Travel Side Effects Part 2: Restless Heart Syndrome

Last month I wrote about the weird side effects travel can have on your mind and your perspective. I’ve been thinking a bit more on the subject and the way travel irrevocably changes the way you look at the world.

One of the biggest and hardest side effects of traveling is what I call Restless Heart Syndrome. It consists of that gnawing, unshakeable feeling that no matter how good things are, there’s somewhere else you could or should be.

For example, as you read this I’m on a flight back home after 7 months on the road. I’m ecstatic! I can not WAIT to do normal people things like eat a real salad, visit my local library and hug the crap out of all my friends and family. It’s going to be wonderful… for awhile at least.

Inevitably it will happen. I’ll see an episode of No Reservations, or a billboard with a beach on it. I’ll innocently google some far off place and before you know it I’m knee deep into planning imaginary itineraries. If it’s really serious I might start pricing some plane tickets, just in case.

Even worse, I start daydreaming about my past travels, gazing nostalgically at old pictures on Flickr and sighing loudly. I’ll order Chinese food and think bitterly how it will never compare with the real and amazing chinese food I used to eat. I’ll go to the store and balk at paying $10 for a bottle of wine I could have had in Argentina for $2.50.

Yes I’m aware that most of my analogies involve food…

A part of me will always be a slave to the places I’ve been and long to go back for. I will always wake up craving banh mi, or longing for a rainy day in Bogota. In the back of my mind I will always be wandering the streets of London, retracing my footsteps through Kyoto or gazing at a glacier in Iceland. It’s not that whatever I’m doing at the moment is boring or undesirable, it’s just that all this other stuff has taken up residence in my head and will not be dislodged.

When I was in China I did nothing but crave cheese all day. In Argentina I was inundated with mozzarella but I would have given an arm for some authentic bao zi. I guarantee you when I get home I’m going to crave some juicy Argentinean steak like none other.

I can’t help it. The curse of the traveller, is that no matter how happy you are, at least a small part of you always wishes you were somewhere else. Your eyes open to the massive amount of possibilities in the world, and it’s hard to focus on just one. Many people who take off in search of adventure quickly realize that travel is not like a cold that you get out of your system, but like an addiction that simply grows and feeds on itself.

So I have a restless heart. I can live with that, I think. It keeps things interesting, that is for sure. But, between my various jaunts around the globe, I’m going to try a little bit harder to appreciate the here and now.

36 Responses to Travel Side Effects Part 2: Restless Heart Syndrome

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 3, 2012 at 9:50 AM #

    It seems like one of the hardest things to do in life, whether you love to travel or not, is to find that balance between being complacent and always wanting something more out of life, so much so that you can’t appreciate and enjoy the life you’ve got! I don’t know if there is a cure for restless heart, but maybe it’s one of those things where there is no cure, just a lifelong treatment through travel (and more cowbell…).

  2. John of Travel Rinse Repeat May 3, 2012 at 9:51 AM #

    I suppose the grass is always a little greener, no? Are you staying at home for the foreseeable future or do you have immediate next travel plans?

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 10:40 PM #

      VERY immediate plans actually. Announcement coming soon…

  3. Sarah Mastroianni May 3, 2012 at 9:53 AM #

    I completely understand what you mean! I wrote a similar post about the case of post-travel depression that I had after 4.5 months in Italy… I guess instead of moping around, we should be glad that we’ve left parts of our hearts in this places. I know for me, although I wish I could be in my beloved Tuscany, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to create the memories and live the experiences that tug at my heartstrings. 🙂

  4. Leti May 3, 2012 at 10:01 AM #

    OH MY GOD! I can’t believe I’m reading this article. You have written the exact same things I’m thinking right now. Don’t you feel guilty sometimes that you are longing to be somewhere else but here? ‘Cause I do. I feel I’m taking things for grantes and it breaks my heart. However, after reading this wonderful article, I feel a little bit better knowing that somebody else feels the same.
    Cheers from Rosario, Argentina. The steak is waiting for you. 🙂

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:18 PM #

      Thanks, enjoy Rosario, it’s a beauty! Love your blog name by the way.

  5. Phil May 3, 2012 at 10:09 AM #

    It’s inevitable haha. Happens every time I’m home for awhile, without fail. Like you said, try to appreciate where you are at every moment. And I totally agree about the food, I could really use some good Mexican food after 4 months in Asia

  6. Brad May 3, 2012 at 11:08 AM #

    Great blogs you have! I check out your blog a few times a week and your postings are very real and interesting to follow.

    I know the feeling of always wanting to plan the next best thing, but I try and listen to what my dad always told (and still tells me)….”enjoy the moment and don’t wish your life away”! I never understood what he meant by that until it clicked the one day as I realized I was always planning for the next big trip and not enjoying where and what I was doing at the time. I’m living in NZ and can’t wait to get to OZ…I get to OZ and I can’t wait to get to Asia…I get to Asia and after a year and a half travelling I am excited to get home to Canada for the summer to be with family and friends.

    I think sometimes I (or we??) forget to sit back and make the most of where we are now and enjoy life with out always being in the fast lane!

    Enjoy your time back home with the family and friends and keep up the great work!

    Your “Cotopaxi Canuck Friend”,

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:16 PM #

      Awesome! So good to hear from you, glad you are still keeping the travel bug alive.

  7. Nicole May 3, 2012 at 11:11 AM #

    Not everyone understands Restless Heart Syndrome, so it’s always nice to be reminded that I’m not alone! That picture at the end is so perfect for this post. I don’t know what you were really thinking in the moment, but you definitely look like you’re dreaming about some far away place!

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:16 PM #

      Aww thanks, I was in Chengdu, China. Dont remember what I was thinking though!

  8. Danielle May 3, 2012 at 11:44 AM #

    The agony of the traveler. Even within my own city, I find I am restless. I try to pick a new area of the city, a new cafe, a new park to check out every week just so that I don’t feel like I am caught in a monotony. I travel between cities on the weekends to get a new change of scenery. I always feel like I need to be on the move!

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:14 PM #

      All great suggestions for keeping restlessness at bay.

  9. EM @ Cubicle Throwdown May 3, 2012 at 1:00 PM #

    This! Yes! Thank you for giving me a name for something I’ve had for years. Restless heart syndrome plagues me constantly. I usually just tell people I have a curious soul and can’t stay in one spot for too long. And I hear you on the food – what I wouldn’t give for a big bowl of Tokyo ramen right now, but when I was there I would have given my left arm for a proper salad!

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:13 PM #

      Yeah I wonder how long til I start missing that steak….

  10. alexis May 3, 2012 at 6:38 PM #

    That is sooo true! It makes it so hard to be at my computer here at work! As you can see, I’m reading about traveling instead of doing real work. I’ve suppressed my restless heart syndrome, but I find myself looking ahead for future trips I can take. The more places I go to, the more places I find out about. It never ends! I’m just happy that my boyfriend travels with me and can understand that we both can’t have better gelatto than the ones we had in Europe. We try not to whine about things around friends anymore since we always feel like we sound “too good for this place” when we talk about certain foods or experiences that are better in other countries. Any suggestions on how to get rid of this syndrome?

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:11 PM #

      Haha if I knew how to cure it I’d bottle it!

  11. Andrea May 3, 2012 at 8:00 PM #

    I’m also pretty guilty of this–since I’m an expat I tend to forget that the country I’m currently in is part of my adventure. I’m always so busy planning my RTW trip, I sometimes forget to enjoy the fact that I’m already living somewhere “new” and “different.”

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:09 PM #

      Yeah, I’ve had that sensation as an expat too, coupled a the same time with this nagging sensation that I’m not fully taking advantage of where I am.

  12. Hannah May 3, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

    Like many of the people who have already commented, I can totally relate to this! I think it hits hardest when you just get home from being abroad. However, I think it’s an important point you made that restless heart syndrome can even hit when you are traveling in some exotic place, and you spend too much time thinking and planning where you will go next as opposed to taking it slow and enjoying your time wherever you are. Excellent post!

    • Steph May 4, 2012 at 2:01 PM #

      Rainy days seem to make it worse too.

  13. Kim May 3, 2012 at 9:21 PM #

    Yep! You nailed it! Can we get this diagnosed as a real thing bc I definitely suffer!!!

  14. Stephanie May 4, 2012 at 2:03 PM #

    I am also a fellow sufferer of RHS =) It’s been several months since I left Europe, and every time I have to plan out transportation routes because you have to drive EVERYWHERE in CA, I’ll wish I was back in Europe, where I could dash to the train station and be off on some unplanned adventure. Last week, I had Italian food for the first time since I’ve been back. And as soon as the waitress corrected my pronunciation of “bruschetta” (hard k sound, folks, NOT sh!), I was wishing I could be in Florence in that very moment, getting gelato from my favorite gelateria (Gelateria Lorenzo, on via del Sole… hehe try their millefoglie!). Money’s tight right now, but I’m hoping to go back in the fall for a group show I’m in. *crosses fingers*

  15. Vacay Girl May 4, 2012 at 2:14 PM #

    Gosh, I was thinking along the lines of this just yesterday. I am so unhappy where I am (KY) and I long to always be in Mexico. Anywhere but here. Wondering if I will ever be happy in one place. I’ll be 35 tomorrow and I can’t help but become a little anxious over this need to be somewhere else. I just want to settle down and be happy. But can I? When I go home to visit in TX I wish I was back “home” in KY. When I’m in KY I wish I was in MX. When I’m in MX I wish I was in Brazil though I’ve never been. But when I’m in MX I feel the possibilities to travel are endless.

    Is there a cure for this? Would we take it there was?

  16. Claire May 5, 2012 at 9:37 AM #

    I have been staying away from blog world lately-I am days away from having a baby and I have never been more aware of my RHS than I am right now. Your post hit the bullseye-despite what a wonderful time this is for me and my husband, there is still a part that is restless, knowing that the life I had of just picking up and going somewhere is on hold, indefinitely. I am of course, extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had, but am still wishing and hoping for MANY more!

  17. Joya May 5, 2012 at 7:57 PM #

    Such a great post! I love being here in San Francisco, but I always keep my heart and mind open to the possibility of moving back to London. I miss something about that city everyday.

  18. Alex May 10, 2012 at 12:39 AM #

    Beautifully written, Steph. I think I always leave a little piece of myself in the places I love the most.

  19. Sabina May 12, 2012 at 4:40 PM #

    I hear you. The restless heart syndrome, I think may be a part of my life forevermore. I’m going home for the first time in two years next month. I plan to stay put for seven months before heading back to Israel and Egypt. But will I really just stay at home? Will I not start planning another trip after a few weeks? I’m not at all sure. Time will tell.

    • Dennis July 24, 2015 at 10:32 AM #

      I cannot think of the word for the feeling you get after traveling from one continent to the other,
      Like lazy and lethargic,it’s really bothering me,

      • Steph July 24, 2015 at 11:36 AM #

        jetlagged? culture shocked?

  20. Ali May 20, 2012 at 6:31 AM #

    I can totally understand this. The whole time I was in SE Asia, I kept wishing I was in South America. I have a hard time deciding where to go because there are so many places I want to see. It’s how I’ve ended up squeezing too many places into a trip, because I wanted to see more.

  21. Sammi July 14, 2012 at 1:18 PM #

    Hi there, I’m new here and have been hopping through your posts, and this one sings to me! i lived on fuerteventura, down in the canary islands for 4 years & since i have been back, i have that niggling feeling that no matter how happy i am, i need to move around more! it’s always there in the back of my mind, only recently have i decided to travel more and see the world. it’s nice to know that this feeling is felt by others 🙂

  22. Caroline October 10, 2012 at 6:02 AM #

    Thank you so much for expressing EXACTLY how I (and obviously lots of other travellers) are feeling. At a point now where I’ve just moved and already look for new plane tickets…I’d just like to know whether the RHS slowly wears off with time when you’ve rambled around enough, or if you just have to decide to settle down somewhere…Oh well, best of luck to all of you, let’s just enjoy our curiousity while it lasts:)

  23. Jay October 14, 2012 at 5:36 AM #

    Wow, you put a name on my condition. Thanks for a good read. “Why am I so restless in one place?” on Google brought me here, haha.

    • huey March 5, 2013 at 9:39 AM #

      wow–i am having this exact itch so bad..
      i was in SE asia/australia about a year.. also did a 3 month eurotrip before that.. im back home 3 years+ already.. I opened a buisness 8 months ago.. i just feel like shutting the store-closing it- grabbing as much money as i can salvage and catch a flight back to SE asia.. maybe see new places like USA/south america.

  24. kellysheldrick March 15, 2015 at 11:31 PM #

    I can relate to everything you wrote… only, I’m still travelling, and feeling restless, as I’m travelling… the kind of feeling where, this trip won’t beat the next trip, or how can I make the next trip beat the last trip (a mixture of the both). Even though I crave some stability, I still want to keep moving – the list of places and things I want to do gets longer, and I’m beginning to see no end in sight, wondering how I’m going to fit it all in. Then there is a part of me that does want to eventually settle, but I’m beginning to think that I’ll never reach the point where that will ever happen. So, I guess I’ll just keep on going… Glad I’m not the only one feeling like this – friends back home just don’t understand how I feel, and it can sometimes make me feel disconnected from the rest of the world.

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