Anyone who has put some serious mileage on their body knows already what this dread feeling is. The traveler’s lull, down time, dead days, quiet period. I’m in one of these feared and usually carefully avoided lulls in travel. Something that can’t be ratified for its reason, a traveler feels a sense of duty, a restless wanderlust for rambling. Then you run out of money, time or love, and you just come back to your old grounds, usually because it is the easiest and safest base to launch out of again. Speaking from experience, the prospects of just hanging around in another foreign county while you are trying to just get your feet, is a constant mind game, and struggle. You don’t have the luxury of more travel, because you have nothing left, and if you go searching then you will inevitably get caught tighter in the trap. At the time of writing this I find myself in old town St. Johns’, so called Canada’s forgotten coast. The cheaper living expenses are attractive if you don’t need much to get by, and it’s a way into a society of some very weathered past and people. But there is a fine balance between temperate weather, and a bad day, if you dig what I mean.
Currently I have been ‘down’ for almost two months, a truth that is like vines growing over my inert body, and walls going up around my soul. My sense of space, place and time is skewed, and it is hard to put anything into perspective. Eventually, old vices and downfalls, and problems seek a way in to your countenance. Sometimes they steep in slow, so at least you can get a hand on the strangling tendrils before they get you completely. Or sometimes they are like a drip feed coffee, until the mugs overflows and burns you. The blues just gets you into such a mess some nights when all you have is your own mind and company, with no particular direction to them, just a revolving cycle of old thoughts. Its a gypsy sadness that you never really get used to and a crystallization of stasis then tends to narrow your possibilities and the sun on your horizon always seems to get a little dimmer.
You try to stave off loneliness and wonder what to do, if you’re a man, you pine for the woman of your desires, you think about the women of your past, even come to forgive the ones that hurt you most, you grow in attraction to your closest female friends because they offer a semblance of affectionate relationship, sometimes you even get desperate. Then what happens? When the animalistic tendencies dawn on your mind, you start going over the options on how to either quiet them or fulfill them or in some way move that energy into some other output. Ignoring them completely only brings them back with more fervor. For me, I’ve never found attractive the idea of casually hopping pubs, spending my last reserves on overpriced beer or whiskey to get to a state where I feel willing and probably foolish enough to seduce another intoxicated lonely companion, then with any luck, take her home, potentially end the night with temporary pleasure seeking, close your eyes to a stranger and then find out in the morning you paid more than you want to, found yourself unfulfilled by cheap lust, and find the mirror reflecting back a new and enhanced feeling of longing and craving. If you’re a woman, well, you can figure out that it’s nearly the same, add potential shame and humiliation. For this reason, I have never done this. I could never bring myself to this crossing point, but it still leaves you then holding onto the original loneliness. Well, when you are off from your traveling rounds, then dating is usually the last thing you want to do, it means domesticated and stable relationships, and any real traveler knows that doesn’t work unless your partner is also a vagabond world explorer like yourself, and you just don’t find those fine folks on the internet. The need for company becomes a bitter mode of everyday reality, when a night of revelry on the town, just doesn’t cut it for you. For me, these kind of night usually end with a deep lovesickness with some candles, ephemeral company in books, and some sad old Townes van Zandt or Emmylou Harris tunes.
You start to meet the charlatans, who like to talk about their ‘travels’ to resorts and exotic countries that they paid several thousand dollars for, and experienced nothing of true authentic cultural value or interest. I don’t like running into these people, usually privileged upper middle class who have money and believe that travel is for thrill. They tend to cheapen your whole life story and experience by just supplanting your own real life adventure into their all inclusive paid laziness in another hotel in some tourist destination. They really come out of the woodwork, when you least expect it, and it is remarkably hard to find other travelers when you are not currently traveling. It is a bit disconcerting to feel like even your most valued possession, your story that is, becomes something you can no longer keep peoples attention with. These are good times for reflection of how far you have come though, even if you just tell your story to yourself, replay it through your mind in visual and sensory detail, you were there, transport your memories back to those places and feelings, and you’ll notice something peculiar sneak up in your mood. It is really good to have a partner by your side, it’s easier to travel alone then live in one place on your own, in my opinion, so this has been hard for me.
What about the trappings of money, most travelers I know dislike the system, but love having a comfortable amount of cash in their wallet, including myself. You know it will be gone eventually and it’s meant to be used, so when you earn it, you really appreciate it, you let it stream out slowly and carefully, but when you don’t have anything left, and you need a break from volunteering, then your back in the pathological world of the working class slave system. If you have good connections, you might find work in a trade that you have previous skills in, or some friends that can get you in at a local cafe, and then there is always the bondage and nefarious distractions of selling your soul for minimum wage to make it work. When there are no cows to milk, no plants to harvest, it’s too cold for cabin building, and too wet for hay making, the ground isn’t ready for trees, the farmers are all sitting back for the cold season, and you have your name in at every coffee house in town. You ask yourself, how low you might be willing to submit, and how much you can tolerate conformity. I haven’t worked a ‘normal’ job in almost 4 years myself, I’ve pretty much managed to stake out treeplanting, farming and picking work in between gigs of volunteer community or hostel work, but nonetheless, it has always been extremely hard to keep this flowing when you move location about 12-24 times a year. A stable career is just not attractive to me at the moment, and to quote McCandless ‘its a 21st century invention and I don’t want one’. When I do get pinched in these situations, I usually seek out odd jobs, but those sometimes don’t go anywhere, so I seek a happy medium, something social that will get me by, especially out of my season. Work is still the last thing you want on your mind, and sometimes even being penniless can be its own adventure.
I am continually pursuing travel writing as a means of supplementary cashflow to my journeys, but even this field is extremely competitive, often highly commercial, shallow, and difficult if you have no talent. I am currently working with some Canadian bloggers in BC on a new travel website, a lonely planet, instagram, trip advisor fusion they called it, where I am not censored for my thoughts, edit my own pieces, and can write about just about any experience related to trips, travel, or tourism. I see a lot of dishonesty and this fast consumption type of travel as well, sadly. Though I don’t identify much with being a tourist. For fellow travelers, I advise and feel important for myself, to keep the mind sharp and the body well treated while in your down-time. I have not escaped these conditions and humble reminders, and it is easy to fall when you feel like you just need to. Let your brain be active, even if you are just reading about where you want to head next, I find authentic adventure narratives the best, some I could recommend are Shantaram, Jupiter’s Travels, and Tracks. Your mind will influence your health, and you can’t let your diet slip either. This becomes simple to lose sight of if you gather with a couple friends for a party or gathering every weekend where the food is usually of the highly processed or non-nutritious type. This will make a huge difference when you are ready to get back out in the world, trust me.
When all is said and done, it’s not an easy time, you spend your days waiting for a desperate win, and patiently biding your time, looking for a job to tumble another obstacle out of your way, constantly daydreaming about what you will do next, taking long walks in the streets or in the forest, hard to believe in yourself, and the shape your in won’t let you go. Distraction is a constant factor, and loneliness an unwanted companion, you can find a million ways to remind you how good freedom feels, but are unable to convey it to those who haven’t really felt it, and can’t seem to remember yourself sometimes. You see other people who have stayed in one place their whole lives as a bit insane, and mind-blown how they even manage to find happiness. It may take a month or two of decent luck before you have $1000 and feel rich again and escape, or you may put in some more serious time, a season or two, before setting loose, and it makes you crazy either way, trying to tap into the elusive flow of travels, adventure and experience, while experiencing your place as a literal ghost town of empty excitement, it is the wanderers lapis philosophorum indeed.
Days full of rain
Skys comin’ down again
I get so tired
Of these same old blues
Same old song
Baby, it won’t be long
‘fore I be tyin’ on
My flyin’ shoes
Till I be tyin’ on
My flyin’ shoes
~Townes van Zandt