Have you ever come home from a trip, possibly even a months-long once-in-a-lifetime journey, and found that you are utterly unable to narrate your adventures in an adequate way?
When you travel extensively you make uncountable new experiences. These can range from huge challenges that you never thought you could get through, to little anecdotes that seem inconsequential, but for one reason or other stick with you for a long time. You grow through your experiences, broaden your horizons, and come back a changed person with a whole bunch of stories under your sleeve. You can’t wait to share these with the friends and family back home, who must be impatiently waiting to hear all about your travels. Or so you think.
That one dreaded question
In reality, what happens to me is usually this. I meet a family member/friend/colleague for the first time. We greet each other and hug or shake hands, all smiles at being reunited. And then, unfailingly, they ask this one question: “So, how was it?”
Instead of bursting into an hour-long narrative about all my adventures, as I had planned, I fail to say anything. Not because there is nothing to tell, but because there is too much. A hundred different memories simultaneously pop up in my mind, and there is no way I can decide which one to start with. They all seem equally exciting, or important, or worthy of being shared. So I’m silent while I desperately try to think of a way to put all of these experiences in just one or two sentences. A task at which I can only fail.
My listener will most likely catch up on my hesitation, and in his ignorance of what it means he will apply it to all the wrong reasons. He may even assume that I didn’t experience anything exciting, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
If I have a more patient listener, he might wait until I come up with a response about as creative as “it was great.”
Right. Well done me.
The struggle to find interested listeners
Sure it was great, but it was also so much more than that. This simple line doesn’t cover it in the slightest. Still, time and time again I find myself unable to come up with anything more satisfying.
And it gets worse. Because finding the right words is only one part of the struggle.
It’s a sad reality that a lot of the people you know will be perfectly satisfied with a few generic sentences about how much fun it was. They ask you because it’s the polite thing to do, not because they truly want to listen to you talk for hours about every little thing that happened. And this doesn’t only apply to distant acquaintances, but also to close friends. There comes a point when the topic is done for them and they’d rather return to their everyday routine.
There will be only very few who are genuinely interested in listening to more than one narrative about your travels. It’s these people for whom you should safe your efforts of finding the right words for your adventures. Not that any words could ever truly convey all the emotions you have felt at some particular point, no matter how hard you try.
Over time, however, you’ll find that even the most interested of your listeners pay less attention. You have told them all your most exciting, funny, and embarrassing stories. A lot of them probably more than once. But now everyone is settling back into everyday life, including yourself. The excitement of having you back wears off, and there is less and less space for stories from what feels to you almost like a different life.
Why you need to stay in touch with your travel buddies
As disappointed as it may be for you, try to see it from their point of view. They have not been there with you to share those experiences. Unlike you, repeating them does not bring back images and memories. For them, it is simply a story they have already heard.
However, there is one group of people who will never tire of sharing these stories with you: your fellow travellers. If you find your friends’ interest has faded, get to Facebook, Skype, Twitter, email, phone, or whatever it is that you use to stay in contact with people you met along the road, and talk to them. They will be happy to hear from you, because there’s a good chance they’ll be in a similar situation. And after all, nothing compares to remembering good times with the people who were actually there. And besides, with them you won’t need to worry about finding the right words to describe an experience, because they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
How do you deal with this when returning from a long trip? Do you stick with a simple answer, or do you try to talk as much as possible, no matter who wants to hear it? Do you feel you get on people’s nerves after a while? Share in the comments!