Travel, Homesickness, and Mixed Feelings

Mostly writing this for my future self or anyone else who has a hard time with new situations, sensory overload, and feeling guilty for not enjoying every minute of a "vacation."

It’s the evening of my third day in Mexico City, and I’m spent. I’m homesick, I’m exhausted, my nervous system is kind of shot, and I’m also really glad to be here. All of that can be true at the same time.

That might be kind of a theme or lesson of this year for me – the ways that I can have thoughts and feelings at the same time that don’t seem to line up very well. I can love someone and not like them very much on a given day. I can be deeply tired and sad while still holding a lot of joy and gratitude. It’s a big, ongoing lesson. And this trip is another opportunity on that path.

This is my first international travel since the pandemic, and I suspect I underestimated the impact that the past few years have had on my system. I used to consider myself a pretty savvy international traveler. And maybe I still do? I don’t know.

Tonight, I’m sleep deprived and wiped out from three days of sensory overload and questioning whether this kind of travel is actually appealing to me anymore.

Maybe I’m getting old – I’m here to celebrate my 40th birthday, after all. Maybe the trauma of a global pandemic and a year of isolation have changed me in ways that I haven’t fully realized. I’m not sure.

But today is the day of the trip where I’m sad and missing home and kind of overwhelmed by the prospect of another five days of shitty sleep and too much food and so many unfamiliar things. 

And that’s okay. This trip is type two fun. It’s hard. It’s also awesome. Both of those things can be true. And I get the opportunity to be gentle with myself around it. 

After a very overwhelming tour of several of the local markets this morning, I spent the day lounging around the Airbnb in my pajamas – too exhausted and over-stimulated to leave again. Our guide took us on a local bus and the metro, both of which felt entirely safe but also completely overwhelming. There was SO much happening in those spaces – the markets, the public transport – I didn’t even have the wherewithal to take any pictures to illustrate. I was just moving on autopilot and trying not to freak out while I moved through the experience.

International travel highlights the things I take for granted in my daily living, which can sometimes make me feel like a privileged jerk. But I also think that’s a good experience to have. 

Something I take for granted in my daily life is personal space. In the U.S. people generally give each other a bubble of space that my system feels comfortable with. Today, that bubble was shattered over and over and over, and I needed to give myself a break afterward. And that’s okay.

I’m writing this because I need to hear it. It can be so hard to feel like I’m “wasting” time when I travel and just want some down time. I’m not good at down time in general – let alone when I’m in a place for a limited amount of time.

But all time is limited when you think about it. And I think I always struggle with being still, with letting myself not have to constantly be on the move. 

When I ask people about their trips, I rarely hear people talk about how hard it was. How they had a weeping meltdown in their hotel room or the bathroom of a restaurant. How they almost had a panic attack in a public market because there was just so much stimulation – sounds, smells, bodies, disorientation. But that does tend to be a part of my travel experience that I can forget or feel guilty about.

The reality, though, is that I have ADHD, and I’m a highly sensitive person. So this is a lot for me, and that’s not a moral failing on my part. And I’m doing it anyway. I’m struggling but not complaining about it – just acknowledging it and doing my best to take care of myself.

I’m also grateful for the opportunity and the experience and the perspective this is offering now and will continue to offer when I’m better rested and can look back on things. I don’t have to feel guilty about having a hard time. I don’t have to pretend everything is going swimmingly. 

It’s been an amazing trip, and I’m sure it will continue to be. Just, sometimes, amazing doesn’t mean pleasurable or easy. Sometimes amazing is hard.

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