Monday, January 20, 2014

In a week we will laugh about this. Hopefully.

I had a bit of a meltdown today, the day before the start of month #10 on the road.

And by "a bit" I mean... it wasn't pretty. We'd spent most of the rainy morning figuring out our next few days and afterward I was cold and cranky, so I laid down while Patrick went for a walk. When he came back he recommended that I go check out this amazing park he'd found. I burst into tears, flopped over on my creaky metal-framed bed in our empty former-train-station hostel, pulled the covers over my head, and cried while the city crew jack-hammered on the street outside.

Eventually I decided it wasn't fair if he saw the beach and I didn't (yes, I am about to turn 39 - and your point is...?), so I got my coat and we went for a walk.

the park really was pretty amazing

I can credit hormones for some of this meltdown. This is true. But I think a lot more of it is due to general exhaustion. This kind of travel is hard. And by "hard" I mean, HARD. There's the constant feeling that we are missing a thousand things for every amazing thing we do see, and not knowing if we will ever come back to see the other 999 amazing things. There's not knowing where we will be in three days, sometimes even that very night - yet wanting to stay flexible enough to enjoy every opportunity that presents itself. There's wanting to submit photos to contests and writing samples to magazines but not having the energy (or sometimes the wifi) to do so at the end of the day. There's wanting to scrimp on costs to ensure that our travels last as long as possible while sometimes sacrificing comfortable sleep and/or nutritious food and/or hours of time. There's this stupid Schengen visa restriction that only gives us 90 days of every 180 days in most European countries...

But I'm a project manager! And a darned good one! I've simultaneously and successfully planned the now, the month-from-now and the year-from-now. I've made decisions on the fly and had them turn out swimmingly, and when they didn't go swimmingly, well - no one died, I learned something, and life went on. I've managed budgets down to the $0.01, schedules to the half-hour and scope creep to the nth degree. So I'm trying to figure out what makes this different from any large project.

Three easy answers come to mind. One is that I always had a team to support me. Here and now, I have aforementioned patient and rather awesome partner in crime, but between the two of us there is not enough time in the day to enjoy the now, plan the tomorrow, research the day after, AND maintain our mental and physical strength. Two is that I usually had adequate resources, but now there is only one laptop and two of us. If I didn't already need progressive lenses, I certainly will after months and months of trying to research hostels and train timetables in foreign languages on my iTouch screen. Three is that I (usually) left work behind from 5:30pm-8:30am every day, with a full 48-hour break on weekends... Harder to do on the road. Shouldn't be, but it is for me. I always, always, always feel behind.

And then there's the fourth answer. The biggie. The not-so-easy one. With projects I always knew where I was going. The deliverable, the end product, the countless other words I hope to never hear or write again. With travel? I have no idea. Before we left we had dinner with some friends who wanted to know our "goal" for this trip. We had no answer. We just knew that cubeland was not for us (for the foreseeable future, anyway) and that we wanted to see and do things we hadn't seen and done. That's still true. But my "goal" for this trip? I still have no idea. (I suspect goats might be involved in some way though.)

or possibly Pyrenees horses

or maybe lambs

Honestly, lately there's been this nagging feeling of wondering what the hell I'm doing. We have a Facebook page, we have a Flickr account, we have Twitter followers, we have daily (if not hourly) decisions to make. Other than those things, we have very little. And as for me, other than a truly patient and rather awesome partner in crime, *I*, Jen, have very little to call my very own. I have no job, no car, no phone. I have a small collection of personal belongings scattered in random places. I have a mailing address but no home. I have no pots, no pans, no sheets or fluffy bath towels and rely on strangers for these things... sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. I travel with a tiny bag of toiletries that does not include a pumice stone or deep conditioner... and I desperately need both.

Before you start with your tiny violin, I will say that while this kind of travel is hard, it is definitely also wonderful. Five days ago I had no idea that the bulls ran such a short distance along such narrow cobbled streets in their annual ritual. Two weeks ago I'd never heard of the town where we saw the beautiful beach today. A year ago I would've laughed if you told me I'd be in Spain at any point on this trip.

I am grateful. But it's definitely not all hugs and puppies. This isn't the first time I've had a meltdown but it's definitely been the worst. I've been feeling it coming for a few days so the other day I googled tips on preventing travel burnout and we're doing most things they recommend - cooking familiar meals, reaching out to friends, getting out of cities, doing laundry in actual washing machines, writing about our excursions, laughing, skipping sightseeing to just sit and absorb. We're hoping to park for a few weeks in Portugal to see if that helps. I have some creative outlets in mind that I think will help.

So I try to roll with it. I shake it off and hope tomorrow brings a successful car rental and a rainy but wonderful walk in a gorgeous place I hadn't heard of before last week. And if it doesn't, I know it will at least bring a warm, dry bed in an empty former-train-station hostel and a new adventure the next day.

At least I know that much is true.


  1. Hey Jen
    I went through the exact same feelings, but had melt downs on a daily basis rather than occasionally! I don't come with tons of advice that you haven't already heard, but I get it. The not having a plan, the recoil as being homeless when that's what you initially wanted and the sheer exhaustion from traveling so much. We saw 28 countries and I wanted to see twice that amount. I do have to say Western Europe is tough to travel. It's expensive, it's harder to have the personal moments with the locals that you might have envisioned having and it's the one place in the world where we felt like tourists and not travelers. I'd say 1-take a vacation from the travel. No one would get that statement, except people who've done what you are doing, but travel is work. Lots and lots of work. So, go somewhere that you can plop down for a few days and do nothing. Watch TV, stay in the nicest place you can afford, sleep in and don't have any agenda. Believe me you'll feel a hundred times better. 2-Get the hell out of Europe. Nice place to visit, yada, yada, yada. Southeast Asia is really awesome and it's dry right now. Things will be cheaper, you won't feel as impoverished, the people are friendly and it will be different enough that you'll remember why you set off on this boondoggle in the first place, to see the difference the world offers. Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Bali, will all be a balm to a weary traveler. Don't worry. This happens, is temporary and when you feel especially shitty, you can at least be glad you aren't dragging an 8 year old along with you! :) Loey

    1. Hey Loey! Thanks so much for your advice. I do remember you saying Europe was harder than most other places. For me I think it's hard right now because Spain is so comfortable. Makes me miss all the comforts of our old home, and there's not really a challenge so I spend a lot of time wondering what I'm doing here. Morocco and Vietnam will be much-needed changes of scenery in those regards. We're parking for a few days in northern Spain, then hope to park a while longer in places around Portugal. And definitely in Vietnam. I want to take cooking classes!! :) And yes - I'm not pregnant like another travel friend and I'm not with an 8 year old even if I feel like one sometimes. Perspective, it's all about perspective.

  2. props to Patrick for returning from the "walk"

  3. Hi Jen, it's Ashlea!
    Wow, it's taken you a long time to have a mental breakdown, so props to you for hanging on so long! When I set out backpacking by myself in Europe it took me one whole day to have that breakdown. Standing in a dark street in the rain in Scotland, with a 100 pound backpack filled with things I would need for 1 year, trying to find a hostel that may or may not have my reservation for that night, being exhausted from the long flight....I lost it. That was the most isolated, alone and clueless that I've ever felt in my life. So, although it took me a shorter time to get there, I know how you feel to a certain degree.

    The best kind of traveling that I did on that trip was when I just let things happen. I didn't have a cell phone or a computer at the time so that helped, and it was never about planning, ever. I met people that were cool, and we took a trip together and had a total blast. Those were the things that I remember most, just letting go and not having an agenda and a plan, true freedom. It felt good to walk away from that and to see where the people I met would take me and what I could learn from them.

    Instead of asking yourself what the goal of this trip is, ask yourself if you really need a goal or a plan. Are you ready to let life wash over you and take you wherever it does? Are you ready to stop being a project manager and just be a person experiencing life and getting to know the people around you?

    Keep your head up and smile. :)


    1. Hey Ashlea! Great to hear from you! Thanks for your kind words and perspective. I am at an age where I wonder if I really can change my approaches or if it's too late and I need to just work within my own comfort zone while enjoying this amazing opportunity. I'm a wanna-be free spirit trapped in a control-freak's body... it's annoying. But hey, I didn't think we'd spend 2 months in Turkey and I didn't think we'd get to Spain and it's all been amazing. Maybe I just need to remind myself of that every day! Anyway thanks for reading and for your message.