lived. While I had my own apartment, I had no more attachment to it than any other place I traveled to.

Eventually I got a job in San Francisco that required travel to foreign countries regularly, deeply exploring new cultures. I suppose it was inevitable. I spent about half my time on the road. Sometimes to places I knew people, but mostly to places I had never thought of visiting. India, rural England, Finland, Kenya, wherever. It didn’t much matter to me, the further the better. I saw people at my company burning out on travel. They got elite status with airlines and hotels, then never used them because they didn’t want to travel anymore.

Not me, though. Not me.

I started running projects on my own, working in travel to places I wanted to visit. Longer and longer trips. Soon I was spending a month or two at a time on the road, developing deep friendships with people in the cities where I temporarily lived. I became known inside the company as the person who always traveled with one tiny bag and was always more prepared than the others, so I was constantly giving out advice to other professional travelers on how to survive on the road, which is precisely where I thrived.

Eventually I wanted to do more than the company would have allowed, and I set off on my own. I sold off everything in my downtown San Francisco apartment and set off to travel full-time, visiting places I had always wanted to see. Andorra, South Africa, Vietnam, even spending a long stint in Japan learning the language. Even then I would take frequent trips to other countries just to get my travel fix.

The road can be fun, but it can also be lonely. I found myself visiting places that had no internet, or electricity for only a couple random hours per day. I would explore, but my home is in my friends spread around the world, and I was cut off from them. I was sitting on an exotic beach with new friends in a foreign country, and I would have given it all to be sitting in a tiny one-bedroom with a close friend who really knew me, laughing about how things have changed. Just one inside joke would be enough.

One of the awful parts of traveling like this is that you will never get sympathy, or even empathy for problems like this. People feel like you are living the dream, and you don’t deserve to be sad. The truth is that it’s a life like any other, with its ups and downs that are just as high and low. People just imagine the good parts, though, and you become the “crazy friend” who is doing all kinds of things they dream about doing. An inspiration. Not a person.

It becomes isolating. Smothering. Soon I was buying same-day tickets to places I had never heard of, searching out the next amazing story to share with my friends. Once you discover that it’s cheaper, much cheaper, to hop around the world than to pay for an apartment in one city, it’s easy to get caught up in the “why not?”. I found myself alone in places where I didn’t speak the language, trying to find something interesting, something new. But nothing was good enough.

This is when I discovered that it’s easy to justify spending entire days on the internet when you are doing it in foreign countries. Starved of my friends, I began seeking them out. Taking little chunks of conversation and laughter when I could between the busy moments of their lives.

Their lives.

The lives that seemed so ordered. So put-together in a way that made sense. Not like mine. The life that caused stumbling words and annoyance when someone asked a simple question like “What do you do?” or “Where are you from?”. Those aren’t simple questions for me, and likely never will be. I’ve been ruined by the road.

Where most people work hard to try to break away from the same thing every day, I have to work to find a routine. How do I find time to work when I don’t know if I will have internet? How do I work out when I might be on a 30-hour flight unexpectedly? How do I stay in contact with friends and family when I don’t know if it’s even possible to get a phone as a foreigner? There is no relaxing after another hard day for me. It’s just another night of figuring out a culture after being thoroughly exhausted from a day of travel and unexpected paperwork.

So I hole up again. I find a new book. I catch a friend online. I leave my room once to get food for the day at the nearest convenience store, then I lock the door. I escape, and sometimes I even forget that I’m traveling. I spend so long immersed in the things that remind me of home, recovering, that I even forget where I am.

That night I feel well enough to venture out and slowly explore again, and the foreign chatter and signs I can’t read slap me across the face. Oh yeah. I’m not home. Wherever that is, anymore.

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