Homecoming: On the Limits of Travel

Much of what I have written here, and what many others have written about the experience of travel far more artfully than I could, centers on the transformative power of seeing the world. While I may never reach the level of epiphanies experience of my friend Lindsey, it’s fair to say that travel, and this lengthy trip in particular, has changed me.

I suppose that’s why it was so surprising and frustrating to, upon hearing some absurd news from my job back home, start to feel the symptoms I’ve only recently realized are the markers of stress: that flushed fever and feeling of general anxiety that’s been gone for ninety days. They rushed back this afternoon, and even though I was on the shores of Lake Zurich on one of the most delightful autumn days I’ve ever experienced, it took hours to take off those feelings. Even on sabbatical, in the loveliest of spots, it seems the frustrations of trying to respond with rationality to an irrational system can trigger an episode of serious stress.

Although I’m certainly not glad that my old friend stress returned for a visit today, it was a useful reminder that, transformative as travel may be, the responsibility for real change depends on how I respond, not where I am. It was easy on most of this trip to fend off stress when I could set my own agenda, read e-mail when I wanted to, and sleep as long as I wanted to. None of those things will be true when I return to what some would, wrongly, call the real world, but today was a reminder that I do have a choice about how I let those frustrations wear on me. I failed today to control it, but I might have some ideas to battle the beast of stress when I return. I have to find a way.

I’ve had a remarkable experience, one that’s only going to get better when I spend the next two days in Iceland. I’ve written more than I ever have, been to more countries than I’ve managed to see in the rest of my life combined, tested my limits, seen cities more beautiful than dreams, reconnected with old friends and made incredible new ones. Of course, all of that has changed me, in ways I probably don’t yet understand, but real struggle, the battle to be the healthiest, happiest, and best person I can, continues, whether I’m at home or abroad.