March 10, 2016

This is such a tough one because of course it's nice for people to express interest in your travels but here's the thing, "how was your trip?" is perhaps the single most awkward post-travel question you can ask. And the reason is this: it is a close ended question which pragmatically (i.e. socially acceptably) dictates a close ended response for those socially attuned people of the world. When was the last time when someone said something like, "do you like carrots?" you said something like "no, not very much. When I was little we used to have a garden where we grew carrots but the deer always came along to eat them. There was this one time that my dad saw a deer in our garden and threw a rock at it. Ever since then I can't really eat carrots without thinking about that poor deer". Or when someone said "want to go to the mall later?" and you said something like "Ya, I was hoping you would say that because I've been thinking I need to get a new pair of jeans because all of mine have holes in the legs from my thighs rubbing together all day. I've tried to patch them up with those iron on patches you can buy at like Michael's craft store. Actually it was crazy because last time I was at Michael's I put my purse down while I checked out all the different shades of paint and when I looked back it was gone and crazy enough, I saw the security guard bust out the front door chasing this woman who presumably stole it out into the parking lot". No, the socially attuned people of the world wouldn't say this, because do you now why? Because it's too much information given the question and your verbal diarrhea is perceived as totally arrogant at worst, entirely socially fucking awkward at best. Because the normal answers to such questions are "yes/sure/ya sounds good" or "no/not really/naw not today", or maybe with a one sentence tagline like "ya, I was actually thinking I wanted to go to the mall. When were you thinking?".

So when you ask the "how was your trip?" question, it ends up something like this:

You (verbally): "How was your trip?"
Traveler (verbally): "Awesome!"
***Awkward silence...
Traveler (in head): Wait, does this person want me to elaborate? Or or they just asking because this is the first time they are seeing me and they are just being polite? This is awkward, should I just say something else because nobody is saying anything? And then have this like, awkward overflow moment where I drone on talking about myself? Or do I put people on the spot and say "ok what do you want to know?" even though I know that people who've not traveled as such really don't even know what questions to ask? Ahhhhhh why am I so screwed up?!?!?
***More awkward moments, weird convo...

Ok, perhaps this is a slightly more dramatic reenactment, but you get the drift.

Don't get me wrong, I have been guilty of asking the exact same question and I'm also trying to break the habit, not only for post travelers but also for anyone who ever did anything because same shit applies. So here's the short of it. Before you speak to a post traveler or anyone who ever did anything, consider your motives for speaking with them about their experience. Are you just making polite conversation and expect a short and sweet answer? Yes? Then go ahead, ask away, "how was your trip?" or any close ended, yes/no question. This is perfectly acceptable. If the answer is no, you actually want that person to elaborate, ask anything besides a question that pragmatically necessitates a yes/no answer please!

On the flip side, for travelers, especially longer term travelers like myself in this instance, it can also be really, really difficulty to speak independently and free-flowingly about your experience in response to something like "tell me about your trip". Basically our minds are like your good old "junk box"...everything is piled in there, you know there's a lot of good shit in there but like you could ever be sitting in a completely different location and talk about what exactly is in there and what the situation behind it is because the whole point of a "junk box" is to have a random place to just dump your stuff across wide periods of time.. messy, unfiled and totally unmanicured. You know everything in there is important but without going through it piece by piece in front of you, you probably can't really do a decent verbal inventory because theres not like, one unifying theme and everything connects in a totally messy and disjointed way. What an analogy. Haha it may be my worst to date but it's the best I can do to describe it!

Given my "junk box" mind, a one sided conversation where I speak and you listen is really challenging! Forgive us travelers in advance. Even so, for me, and many other travelers, it's relatively easy to speak in generalities about a place and your experience. It is simple enough to speak of theories, gists and the state of affairs as you understand it. An overall summary. What is much harder (but probably more entertaining for the listener) is sourcing specific stories and instances out of the recesses of my disgustingly disorganized mind on command. Specific  questions will elicit more on both counts. However, context is the most beautiful trigger for all that fabulous stuff in the recesses of my mind because at the root of it, memories require access to pull out much like a drawer needs a handle (thanks Tammy Hopper). Some of the best, most hilarious, most fun conversations about traveling come from an organic multi-person sharing of experiences and stories with each story triggering another in a seemingly effortless, outpouring of ideas.

My travel "junk box" contains ideas and experiences that are transformative, powerful, messy, scary and hilarious all at the same time. But what I know for sure is that despite the fact that I wish it would, "how was your trip?" will probably not elicit any of it because I just can't access anything without some sort of context. That's honestly why I've always written while I travel. Because my writing is a summary of everything in a somewhat transparent and organized way and essentially acts as the handle on the drawer. Ultimately I travel because, in light of my ridiculously neurotic nature, it stimulates my mind in a way that is incomparable to anything else I've ever experienced. When I read what I've written months or years later, it not only helps me remember and access what I've otherwise forgotten, but it literally brings me back to the time, place, feelings and experiences in a way that that relives, re-inspires and re-lights my fire. And this, your memories and your pictures are really all you have left of it years down the road.

Bottom line, we love to talk about our travels, but weirdly, we just might need a little help!


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