June 1st, 2013 - Rosenhill Farm, Sweden
I just had a conversation with an Australian lady here, who's name I believe is Lexi. She mentioned how she doesn't enjoy aimless traveling, which is what she did during her 2010 Eurotrip, but is enjoying her time here now because she is traveling with her boyfriend and has someone to accompany her. I find it quite coincidental because what she is saying is exactly what I've been going through.
I came to Europe thinking that as long as I was traveling and seeing cool things, I would be happy, but upon arriving in Europe I was a bit surprised with myself. I wasn't having that much fun. So as our conversation continued on, we both agreed that it really comes down to WHO we are with.
I couldn't agree more because I've been on the road for over two months now, and I'm over traveling alone. I'm no longer motivated. What keeps me going is knowing that I have friends that I can meet in Stockholm or Helsinki. What keeps me going is knowing that I will grow as an individual. The initial reason that brought me to Europe (just going solo and seeing the world) no longer holds any weight, it no longer pushes me forward, — if anything, it makes me want to go home because I miss my family and friends.
Initially, the most memorable parts of my trip were those fleeting moments when I was hiking in the Isle of Skye in Scotland, or when I was able to enjoy the Glacial Lagoon in Iceland by myself. Then again, those were quickly overshadowed by moments spent with people — be it a nice conversation, a shared laugh, or just a feeling of being connected with others in a “same wavelength” type way. I can easily list them out: being with Anna in Finland, seeing Sophie in Zurich, visiting Nalita in Lausanne, and getting along so well with the staff at the Interlaken Hostel I stayed at in Switzerland.
So then why do we travel? Yes, it is to learn about other lifestyles and cultures, to get out of our comfort zone, to see and do things that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do in your “bubble.” However, I feel that in its essence, travel is a very long-winded, roundabout way of teaching us a very important lesson. Though we all have differing customs, traditions, values, and beliefs, when all is said and done, we all want the same things, and we're all searching for the same feeling. What is this feeling? We want to feel like we belong, we want to feel appreciated, desired, admired, wanted, and when we are away, that we are missed. We want friends and family that care about us. We want to be happy, and more specifically we want to be happy through the company of others. What we want is companionship.
We search for so many things in life. We want to get fit, buy a shiny new car, buy a big house, and get a high-paying job to pay for it all. Money and status all seem to be surefire ways of attaining true happiness, but if we were to get down to the root cause of unhappiness, it would come down to the issue of companionship. The root cause of unhappiness is due to our misjudgment in thinking that the quality of our relationships, whether good or bad, are of little matter as long as we have money. This is what we have been brainwashed into thinking, forgetting that it is through the people around us that we can attain happiness.
It's no longer a surprise as to why it was so difficult leaving California now, and it's no longer a surprise as to why I was so willing to leave all of the other "amazing" European landmarks I've come across. I’d rather be with the people I care about. I’ll take companionship over the Swiss Alps (or any other European landmark) any day.
Alain de Botton put it perfectly in his book, The Art of Travel, when he states that this is a "logic that we ignore at our peril when we encounter a picture of a beautiful land and imagine that happiness must naturally accompany such magnificence.” 12 different countries, and half a year later, it all makes sense. To me, this was no longer a theory, as I have become a living example of this miscalculated logic:
"Our capacity to draw happiness from aesthetic objects or material goods in fact seems critically dependent on our first satisfying a more important range of emotional or psychological needs, among them the need for understanding, for love, expression and respect. Thus we will not enjoy - we are not able to enjoy - sumptuous tropical gardens and attractive wooden beach huts when a relationship to which we are committed abruptly reveals itself to be suffused with incomprehension and resentment."
My unhappiness, and shock at my unhappiness despite having the pleasure of traveling the world was, as Alain de Botton puts it, "because we misunderstand what holds up our moods. We are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn that the state of the skies and appearance of our dwellings can never on their own either underwrite our joy or condemn us to misery."
So in conclusion, it's not that going on an epic Eurotrip isn't fun (solo or not), it's just that this “secondary” source of happiness cannot be enjoyed unless our primary needs are first met, as with most things in life.
Before traveling the world, one should first tend to their relationships at home.
by Jason Lam