Miles and miles and miles in their shoes
I was admiring a friend's photograph album last week. She and her family had spent five weeks in Europe and the pictures were of gorgeous places like Borton on the water in the Cotswolds, a tiny French village in Provence, the canals in Venice and the Vatican.
The discussion got on to travel and someone asked me if I'd travelled much, seeing as how I grew up overseas.
"Yes, as a child," I answered. "And then when I was 18 I did a three month tour to Pakistan and Europe."
"Oh, marvellous," they gushed. "You mustn't have wanted to come back."
"Actually, quite the opposite," I said. "It was as much as I could do to not change my flights and head back to Australia."
And then I said it. Third Culture Kids and Mish Kids, you of the multi-continent, never ending plane ticket brigade, beware. What you are about to read may shock you to your core.
I said: * "I don't really enjoy travelling." *
Yes, it's true. I could quite happily live for a long time without going overseas or heading off to exotic places. And while I won't say I'll don't WANT to go anywhere, I certainly don't hanker after it like many of my peers.
Here's the reason I don't enjoy travelling too much. It's just too exhausting. And I don't mean jet lag and time differences and long haul flights, although given my propensity to go to bed before 11pm every night because I know I'm just a whole lot grumpier in in the morning if I stay up, you could be forgiven for thinking that's the reason.
The real reason is that travelling to new places makes me emotionally exhausted.
I'm not sure if other people are like this, but I am constantly trying to see the world from other people's points of view. That old proverb about 'walking a mile in another man's mocassins' has been something that I have taken to heart. I have never lacked the ability to see things from another perspective. I constantly try to imagine myself as another person, living and feeling and deciding their lives, feelings and decisions.
I have done this from the age of at least seven, when I could read proper books with complicated characters. When I'd walk into the kitchen at the age of 10 and say in a completely serious, tragic tone, "I believe my childhood is over," my mum would roll her eyes inwardly and say, "OK, what book have you been reading this morning? Your childhood isn't over. Now go outside or I'll make you clean up your room."
It doesn't stop at books. When I go to the city and drive through different suburbs or walk across a street with different looking people, immediately I'm imagining their lives and their backgrounds and trying to walk in their mocassins. It's almost impossible for me to just stay in my own skin. I'm always 'trying on' other lives for size to see what they are like.
A trip to the city exhausts me. Too much imaginative empathy is tiring. Imagine how it would be to head to a whole different country and culture!
I suppose I'd like to think that this bizarre habit of mine is useful in some ways. Perhaps it gives me an insight into characters for stories. I think I'm a reasonable listener and asker of questions because of it. It is tiring, however, and sometimes I forget how to be myself.
Perhaps one day I'll build a little plastic bubble around myself, leave the empathy at home and venture out to see some sights. The Caribbean sounds good, as does Europe, England and Pakistan. Or even just good old Tasmania.