The issue at hand – travel numbness & a decreasing sense of newness. It’s to be expected, really. No big surprises here, we can all see it coming, and now the question is how we can best deal with it. It’s a tricky one, there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution to this.
It’s a combination of issues. The most troubling of all comes with the admission that I’m a drug addict. For me, it started with the simple realization that I have what Israelis refer to as "needles in my ass" (קוצים בטוסיק), it’s hard for me to stay put and not move around because I just get bored very fast. Some of my friends back in Israel are annoyed with me insisting that we should not go back in the same path by which we arrived, and with me constantly wanting to go explore new restaurants and pubs when "the ones we’re already familiar with are so nice and comfortable". Moving to Asia has partially addressed this problem. I got my dosage of the newness drug on a regular basis and for while – it was alright. I was a travel drug addict surrounded by endless cultural heroin.
But then I started noticing a looming problem. The more I get exposed to this newness the less the newness excites me. Over the years it has become increasingly difficult to impress me. I would go see something new with a friend and the friend would be ecstatic while I would stare blankly and yawn thinking "boring. come on… I’ve seen something like that a week ago, need to find something better". Strange new worlds and new civilizations? not that easy anymore. Is there really somewhere that’s completely different from where I’ve been to before?
And recently, it’s been worse. I have an endless urge to travel and explore but whenever I look things up on the net or read some guidebook I can’t beat the feeling that it’s just not as appealing as I would hope for it to be.
China is a good example. Aside from my general issues with travel in China, which I hope to discuss more as some point, every time I travel to China I can’t help but think – "this is it? I’ve had some of that in Taiwan and I have this in Hong Kong, and probably much more visitor friendly". It’s not necessarily because Taiwan and Hong Kong are the same or better (which is a statement I fight hard to avoid), it’s just that I’ve probably become somewhat numb to differences. Sure, each place with its own charm, but I need a new charm, a charm that would make me feel charmed, and that’s increasingly more difficult to do.
I can’t quite remember the last time I was shockingly taken back by something cultural or by a scenic view. I have seen my fair share of stunning places within the last year, but because I see so many of those, they fail to leave a strong lasting impression. Every once in a while someone would tackle me with the question of – "so you’ve traveled around, what’s a memorably getaway from Hong Kong?". It now takes me much longer to recall what is memorable. It’s also becoming difficult to sort things from each other, and it’s even more difficult to try and compare between them. The first few times I got this question I went into a long defensive monologue about all the possible options that a person can consider, but who wants that? people want a bottom line, a recommendation, a statement. But this travel numbness also leads to an increasing inability to differentiate and pin point a specific travel experience from all the rest.
I know what you might be thinking. These are what people to refer to as "rich folks’ problems", as some people don’t even get to travel more than once or twice a year. But then you’d have to consider that they have something to really look forward to, as the newness of their travel experience – if positive – would very likely stay with them for a very long time afterwards. My travel experiences now last no longer than a few days, and then I almost forget I went anywhere. On our weekly chat my dad would sometime ask me how was my trip to wherever the last weekend, and I would catch myself not even remembering I went there.
How to deal with this?
If your solution would be to travel less, let me reject that with the explanation that if I were to not-travel for too long, I’d most likely go insane.
A possible solution that I’ve already mentioned above is to go traveling with someone else, preferably someone of lower travel numbness. Excitement is contagious, and so I get much more excited when the one I’m traveling with is excited. Seeing things through someone else’s eyes is one of the best ways I’ve found to combat my travel numbness. In the last year I’ve taken up hosting Couchsurfers and occasional visiting strangers to Hong Kong. Trust me, Dim Sums and Xiao Long Baos taste a whole lot better when the person across from you goes "OH MY GOD, this is fantastic!" and the streets and mountains of Hong Kong seem so much more magical when the person you’re taking around keeps mumbling "wow, WHAT IS THIS PLACE?!".
I guess how close you feel to the person you’re traveling with also matters. The few trips I’ve had with my family members in the last few years I’ve been away (mom-Taiwan, sister1-HK, sister2-Turkey, dad-Balkans & US/Canada) have been extremely positive experiences, and I remember very clearly really disliking family trips when I was younger. I used to travel everywhere alone all the time, doing my best to avoid making plans to travel with others. But, that’s no longer the case. I would even go as far as to say I now prefer going somewhere new with another someone.
What else? I’d say the one thing that adds a constant boost to the whole experience is this blog. Sorting out the photos, uploading them, sharing them on FB/Twitter, picking out the best ones, putting those on a blog post, recalling where everything was and how I did it all, almost reliving the people I’ve met and the things I’ve done so I could write about them and post it online… this all makes a difference. It might sound odd, but some of my travel WOWs I get long after the travel’s done and I’m sitting in-front of a computer writing about things. Take the Balkans tour, for example, where I’ve gone through 7 different countries in about 10 days. Going through the whole thing is was a chaotic mixture of cultural experiences. At most times I wasn’t even sure what country I was in and where I’m headed to next. But after almost a year of putting it all done on a this virtual-paper of a blog and then linking the whole thing into one summary post, that made me go "WOW, I remember it all and it was a really good trip!".
How about you?
Have you ever felt travel numbness? How do you fight it?