Travel Side Effects Part 2: Restless Heart Syndrome

Last month I wrote about the weird side effects travel can have on your mind and your perspective. I’ve been thinking a bit more on the subject and the way travel irrevocably changes the way you look at the world.

One of the biggest and hardest side effects of traveling is what I call Restless Heart Syndrome. It consists of that gnawing, unshakeable feeling that no matter how good things are, there’s somewhere else you could or should be.

For example, as you read this I’m on a flight back home after 7 months on the road. I’m ecstatic! I can not WAIT to do normal people things like eat a real salad, visit my local library and hug the crap out of all my friends and family. It’s going to be wonderful… for awhile at least.

Inevitably it will happen. I’ll see an episode of No Reservations, or a billboard with a beach on it. I’ll innocently google some far off place and before you know it I’m knee deep into planning imaginary itineraries. If it’s really serious I might start pricing some plane tickets, just in case.

Even worse, I start daydreaming about my past travels, gazing nostalgically at old pictures on Flickr and sighing loudly. I’ll order Chinese food and think bitterly how it will never compare with the real and amazing chinese food I used to eat. I’ll go to the store and balk at paying $10 for a bottle of wine I could have had in Argentina for $2.50.

Yes I’m aware that most of my analogies involve food…

A part of me will always be a slave to the places I’ve been and long to go back for. I will always wake up craving banh mi, or longing for a rainy day in Bogota. In the back of my mind I will always be wandering the streets of London, retracing my footsteps through Kyoto or gazing at a glacier in Iceland. It’s not that whatever I’m doing at the moment is boring or undesirable, it’s just that all this other stuff has taken up residence in my head and will not be dislodged.

When I was in China I did nothing but crave cheese all day. In Argentina I was inundated with mozzarella but I would have given an arm for some authentic bao zi. I guarantee you when I get home I’m going to crave some juicy Argentinean steak like none other.

I can’t help it. The curse of the traveller, is that no matter how happy you are, at least a small part of you always wishes you were somewhere else. Your eyes open to the massive amount of possibilities in the world, and it’s hard to focus on just one. Many people who take off in search of adventure quickly realize that travel is not like a cold that you get out of your system, but like an addiction that simply grows and feeds on itself.

So I have a restless heart. I can live with that, I think. It keeps things interesting, that is for sure. But, between my various jaunts around the globe, I’m going to try a little bit harder to appreciate the here and now.

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36 thoughts on “Travel Side Effects Part 2: Restless Heart Syndrome”

  1. That is sooo true! It makes it so hard to be at my computer here at work! As you can see, I’m reading about traveling instead of doing real work. I’ve suppressed my restless heart syndrome, but I find myself looking ahead for future trips I can take. The more places I go to, the more places I find out about. It never ends! I’m just happy that my boyfriend travels with me and can understand that we both can’t have better gelatto than the ones we had in Europe. We try not to whine about things around friends anymore since we always feel like we sound “too good for this place” when we talk about certain foods or experiences that are better in other countries. Any suggestions on how to get rid of this syndrome?

  2. This! Yes! Thank you for giving me a name for something I’ve had for years. Restless heart syndrome plagues me constantly. I usually just tell people I have a curious soul and can’t stay in one spot for too long. And I hear you on the food – what I wouldn’t give for a big bowl of Tokyo ramen right now, but when I was there I would have given my left arm for a proper salad!

  3. The agony of the traveler. Even within my own city, I find I am restless. I try to pick a new area of the city, a new cafe, a new park to check out every week just so that I don’t feel like I am caught in a monotony. I travel between cities on the weekends to get a new change of scenery. I always feel like I need to be on the move!

  4. Not everyone understands Restless Heart Syndrome, so it’s always nice to be reminded that I’m not alone! That picture at the end is so perfect for this post. I don’t know what you were really thinking in the moment, but you definitely look like you’re dreaming about some far away place!

  5. Great blogs you have! I check out your blog a few times a week and your postings are very real and interesting to follow.

    I know the feeling of always wanting to plan the next best thing, but I try and listen to what my dad always told (and still tells me)….”enjoy the moment and don’t wish your life away”! I never understood what he meant by that until it clicked the one day as I realized I was always planning for the next big trip and not enjoying where and what I was doing at the time. I’m living in NZ and can’t wait to get to OZ…I get to OZ and I can’t wait to get to Asia…I get to Asia and after a year and a half travelling I am excited to get home to Canada for the summer to be with family and friends.

    I think sometimes I (or we??) forget to sit back and make the most of where we are now and enjoy life with out always being in the fast lane!

    Enjoy your time back home with the family and friends and keep up the great work!

    Your “Cotopaxi Canuck Friend”,

  6. It’s inevitable haha. Happens every time I’m home for awhile, without fail. Like you said, try to appreciate where you are at every moment. And I totally agree about the food, I could really use some good Mexican food after 4 months in Asia

  7. OH MY GOD! I can’t believe I’m reading this article. You have written the exact same things I’m thinking right now. Don’t you feel guilty sometimes that you are longing to be somewhere else but here? ‘Cause I do. I feel I’m taking things for grantes and it breaks my heart. However, after reading this wonderful article, I feel a little bit better knowing that somebody else feels the same.
    Cheers from Rosario, Argentina. The steak is waiting for you. 🙂

  8. I completely understand what you mean! I wrote a similar post about the case of post-travel depression that I had after 4.5 months in Italy… I guess instead of moping around, we should be glad that we’ve left parts of our hearts in this places. I know for me, although I wish I could be in my beloved Tuscany, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to create the memories and live the experiences that tug at my heartstrings. 🙂

  9. It seems like one of the hardest things to do in life, whether you love to travel or not, is to find that balance between being complacent and always wanting something more out of life, so much so that you can’t appreciate and enjoy the life you’ve got! I don’t know if there is a cure for restless heart, but maybe it’s one of those things where there is no cure, just a lifelong treatment through travel (and more cowbell…).

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