A couple of weeks ago in Nepal, I sat squashed in the back of a tiny jeep together with a guide and a blogger friend, holding on for dear life to avoid getting plastered against them as our driver hugged the curves at full speed.
We were on our way back to Pokhara from a 5-day trek in the lower Himalayas. I was tired, sleepy, and getting a headache from the Nepali music blaring out of the radio.
And then suddenly, all my discomfort and tension disappeared. The previously irritating music became profound. The situation took on a new meaning; it was a familiar feeling that I had felt before.
I was experiencing traveler’s high.
The traveler’s high is not (yet) an established concept, I just coined it to describe that brief period of time in every traveler’s life when everything seems right.
It’s similar to the runner’s high, that moment after running several kilometers when suddenly everything is just fine. According to experts, it’s the feeling of “…euphoria, a feeling of being invincible, a reduced state of discomfort or pain, and even a loss in sense of time while running.”
Fellow runners know this moment well. It’s when all your fatigue, all your pain, disappear. You’re at your best and you feel like you can run the whole day without getting tired. You’re in top form, and you feel like nothing and no one can stop you.
In fact, in that particular moment, absolutely nothing else matters. It’s just you and the road ahead of you. Everything slows down and you can see and feel each single step perfectly. You are in sync with the universe; you have a feeling of rightness, a feeling that yes, this is where you’re supposed to be.
I’m convinced that runner’s high happens in traveling, too, even without the repetitive and rhythmic action that’s been identified to bring on that feeling. In all my years of traveling, I only felt it twice, and both times, it was in Nepal (although I did feel it at a lesser degree in Wadi Rum in Jordan).
The traveler’s high comes suddenly, unexpectedly. The situation you’re in doesn’t have to be great, in fact, it can be downright uncomfortable, even painful. But everything, taken together, taken as a whole, makes for the perfect period of time.
One moment you’re dizzy and nauseous, cursing the day you decided to go on that trip, and the next, when the traveler’s high comes, you’re 100% fine, 100% happy, 100% content. A feeling of rightness, of all things coming together seamlessly, perfectly, comes over you, and you’re left breathless at the beauty of it all.
You soon realize that this exact moment, this exact point in time, is why you travel. This is why you endure days of discomfort and cold, and why you can even put up with pain. This is why you left a comfortable life in your country. This is how it should be. This is life.
The first time I experienced traveler’s high was in 2014. I was on my way to Pokhara from Kathmandu, crammed in a bus filled to the rafters with people of all sizes and ages.
I happened to have a window seat on the right side of the bus, a few rows behind the driver. As always, the minute the bus left the terminal, I fell asleep, just waking up every now and then when I got jostled too hard or when my head banged into the window, no thanks to the potholes that characterized the roads of Nepal.
The last time I woke up was around six hours after our bus left Kathmandu. I looked outside the window and was floored at what I saw: there were lush, green mountains in the horizon, and beyond them, much farther away, set amidst the clear blue sky, were ranges edged in white. It was the Himalayas.
I forgot everything; I didn’t even remember to take pictures. I just stared and stared at the Himalayas, totally unprepared and completely awed at the beauty that I could see outside the window.
Since then, I’ve been to many other countries. I’d felt dwarfed by the grandeur of the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro and humbled by the power of Iguazu Falls. I’d hiked solo to Machu Picchu and flew over the Nasca lines.
I’d seen firsthand the stark beauty of Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, and had gone deep inside the mines of Potosi. I laughed and cried in Broadway shows in New York, and marveled at the beauty and human creativity seen in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.
But the only other time I felt the traveler’s high was again in Nepal. I went there for the second time this year when I was invited to attend the Himalayan Travel Mart (hosted by the Pacific Asia Travel Association). Prior to the conference, we were taken on a 5-day hike of the Poon Hill-Ghorepani circuit.
The traveler’s high arrived not during the hike, when the Annapurna mountain range was in sight, but on the last day of our trek. We were in a small jeep on our way to Pokhara from Ghandruk, and though I was very tired, I couldn’t sleep.
In fact, I could hardly hold on to my seat at the back of the jeep. Beside me was Sabin, the Nepali assistant guide, and in front of me was Dave Briggs. He was so tall his head barely cleared the jeep’s roof.
The narrow dirt road, potholed and rough, occasionally threw the three of us against each other. I had to grip the seat beside me to avoid getting plastered against the men whenever the driver hugged a curve at full speed. Behind Dave, I could see the terraced countryside, the cliff just mere inches from our jeep’s wheels.
I was tired, sleepy, and on full-alert mode while the radio blared love songs in Nepali. The situation couldn’t have been more difficult.
And then suddenly, I felt it.
The traveler’s high came over me, and I no longer felt the discomfort. Yes, I was still holding on to the seat with a death grip, but I felt none of the fatigue I’d felt earlier. I was energized, euphoric, and I felt like I was on top of the world, right inside that tiny jeep barrelling through the countryside in Nepal.
I closed my eyes and tried to enjoy the feeling as long as I could, loving the rightness, the perfection of it.
Then, before the feeling could pass, I took out my phone and wrote the first draft of this blog post.
I took notes as fast as I could, as if my life depended on it, because I knew that pretty soon, the feeling would pass. I would soon be back in the jeep, feeling all the bumps and holes in the road again, feeling the tension in my hand clutching the seat beside me, and getting irritated at the caterwauling coming out of the jeep’s radio.
In the meantime, everything was perfect. Everything was just right. I was on my way back to civilization with people whose company I’d enjoyed so much in the past 5 days, with a Nepali love song on the radio accompanying our journey back home.
I was experiencing traveler’s high in Nepal and life couldn’t be better.
How about you? Have you experienced traveler’s high? Do share in the comments!
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