I have been in a tailspin lately. A downward spiral. Meltdown mode. Call it what you will, I am a hot mess. I feel at war with myself, rent down the middle, and though I have been trying my best to reconcile my personal discord, I have been failing spectacularly. When all I want is to feel whole, instead I feel splintered into parts that just won’t fit. My brain feels like a pressure cooker filled with all sorts of ideas and thoughts simmering away, copulating and expanding. As my mental real estate for new ideas decreases, my unease and anxiety mount. Thoughts ricochet around my skull, looking for escape. I know it’s only a matter of time before they find some sort of release valve, but their exodus is likely to be accompanied by a flood of tears (I’ve been weepy for days) and an emotional explosion that will leave me feeling hollowed out and empty and every-so-slightly catatonic. If I can’t stave off this ever-rising tide of feelings and get my brain back in order, I know it is only a matter of time before this agitation erupts from the soil of my mind once again.
What could possibly have me in such a tizzy? When I tell you, I’m sure you’ll laugh or roll your eyes… either is a perfectly valid response. After all, the thing that has me so worked up is the very definition of a first-world problem and is one every traveler has faced at some point:
Which country should I visit next?
I would have thought that after nearly two years of continuous travel I would be pretty good at answering that question. After all, I’ve certainly had to make that choice frequently enough. And really, as a traveler, I’m forced to make choices ALL THE TIME. Where to eat and what to order, which attractions to visit, where to sleep, when to step out into traffic, what’s worth a splurge and what isn’t. Choosing which country to visit next is just one in a never-ending list of decisions I’m bombarded with every day, so it really shouldn’t be stressing me out this much. Clearly the obvious answer to the “Which country should I visit next?” question is “Whichever one I want.”
But therein lies the rub: I actually have no idea what I want. Or rather, I do, it’s just, I want a lot of things. It is this that has me so flummoxed and off kilter. Recently my friend and fellow world traveler Brian wrote this very whimsical, but also very wise, post in which he suggested that when you find yourself at a crossroads and your gut is trying to tell you something, go eat a sandwich so you can listen to your heart. This is good advice and to that end, I have been eating many sandwiches (no hardship here in Ho Chi Minh City, I assure you). But what I have discovered following copious sandwich consumption is that it is no easy thing to follow your heart when it seems to be leading you, quite literally, in two different directions.
With no set itinerary and no tickets purchased, Tony & I have a world of choices laid before us, and I find myself paralyzed by all the options; they all appeal in their own way, and I feel any of them would be the start of a glorious adventure. Looking back on our journey thus far, I’ve realized that only rarely have our destination selections been dictated first and foremost by our desires. We haven’t visited anywhere we absolutely had no interest in visiting, but we have generally made our choices based on which places are the most convenient or logical given our current geographical position, or which places we can fly to the most cheaply. I thought using these objective criteria as the basis for our decisions was just us being prudent and sensible, but now I am beginning to realize that I’ve probably just been using them as an excuse so that I can avoid the hard work of figuring out what I really want and honoring those choices.
This realization is really pretty unsettling. Just look at all the mental havoc it has wreaked! I didn’t think that knowing what you wanted was a skill (is it even a skill?) that could grow rusty, but when I think way back to the start of our trip and what I hoped I would get out of it, I remember that I wanted to feel like I had taken back control of my life, to get good and feel good about making choices for myself. I have always prided myself on knowing my own mind, on being opinionated and decisive, but now I realize that over the past few years I’ve been sliding towards passivity and prioritizing the desires of others above my own. Now I find myself wondering whether this is because I actually value other people’s feelings and needs above my own, or whether this has happened simply because they are able to state what they want with certainty and confidence. By kowtowing to others, I don’t have to think about my own needs and happiness.
But I don’t want to live this way—it’s the antithesis of living, really. So, I’ve been sitting with myself, trying to quiet my mind and sift through the cognitive sediment that’s been drifting about to identify the source of all this angst and hone in on what it is I want to do next.
During this trip, we have visited places that we loved but did not get to fully explore and have always planned to return to, but there also remain MANY places we have yet to visit at all. Tony & I have gone back and forth, looked at all the possibilities, and ultimately, we have narrowed it down to two places that stand out, one old, one new: the Philippines and Sri Lanka.
Since I haven’t perfected the ability to be in two places at once, a choice must be made. And this is where the dilemma gets complicated.
For those who would like to jump in at this point and say that we should just plan to visit both, here is why, money issues aside, that is not an option: this trip has always been indefinite but not infinite. We always knew it would come to a close, we just didn’t know exactly when. But in the past few weeks, that has changed, and now we do know—we will be returning to North America in July. I’m not ready to talk about what this means for us, though suffice to say things will not be as they have been and we will be heading back without any idea as to when we might be able to return to this part of the world. This both breaks my heart and terrifies me, but more germane to my current conundrum is that this has made us take a hard look at how we want to spend the remaining months we have.
If you have spent any amount of time reading this blog, you know that the Philippines is where we really felt this trip take off for us and it’s the first place we unabashedly loved and knew we would return to time and again. It has some of the world’s best diving, and we left with a list of places we wanted to visit that was longer than the one we had arrived with. Although there is always some inherent risk to returning to places you’ve lost your heart to (what if they’re not as good as you remember?), we feel the chance of this happening in the Philippines is relatively low. Plus, we would plan to seek out new places and would not try to recreate the visit we had previously. As certain as one can be about an uncertain thing, we are confident that we will thoroughly enjoy our time there.
Still, there is a part of me that is resistant to returning to places we’ve already visited, especially when time is running out and there is so much of the world left to see. I’m the person who can’t eat the same meal more than two days in a row, and is always adding books, movies, and places to her list of things she wants to experience. I’m always wondering if there’s something better around the corner, I just have to make the effort to go find it. I’m a perfectionist and a completionist; I can’t stand to leave things undone.
And so there is Sri Lanka, a place that has been beckoning me for months. It has a culture and food and rich history that are utterly unknown to me, which I find exciting. It also has some diving, though not on the same scale as the Philippines, and it would afford me the chance to participate in the meditation retreat I’ve wanted to do for so long. Sri Lanka is always first out of my mouth when people ask where we haven’t been but would love to go. But this scares me too, because the only consistent thing I’ve found on this trip is that the places I am most excited to visit, the ones I am most certain I will love, end up being the ones I am most underwhelmed or let down by. A huge part of traveling is taking risks, and I realize the only way to know whether I love Sri Lanka or not is to just visit and find out, but still, I lie in bed at night and worry, “What if I don’t love it?” Am I willing to forsake somewhere I love for somewhere I might not?
For those of you interested in the science-y side of things, in Psychology this is what is known as an approach-approach conflict. You want both things, and they are each desirable, but you can only have one. It is argued that this type of conflict is the least stressful and most easily resolved compared to other conflicts, because really, whichever you choose, the result is good. I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that I’m not nearly as stressed out as I could be (and in knowing that all those years studying Psychology have allowed me to identify my situation with such precision), but it doesn’t help me want either option less.
The constant tugging between old and new loves makes me jumpy and exhausted all at once. I sit and stare at the wall, my leg jiggling, fingers tapping, because I am never at peace, never still. There is no wrong answer to my conundrum, and yet I am terrified that somehow I’ll still manage to choose the one that isn’t right. If there was money enough and time to choose them both, I would. Both ways is the only way I want it.
But I can’t have it both ways, and I am struggling to accept that. I am, truthfully, struggling to accept a lot of things at the moment, and I suppose I am channeling my energies into this one choice because it is something I can control.
We can’t stay in Vietnam forever (if only!), so not choosing either option and just waffling between the two really isn’t viable and is just making me crazy. I know that once I pull the trigger and make a decision, I’ll be happy with whatever option I select. I need to put myself out of my misery. So, which to choose?
I think about our trip so far and what inspired it, the little pieces that have clicked into place along the way, interlocking to form the path that has taken us so far away. I remember how we agonized for weeks about this site and what to name it, how when I came across the Twain quote that would ultimately inspire our name, its words burrowed deep and took root inside me. They gave me courage when I needed it most, because they so perfectly embodied what I wanted this trip to be about. Reading them now, they do the same thing.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Sri Lanka, you’ve been calling and I’m finally ready to answer. See you in April.