Photo: lethaargic

How to recognize that you’ve outlasted the journey and have already begun the process of coming home.

IN CENTRAL AMERICA at the turn of the century, there were still very few independent travelers carrying laptops. We were certainly not among them, so when my wife mentioned she wanted to write her parents, I gave her the best bet. Go to the German guy’s place up the hill behind the bakery. It’s next door to Maria’s soda. He’s kind of an ass. Keep your own timer running on your watch so he doesn’t screw you. Wait. Forgot to mention, number three is the only one worth using. None of the others can send out an email with photos without crashing. When she left, I thought I sounded a bit anal, but reconciled — it wasn’t worth letting her waste an afternoon. Nevertheless, a few hours went by.

    “Let me guess, everyone was waiting for number three?”

    “No, I was the first one there actually. I just got caught up –” She kind of trailed.

    “Did you write your parents?”

    “No. I didn’t get a chance to.”

    “Oh. What were you up to then?”

    She hesitated. “I was looking at Craigslist actually.”

We joined eyes and shared a smile, nostalgic and relieved. Without saying anything, we knew it was resolute, and yet it would go unspoken until the time we booked the ticket home. It always did.

* * *

There’s that fresh kindle that burns bright when you strike out. There’s savory new flavor in the food, every inconvenience is an adventure, and the ball of inertia seems to roll intuitively in the right direction. But when the existential satisfaction of open time and nothingness and learning for learning’s sake gives way to distant thoughts and a yearning for routine, that’s a good sign you want to head home.

With that in mind, we sent a request to a group of career travelers asking how they know it’s time to turn around. The responses were overwhelmingly humorous, but that didn’t hide the consistent themes. (Read: If you are financially insolvent, or have become jaded, go home.)

8 signs it’s time to stop traveling and go home
    8. You’re back on Phuket, where it’s 4pm and you’re reading a Danielle Steele paperback taken from the hostel book exchange.
    7. You’ve called someone off a wave because they are not yet tan.
    6. You are pissed at how they drive.
    5. You are rationing salted peanuts.
    4. You’ve just sold a pocket knife.
    3. It’s an April morning in Costa Rica, and you are haggling market vendors over the price of a mango.
    2. You’ve (almost) agreed to write copy for the BuenaVista Condo Development marketing brochure.
    1. Your girlfriend is insisting she can go another few days before she “needs” to spend money on washing her clothes.

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