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. I can totally understand this. The whole time I was in SE Asia, I kept wishing I was in South America. I have a hard time deciding where to go because there are so many places I want to see. It’s how I’ve ended up squeezing too many places into a trip, because I wanted to see more.

  2. I hear you. The restless heart syndrome, I think may be a part of my life forevermore. I’m going home for the first time in two years next month. I plan to stay put for seven months before heading back to Israel and Egypt. But will I really just stay at home? Will I not start planning another trip after a few weeks? I’m not at all sure. Time will tell.

    1. I cannot think of the word for the feeling you get after traveling from one continent to the other,
      Like lazy and lethargic,it’s really bothering me,

  3. Such a great post! I love being here in San Francisco, but I always keep my heart and mind open to the possibility of moving back to London. I miss something about that city everyday.

  4. I have been staying away from blog world lately-I am days away from having a baby and I have never been more aware of my RHS than I am right now. Your post hit the bullseye-despite what a wonderful time this is for me and my husband, there is still a part that is restless, knowing that the life I had of just picking up and going somewhere is on hold, indefinitely. I am of course, extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had, but am still wishing and hoping for MANY more!

  5. Gosh, I was thinking along the lines of this just yesterday. I am so unhappy where I am (KY) and I long to always be in Mexico. Anywhere but here. Wondering if I will ever be happy in one place. I’ll be 35 tomorrow and I can’t help but become a little anxious over this need to be somewhere else. I just want to settle down and be happy. But can I? When I go home to visit in TX I wish I was back “home” in KY. When I’m in KY I wish I was in MX. When I’m in MX I wish I was in Brazil though I’ve never been. But when I’m in MX I feel the possibilities to travel are endless.

    Is there a cure for this? Would we take it there was?

  6. I am also a fellow sufferer of RHS =) It’s been several months since I left Europe, and every time I have to plan out transportation routes because you have to drive EVERYWHERE in CA, I’ll wish I was back in Europe, where I could dash to the train station and be off on some unplanned adventure. Last week, I had Italian food for the first time since I’ve been back. And as soon as the waitress corrected my pronunciation of “bruschetta” (hard k sound, folks, NOT sh!), I was wishing I could be in Florence in that very moment, getting gelato from my favorite gelateria (Gelateria Lorenzo, on via del Sole… hehe try their millefoglie!). Money’s tight right now, but I’m hoping to go back in the fall for a group show I’m in. *crosses fingers*

  7. Like many of the people who have already commented, I can totally relate to this! I think it hits hardest when you just get home from being abroad. However, I think it’s an important point you made that restless heart syndrome can even hit when you are traveling in some exotic place, and you spend too much time thinking and planning where you will go next as opposed to taking it slow and enjoying your time wherever you are. Excellent post!

  8. I’m also pretty guilty of this–since I’m an expat I tend to forget that the country I’m currently in is part of my adventure. I’m always so busy planning my RTW trip, I sometimes forget to enjoy the fact that I’m already living somewhere “new” and “different.”

    1. Yeah, I’ve had that sensation as an expat too, coupled a the same time with this nagging sensation that I’m not fully taking advantage of where I am.

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