A Look at the Nomad’s Inability to Deal with Boredom

Your true traveler finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty — his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure. – Aldous Huxley

I beg to differ, Aldous.

boredom by Jayegirl99

While traveling, the following are (normally) guaranteed: location, culture, food, and company change regularly; there is little monotony; each new day is literally unpredictable – there is no wake up, go to work, come home, watch TV, then sleep type of schedule.

Though I have certainly been bored during my travels, it is usually short-lived. It’s certainly not the profound boredom that sets in over a long summer break, encouraging normally well-behaved kids to do something bad just for entertainment’s sake.

I’ve recently settled into a house in Bogotá and plan to be here for a couple more months. Though my day isn’t entirely predictable, I find myself feeling incredibly bored. This is quite different than the absence of activity I find myself in while at the beach, for example. Tanning, watching the sunset, and sleeping in are done pleasurably and by choice. Nor is it akin to having a rest day while actively backpacking, catching up on my blog and Skyping with my family.

No, this is the tedium that comes from having little to do each day except a few short hours of work. It’s the motivation killer that finds me researching average travel costs in Africa instead of writing, shopping instead of working on my blog, or taking too long to get ready for a one-block trip to the grocery store. When the boredom becomes too extreme, I find myself itching in my own skin and planning a way OUT.

An article by Dr. Comeau describes monotony as a major facet of boredom, and that our attention tunes out to stimuli that we’re exposed to regularly. But after less than a month?

I find this occurrence troubling as it seems I have unveiled an underlying defect of character or deep-rooted problem that has been hiding under the surface for some years now.

Is there something wrong with me? Do I travel not for connecting, not for learning, not for seeing and doing, but strictly as an aversion to monotony? When I’m old and grey, and unable to travel, how will I avoid boredom then? Take up sky-diving or high-stakes gambling? Go anaconda chasing or join a gang?

by ingridgott on Flickr

Normally, I despise dwelling in a problem and move quickly to find a solution. A few options I’ve come up with is to:

  • Get a hobby: Yesterday, I looked at violins to buy to revive an old high school talent. I also plan on visiting a couple of yoga schools in town.
  • Explore: Bogotá is gigantic. I could literally go to a new neighborhood every day and still not visit them all. Probably wise to avoid the ghetto though.
  • Participate: The city will never feel like a home, albeit temporary, if I don’t get involved. I’ll be looking for festivals and events to attend over the next couple of months.
  • Leave: Fortunately, there are tons of pueblos within an hour or two from the city. A weekend break every now and again would do me good.
  • Be still: If this really is a sign of an underlying problem, it’s best I conquer it now. I need to strike a balance between moving and staying, and a bit of monotony is normal and something I should accept and transcend.

How do you conquer boredom and monotony?

8 Comments
  • David
    March 30, 2011

    It sounds like you may find yourself bored because you’re no longer traveling. You’re just living. Without a job and community.

    I think the first quote by Huxley is true. When you’re truly traveling, you desire the peace that comes with boredom. I just don’t think we call it boredom. We call it simplicity, peace, etc etc

  • David
    March 30, 2011

    btw, i do enjoy your blog :)

  • The Father
    March 30, 2011

    Really nicely written and insightful piece. In part of Tony Robbins’ spiel he talks about the “6 Human Needs”, one of which in “Variety” and another “Significance”. I think boredom is an expression of a lack of either or both. How could I be bored if I was significant to others? You feel under-utilized or not useful. And even the prospect of a lack of variety in your life, no matter for how long, inspires boredom…think about doing that 6 hours of homework, or going to the j.o.b. for another day and you become bored in advance!

    How do I combat boredom? Not terribly well. Usually I’ll look for a new book, do vacation dreaming or bug one of my two kids…

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    March 30, 2011

    thanks! :)

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    March 30, 2011

    Good insight, David. I do have a job, though it’s all online so it has nothing to do with the city. My community extends only to my host family at this point. As a short-term expat in other places, there have been times when I have been more involved in the place, and other times not. I feel time slipping away and making excuses like, “Well I’ll only be here 2 more months, that’s not enough time to do x.”

    A little slice of peace while traveling is definitely something I crave… but I don’t really get the quote. Maybe Huxley is a cooler traveler than I :)

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    March 30, 2011

    Sounds like a rip-off of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs pyramid! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs#Self-actualization

    I can definitely see boredom relating to both variety and significance… maybe that would explain why some women can work in the home and be completely happy (significance). I think my problem may be more extreme and I’m some type of variety addict, or have gotten so used to variety that the foreignness of monotony is like some kind of strange animal I don’t understand.

  • Bryan Brough
    April 2, 2011

    I know the feeling Jasmine, I too crave adventure and variety while traveling, I couldn’t tell you why I dream of new adventures while currently in the middle of one or why I can’t be content being with out having 3 trips planned all at once. I feel ya, and great post.

    P.S I think the elderly gang member idea sounds great!
    Keep on Keepin on! – Bryan

  • Jasmine Stephenson
    April 6, 2011

    Maybe when we´re old we can join the same gang :)

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