“Did you know that the mere act of traveling relieves stress?” The saccharine male voice proffering “fun facts” about the joys of traveling was the only punctuation in what was now minute 19 of mildly cheerful muzak coming from my phone in the darkened hostel common room. “88% of people report lower stress levels after just two days of vacation!” he explained.
It was 6:15am. I had not slept, and I was on hold with my airline trying to rebook a cancelled flight from Buenos Aires to Chicago after making two similar calls to my banks because my wallet had been stolen.
* * * * *
I thought back to the previous night, when I realized my trip to Argentina would not be ending as planned. I’d received an email from LATAM Airlines notifying me of my cancelled flight minutes before stepping out with my friends to celebrate my last night in town; that could be dealt with in the morning. But later that night, as I felt a suspicious emptiness in the pocket where my wallet had been, my situation became more pressing.
I shouted over the chaotic buzz of Fiesta Jolie nightclub to inform my friend Thiago, a diminutive Brazilian actor in his late 30s, devastatingly handsome and glitteringly gay. We retraced my steps from where our hostel group was gathered on the dark, densely packed dance floor over to the equally sardine-like queue for the bar.
“But baby, why is your wallet so big like that! You don’t need all these things!” he chided, referring to the gold brick of a pocketbook I carried, heavy with various evidence of identities, memberships, and bank alliances that were of no use to me in South America. He looked like a disappointed mother, head shaking and lips pursed. There are no shortage of pickpockets in his native Rio, and he scolded my American laissez-faire.
“Yes, I’m realizing that now,” I replied. I focused on the flashes of floor I could see under the club lights and dancing feet, hoping against hope that perhaps my wallet had simply been dropped rather than purposefully lifted from my jacket pocket. Thiago followed close behind, a second pair of eyes and constant stream of suggestions for possible points of loss. But there was no avoiding his ultimate conclusion: “Baby, it’s gooone.”
The night could have ended there, with much temple-pressing, hand-wringing, and a sleepless night in a lumpy bed. But what good would worrying do? Truly, I’d dealt with worse: filed police reports in France, missed once-a-day buses in Morocco, lost chargers, clothing, and neck pillows in hostels the world over. I knew what I needed to do to fix my problems, and none of it could be done at two in the morning.
A familiar pop-punk anthem caught my attention as Thiago and I paddled our way through the club crowds like so much choppy water, making our way back to the dance floor. I got this feeling on a summer day when you were gooone, I crashed my car into a bridge, I watched, I let it buuuurn… By the time I’d made it back to our hostel group, they were jump-dancing and sing-shouting along with the defiant, punchy women’s voices: I threw your %@#! into a bag and pushed it down the staaaaiiirrs, I crashed my car into a bridge… As I reached them, a veritable United Nations of revelers bonded by proximity and wanderlust alone, what else was there to do but join in, letting the vibrations of the dancing disintegrate the lingering worry, at least ‘til morning?
Thiago looked at me, his thin layer of skepticism for my sanity quickly melting into a celebratory chorus that he updated with a timely twist – “I don’t care! I love it!” becoming “I don’t care! My wal-let, my wal-let!” – as he joined in the dancing as well.
I eventually returned to the hostel to address the tedious inconveniences (after a few more dances and a walk back to the hostel with a lovely, Thiago-approved, Italian architect – “Italians, they are special!”). I was moved onto another flight. I got a few hours of sleep. A couple even found my wallet, by the trash in the men’s bathroom, empty of cash but cards and IDs intact, and met me later that day to return it.
On hold that morning, in a moment of exhaustion, the idea that traveling relieves stress was laughable. But, how would I have reacted if I hadn’t learned what I was capable of during my adventures on the road? If I hadn’t stripped down my needs to a backpack and a supportive social circle? Would I have kept dancing if I hadn’t been traveling?
If just days of travel relieves stress, maybe a few months had cured it completely.
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Claudia is lifelong traveler and writer, combining the two first in a high school travel blog during an internship in London, then most recently in Argentina as a winner of the 2018 World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship.
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