In Transit Between Shells

· mumblings ·

Several years ago, while I was working in New Caledonia, I used to really enjoy watching the tiny hermit crabs moving around on the beach. When they were securely in a shell, they were quite confident as they could just pull themselves inside if threatened. However, those that had outgrown their shells scurried about searching for a new home of the right size as their soft bodies were terribly vulnerable without protection. I travelled to Germany briefly this week, and it struck me that I am a bit like a shell-less hermit crab while travelling.

I’ve always enjoyed being at home. I feel relaxed and comfortable there, and enjoy knowing where stuff is, having familiar things around me, and familiar routines. It’s not that I don’t enjoy new places, though. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some amazing countries through work, and I love seeing new things and having new experiences1. Wherever I’m going becomes my new, temporary home: I may not be quite as relaxed and comfortable as I am at my permanent home, but it does feel secure. No, like the hermit crab, my problem is with the period of transition between homes.

I seem to suffer from a highly specific form of obsessive-compulsive behaviour when I’m in transit that is caused by the insecurity of being between homes. I can’t seem to stop myself obsessively checking that I still have my passport, my phone and so on. Of course it’s always still there, in the very same place that it was when I last checked a minute ago. I keep thinking that I’m going to get more relaxed about travelling as I do more of it, but if anything I seem to be getting worse. The only thing I’m getting better at is organising myself to mitigate the anxiety. I’ve learned to travel lighter (so that there’s less stuff to actually check), and to compartmentalise stuff so that I have fewer places to look. Preparing thoroughly seems to help a bit too, so that I know where I need to be and when, and have the information I need to hand.

Nevertheless, the whole process of scuttling frantically between shells is exhausting. Short trips are disproportionately exhausting, because the ratio of between-shell to in-shell time is much higher. I really don’t know how people travel constantly for business — it would flatten me. A two-day trip this week has taken me several days to recover from. The sooner direct teleportation between two locations becomes possible, the happier I’ll be to travel.

  1. Such as watching hermit crabs on exotic beaches… ↩︎