When Traveling Makes You Unhappy

Jan 15, 2018    /    philosophy

My first month in Mexico was a whirlwind.

I’d landed a gig with one of the big travel guide companies and in the span of a single month I had about 100 places along the coast to visit, try, and review.

And so I hit the ground running.

I walked the beaches of the northern coast and jumped from restaurant to restaurant in the center. I stopped into dive shops and galleries, took tours of sprawling resorts. I took Colectivo rides up and down the coast.

And about 3/4 through the project I booked Chad and I a weekend in the south.

It wasn’t a vacation, certainly. Not with so much to do. But I thought our weekend in the south would be a nice sort-of getaway. A different set of beaches. A quieter, more remote location. A little peace and quiet in between the bustle of the job.

Instead, though, it was exhausting. The little getaway town was actually a cruise ship port full of locals jumping in front of our cars with menus trying to get us to stop in. The pot-holed local roads had experienced recent flooding and were impassible in spots. With one exception, the food was mediocre and sat heavy and hard on our guts. And by the time Sunday rolled around, feeling queasy and so bone-deep tired that I wanted to cry, I contacted the lovely B&B that was supposed to host us and told the owner that I was terribly sorry, but I was just not well enough to stay another night.

So we headed home.

And on our way there, we got shaken down by the local cops.

It’s a common scam down here. We’d heard about it before. But we also hoped against hope that with just a couple days of car rental, we’d be left alone.

Sadly, no.

The cops pulled us over and told us we were speeding (pretty sure we weren’t, as it was a road with a gazillion speed bumps and we wouldn’t have been able to), that the fine was $150 (total lie), and that the municipal office was closed. They could either take Chad’s license and we could pay the fine and collect it the next day or we could give them $150 on the spot.

In the end, we got them down to $50.

And feeling no less scammed/robbed, we crawled the last hour home praying that no other cops felt the need to steal our cash.

By the time we got home, I felt like crying. Or maybe throwing up.

I was also desperately glad we’d decided to come home a day early.

Because the truth is that travel isn’t always fun. Not every place sings to every soul. Not every weekend away is a stress-free one. Not every mile covered is one you want to immortalize.

Sometimes the food disagrees with you. Sometimes the place isn’t what you expected. Sometimes something happens that steals your feeling of safety or wellness or stability.

And sometimes it’s good to slow down. To retreat. To go back to wherever does feel safe and well and stable.

For us, after that weekend, that meant going home early to Tulum and spending the next 24 hours recovering in our apartment. And later—after I spent weeks desperately ill with a parasite and we both reached our limit with the garbage-laden empty lots we passed on our walks and the rarely-successful attempts at finding organic food—it meant recognizing that we were no longer enjoying Mexico and making arrangements to leave a little earlier than planned.

Which is okay.

It’s okay not to love something you thought you’d love.

It’s okay to leave early.

It’s okay to stand still.

It’s okay to do whatever you need to do to get your health, wellness, or serenity back.

[NOTE: Multiple people have gotten the sense from this article that I had a completely miserable time in Mexico. I’d like to clarify: this post is about one specific weekend and one specific destination (far south on the coast toward Belize) that was not what I expected, needed, or loved. It’s also about realizing what we need and listening to ourselves. This is not meant to be a commentary on all of Mexico (which would be a really ridiculous thing to write after a short visit to one region) or even a commentary on the whole region we explored – just a story about one failed weekend and about getting comfortable with the idea that not every travel experience will be what we expect.]

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  • lee
    January 15, 2018

    great insight. When you travel solo ‘hitting the wall’ of travel stress is even more difficult.

    • gigigriffis
      January 15, 2018

      Totally agreed! I’ve hit that wall solo before and it is no fun.

  • Kathleen Evans
    January 15, 2018

    Great reminder, Gigi. It is strange, I never like to admit to not liking a place or an event if I have planned it, paid for it, took time off to experience it, etc. But sometimes it is simply the truth. Thanks for sharing! Sorry about the shakedown. It happens in Costa Rica too. Very violating.

    • gigigriffis
      January 15, 2018

      Yes! There’s a major internal resistance to saying “I just didn’t like that place/experience/thing.” I think in part because we build things up so much in our minds and don’t want to admit the letdown and in part because we don’t want to impact anyone else’s feeling about a place.

  • Laurie Mitchell
    January 15, 2018

    Hey Gigi, that’s awful and jarring about the police in Mexico. Sorry to hear it was a rough weekend. It’s funny how different the reality of some hyped-up destinations can be; I was just in Budapest and wasn’t feeling it.

    • gigigriffis
      January 15, 2018

      Thanks. And yeah, not every place is for every person and sometimes experiences just don’t go the way you expect.

  • Kathryn
    January 15, 2018

    Hey Gigi, is it too late to wish you happy NY? I’ve stepped out of your life (for no other reason but distractions), but stepping back in and I feel the prickle of excitement your adventures are still continuing. Sorry this one of yours was so shite.

    • gigigriffis
      January 15, 2018

      Happy new year back! :)

  • Ali
    January 16, 2018

    I hate that you had such a miserable time in Mexico. Like you said, sometimes a place just isn’t the right one for you, even if other people loved it, even if you’ve enjoyed it in the past. It’s always a combination of the exact experiences you have at that time in that place, and you guys simply had too many awful things to deal with between getting so sick and corrupt cops and everything else. I hope 2018 is looking at least a little better for you!
    Ali recently posted…Things to do in Krakow, PolandMy Profile

    • gigigriffis
      January 16, 2018

      And certainly not all of it was bad! The first few weeks were a blast (other than some stomach problems) and I do like Tulum, Puerto Morelos, etc. I didn’t mean for this post to give the impression that the whole two months were awful – just that our quiet weekend away didn’t go as planned and that it’s okay that that sometimes happens.

  • Valeria
    January 16, 2018

    amen… I would have felt the same for sure ..especially the cop experience.. grrr..

  • Pamela
    January 22, 2018

    Isn’t it stunning that people have so many opinions about the “right” way to travel? And that assumption that if you’re tired, you’re doing it wrong?

    Since we moved on board out sailboat, I’ve been called out for living too simply and for not leaving my dog behind so we can sail to the Caribbean.

    It’s a good reminder that travel is personal, our needs change from day to day, and there is no right way to do it.
    Pamela recently posted…Homeless? Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

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