The humorist David Sedaris once wrote that as a child, he looked forward to a trip to Greece mainly because it was his chance to prove to his friends at home that he was worldly and continental. He imagined his classmates saying, “Did you hear? David has a passport now. Hurry, let’s run before he judges us.”
If each one of us were to take a dose of truth serum, we might admit to a similar feeling of self-satisfaction after a long trip. When I returned home from my first venture abroad, I embarrassingly thought that everyone I met would be dying to hear my tales of foreign intrigue. Turns out, few cared, and for those who did ask, I couldn’t provide a very satisfying response to their questions.
“So, how was it?” a friend would ask. “Umm, it was really good,” I’d answer. What more could I say? How could I condense a several-month-long trip into a several-second-long response?
In his 1902 novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad addresses just this topic:
No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence– that which makes its truth, its meaning– its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream– alone.
A little bleak, yes. But it’s true– we can’t explain, especially in casual conversation, exactly what an extended trip has meant to us. Even worse, few people would want to hear it even if we could. I myself confess to lacking patience when someone recounts the details of their latest trip abroad. I roll my eyes when I hear that friend– you know the one– who relates everything in her life back to that semester abroad in London. (“I’m tired.” “One time, in London, I was tired, and…”)
But perhaps it’s for the best that most people aren’t terribly impressed or interested in other people’s travels. It makes traveling for the sake of status seem desperate and foolish. It forces us to create new memories rather than constantly trotting out old ones.
There are so many good reasons to travel that we shouldn’t have to rely on bad ones, like impressing our friends and family and being more interesting at cocktail parties. While these might occasionally be the result of a trip, they shouldn’t be its motivation.
What do you think, Gadling readers? Are your friends and family genuinely interested in your travels or do you suspect they’re just humoring you? Do you have any friends or family members whom you’ve heard tell the same travel story dozens of times?