Things I learnt after living alone for 6 months at home without a regular job or a social life after 10 years of travel

1). It’s not easy.

2). The first two months are the easiest because your body is fatigued from all the travel and is happy to have one place to spend all the time. Because your friends haven’t seen you for such a long time, they are keen to meet you and you have a decent social life. This is the most you’ll ever see them. Make the most of it. 

3). As your social life wanes, you feel sadder and lonelier. The monotonous routines take a toll on your mental health. You stop getting out of the house. You try to engineer random encounters like you do when you travel but realise that it doesn’t really work when you’re at home because you live in a boring suburb where people like to keep to themselves and some unmarried loner who hasn’t been around for such a long time is too weird to engage with.  It’s not as if you never felt sad or lonely when you traveled but there was an inherent flux and movement of people in and out of your life then and that made sure you were never in that state for more than a couple of days. It’s the stagnancy of this city that hurts.

4). You learn to get used to the fact that you aren’t going to meet new people every day. Every other day you plan to pack your bags and get out but you look at all the money you’ve spent and the money you have and it doesn’t make sense anymore. So you try to make the boring monotony work. 

5). You learn not to call any of your friends to meet because you get sad when you realise that no one’s ever free when you want to hang out.  So you wait for that rare occasion when someone calls you. But when the occasion comes, you don’t feel like meeting anybody. Because you haven’t had any conversations for so long after you stopped traveling, you fear that you would feel awkward and not as interesting, sharp and uninhibited as you like to be. Sometimes you get over this fear and try to make the best you can out of this rare social evening but after it’s over, the loneliness hits you like a bullet. You feel like you should be doing this every day and you miss your traveling days when you were having these long conversations all the time.

6). You learn not to blame your friends for the situation you’re in because you’re the one responsible for the life you make. These are conscious choices you’ve made to feel freer and happier without having to work for somebody else and if you live in a city built purely for working people, you need to claw your way out of there. 

7). You wonder if you should look for a proper job but you’re a snob and your skills are so individualized and specific and unnecessary that you’ve practically thrown yourself out of the market. And then you think it’s probably not a good idea to work for someone else while being consigned to a claustrophobic cubicle after flying free for such a long time.  

8). You think you’re depressed but you google for signs of depression and realise you’re just plagued with anxiety and sadness. You think about going to a shrink but you remember that you don’t have a job and good shrinks are expensive and you would rather use that money for future travel because that’s the one thing you know that truly works for you. 

9). Your sleep takes the biggest hit. There are nights when you sleep very well and there are others when you don’t sleep at all. Sometimes it’s because you’re anxious about the fact that you’re alone. But you learn quickly that it’s okay if you don’t sleep at 3 am if you can’t. Even if you sleep much later, you can sleep till the afternoon and get your 8 hours. Perks of not having a job or a vibrant social life and being a master of your own time without anyone telling you how to live. 

10). You become sadder as your time in the city gets longer. But you also learn to cope with the sadness. If you’re sad, you stay sad and let the sadness wash over you. Don’t look at the phone or the laptop even if it may temporarily get you to a neutral state. That only serves to make you sadder when you look away. When you let yourself be sad without any crutches, you realise you get a clear head and some happiness at the end of it because your mind is done dwelling over the useless drivel it had been moping about. 

11). Stay away from social media as much as you can because nothing takes you down like reading about other people doing cooler things and making a ton of money. When you go to facebook and see everyone else leading a normal, happy life, be conscious that it’s only a mirage. You have no idea what’s going on in other people’s lives and how happy or miserable they really are. The only way you’re going to learn is if you meet them face to face and ask questions and you’ve stopped talking to them a long time ago. Also your life is unique and specific to your experience and if you compare it to other people, it’s only going to make you feel terrible. 

12). 80s heavy metal and old Hindi film music always works like a charm to alleviate the blues. 

13). But the only thing that truly works for you while you’re wallowing in misery all alone in the city is burying yourself into the work you like to do i.e. editing the thousands of pictures you’ve taken over the years, walking around the city shooting and exploring its corners and writing about your travels. They won’t make you any money but they keep the sadness away. And you feel as if you’re doing something worthwhile instead of thinking about where you could be right now if only you had x amount of money in your bank account. 

14). Make plans to get out of the city as soon and as often as you can but also try to make the city work for you. It’s difficult but not impossible. And it saves a ton of money. Make peace with the fact that your days of long, never-ending travels are over and that there’s a chance nothing you do in life from here on will ever be as good as what you did in those 10 years.  

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The pros and cons of a traveling life

Although I tend to look at people who talk about the transformative nature of travel with a hint of cynicism, I feel like I’ve myself been transformed considerably by the freewheeling life I’ve been leading over the past several years. And I’m not sure if it’s always been a good thing.

The positive aspects are many – the repository of incidents, people, places, landscapes, experiences is so huge that I feel like I’ve lived many lives already and even if I don’t do a single thing from today, I’ll most likely not have any regrets. I’ve been writing vigorously over the past several days, poring over my notes, recounting and remembering people and events, feeling utterly nostalgic, about Ladakh, Vietnam, Laos, Nagaland, Darjeeling, Sri Lanka, Hampi and I feel enormously fortunate for having been able to travel so freely and for so long. There are bad days on the road, lonely, depressing days, but it’s never difficult to overcome them because with every new place, you surround yourself with new people and a new setting to refresh yourself. I’ve never been stuck for very long during my travels and if I have been in one place for too long, it’s only because I wanted to.

But having traveled for as long and as relentlessly as I have, it’s becoming more difficult with each journey to come back home. Nowadays, I just go into a shell when I’m in Mumbai or Chennai. While earlier, when I was working in Mumbai, I used to be enthusiastic to go hang out with friends, binge on movie marathons in Fort and Colaba, eat and drink out at every available opportunity, now it’s all about conserving money for the next trip because money is a necessity and the next trip can’t come soon enough. So life here is an oppressive kind of monotony where I feel like I’m the antagonist to the character that I am when I’m traveling. There’s also little that I find that I can connect to here and the distance and the effort it takes to commute around the city takes a toll on me that it doesn’t in other places. Even on those rare social interactions, a sort of listlessness or boredom takes over. Sometimes, it’s because I feel the pressure to live up to the “traveler” tag which means I’m supposed to come up with a funny story at the drop of a hat and other times, it’s the retread of the same conversation a group of us might have had innumerable times. There was a time I used to take pleasure in these things but it just doesn’t feel good enough anymore.

Travel, at least for me, has an exciting journalistic aspect to it. You ask a lot of questions, try to find out about new places, hear out new stories and points of view, take a lot of pictures and I’m sure that can be done at home as well. But along with people who live in a place, you mingle with many of the travelers passing through. I guess, even though I bitch about their ways very often, I miss those interactions with people who tell you where they’ve been, what they’ve been doing and the things they’ve seen while you tell them about yourself. There’s an openness, warmth and unpredictability to these conversations that I miss dearly when I’m back home. Long term travel is addictive because people like myself can never have enough of it and once you’re used to it, you feel like a very strange person in a static, workaday world when you’re back home.

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