Last week I resisted the urge to crush Alt+f4 repeatedly and made it through to the end of an article published on Thought Catalog. If you’re unfamiliar, Thought Catalog is like the wistful, emotionally-needy cousin of BuzzFeed, a Web 2.0 Dawsons Creek where privileged 20-somethings pen listicles about their quarter-life crises and write sincere open letters entitled ‘Dear Instagram, I’d Like To Take This Time To Say Thank You’.
It’s the last word in Generation Y egocentricity, with articles like ‘I Can Only Forgive You When You’re Sleeping’ and ‘I Am The Girl You Almost Date’ casting the writer as romantic lead in a turbulent, post-modern Greek tragedy, all played out under the faded glow of an Instagrammed sunset. Whether it’s ‘Five Things You’ll Learn From Studying Your Past’ or ‘Fourteen Struggles Every Pushover Will Understand’ the website is imbued with a subtle but pervasive solipsism. You are beautiful, no matter what they say.
So when I saw a link to an article called ‘The Hardest Part Of Travelling No One Talks About’ I was pretty clear on the sorts of facsimiled gap yah antics that were about to be passed off as revelatory experience. You know the sorts of things I mean; the bout of diarrhoea after drinking one-too-many bucket cocktails at a full moon party, the unidentified STI caught from a local tour-guide, that kind of territory. What followed, however, was something so absurd that I had to re-read it a few times just to make sure I’d understood the writer correctly. Demonstrating the sort of intergalactic self-absorption that gives every disillusioned post-graduate a bad name, the writer concludes that the secret hardship about travelling isn’t even anything to do with being abroad or missing other people, it’s not being given enough special treatment upon your arrival home.
"You’re Hollywood for the first few weeks back… And then it all just goes away. Everyone gets used to you being home, you’re not the shiny new object any more and the questions start coming. So do you have a job yet? What’s your plan? "
Ah, the cruelty of time. Those who’ve experienced the death of a close loved-one report the desolate loneliness that kicks-in a few days after the funeral. In the immediate aftermath of a death their spirit is kept alive by the sense of hubbub and congregation. The back-and-forth flow of shared memories means they’re painted into the foreground of every interaction. It’s only once the person recedes into memory that those cracks begin to widen and the sheer scale of the loss is revealed. And so it is for those who’ve spent the last four months tripping balls on Big Buddha Beach. Look, if you’ve not been there you won’t understand OK?
Like some Snapchat-generation Siegfried Sassoon the writer continues to contrast how fundamentally mind-altering her experiences were with the abject failure of others to adequately comprehend: You’re glad everyone is happy and healthy and yes, people have gotten new jobs, boyfriends, engagements, etc., but part of you is screaming don’t you understand how much I have changed? And I don’t mean hair, weight, dress or anything else that has to do with appearance. I mean what’s going on inside of your head… You want everyone to recognise this and you want to share and discuss it, but there’s no way to describe the way your spirit evolves when you leave everything you know behind… Here our writer begrudgingly acknowledges the existence of other humans before freezing-out such extraneous detail and concentrating on the main event here - the evolution of her spirit.
Unfortunately for us this evolution is so profound that it resists any attempt to be explained and as such is cordoned off. Instead, readers are left to imagine the scene at the airport - her parents rushing to greet her, smiles, hugs, tears and questions met only with the silent mouthing of some unspoken truth.
Peel below the surface and the entrenched societal assumptions here could make Michael Gove blush. Her reductive world-view seems to split the populace into two distinct categories: Those who’ve travelled vs those who haven’t. For the writer, the first category represents the sole path to enlightenment. An elite group blessed with ‘wanderlust’ who emit a glow the rest of us should be grateful to bathe in. The latter group are the drones. The Dilberts of the world, sweating in cheap polyester shirts whilst chucking down handfuls of migraine pills and kicking the office vending machine in a state of perpetual despair. Work is for suckers. Paid employment is a fast-track ticket to depression. Family, friends, home, belonging, purpose, community, identity are all shackles wielded by The Man as tools of imprisonment.
This is where the real kick in the balls comes in. By casting aside everything but travel the writer remoulds ‘holidays’ not as a universally desired thing, but as a spiritual calling ordained upon the select few. Under this logic, anything relating to permanence is torched in favour of a continual hunger to escape. But if you can only find solace in transience, then you’re destined to be forever caught in a web of your own devising:
It’s like learning a foreign language that no one around you speaks so there is no way to communicate to them how you really feel… This is the hardest part about traveling, and it’s the very reason why we all run away again.
Perhaps that’s the saddest part of all. When the holiday’s over, there’s simply nowhere else to go.