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Has Travel Made Me Dumber?

Am I Dumber?For all the talk about the positive benefits of travel, and more specifically, long-term travel, I’ve begun to realize that there is a completely different side to the story, one that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. And I will say that before I decided to discuss this unfortunate aspect of life on the road, I thought long and hard about whether or not my claim is actually true.

I think it’s the truth.

Traveling has made me dumber.

It goes without saying that what I like to believe is my open mind and respect for other people is a result of my extensive travels, as is a great deal of the knowledge that fills my brain, dictates my life and ultimately makes me who I am as a human being. And I am proud of who I am and every day I purposely take time to appreciate the life I’ve led.

However, it is also true that the culprit behind my frequent inability to speak clearly or to participate in intelligent conversations or to keep my mind as sharp as possible, is all of this traveling as well.


GOO GOO GA GA

The first thing that comes to mind is that I’ve basically spent the past 11 years speaking in broken, baby English, so it’s no wonder that my vocabulary is not as extensive as I would have hoped by this point in life. Usually, I’m in a non-English speaking country and as a result, I must alter how I speak. Instead of complete sentences, I’ve been saying such things as ‘You good?‘ and ‘Bus Delhi?‘ and ‘Me Earl‘ and ‘Happy yes!‘. Come to think of it, not only am I speaking baby English, but I’m speaking baby caveman English almost every single day!

And when I’m not trying to converse in simple English, I’m most likely trying to converse in some badly mangled version of whatever language is spoken in the country I’m visiting. Clearly this cannot be good for one’s intelligence and yes, I feel dumber as a result.

It’s also no mystery that it takes me an extraordinarily long time to think of words that should come into my mind much more quickly. Sometimes I’ll need 7.9 seconds to remember what I like to eat with my muesli in the morning (yogurt) and 12.7 seconds to remember that what I don’t eat is red ‘meat’ and not red ‘meet’. Just this morning it took me 10 minutes to remember the word ‘fabric’.

And even though my head is filled with the knowledge gained through constant cultural interaction, it often tends to be knowledge that is rarely useful when conversing with others. I personally could talk all day about Bangladeshi taxi mafias, the Syrian camel races or the details of every Central American border crossing, but those are not exactly topics that come up too often in conversation. As a result, such knowledge becomes buried in the bottom of my brain and then covered up with another layer of much the same. I love having this information in my head, but a good portion of what I learn is not at all useful to anyone other than a permanent nomad or long time traveler.

So what happens is that when I do find myself hanging out with people who are engaged in normal conversations while speaking intelligent English, I’m often left nodding my head, muttering ‘uh-huh’ every now and then and day-dreaming about my time at those camel races.


MORE TRAVEL = LESS STIMULATION

Indian sadhuAnother truth about long-term travel is that the life-changing intensity of new experiences can easily wear off and as a result, over time, the brain becomes less stimulated by what were once considered unique and eye-opening moments. Sure, the first time you see an Indian holy man walk up to a urinating cow, cup his hands together, place his hands directly into the stream of urine and then drink it, your brain is forced to re-evaluate everything that it once thought normal and acceptable in life.

But the second time you see it, you just shrug your shoulders and finish your chai.

Of course, I do put a great deal of effort into trying to ensure that my brain receives as much stimulation as possible and that I am constantly in situations that offer some sort of education. But it’s extremely tiring work, as the more I travel, the harder it is to challenge myself on a daily basis and the easier it is to just resort to a comfortable existence by vegging out on a beach for months at a time. When this happens, the brain is used even less and when coupled with the communication issue, it’s not hard to imagine how this can take a toll on a person’s intelligence.

So, am I really dumber because of all the traveling I’ve done?

To an extent, I really believe I am. Although, I don’t necessarily see this as such a terrible thing. I would in no way exchange what I have gained from travel for the ability to talk about stocks and bonds. But if or when I ever decide to alter my lifestyle in any significant manner, I might be in trouble. The relatively disconnected life I lead now might have so little relation to any other way of life, that I would lack the necessary knowledge and skills to adjust to a different path. Perhaps it is this truth that has kept me on the road for so long already.


MY OWN BEST FRIEND

And before I finish, I guess I should mention the ‘talking to myself’ issue as well, an issue that I believe springs from spending so much time on my own, often unable to communicate properly with others. Starting about three years ago, I began talking to myself and these days, I apparently do it so much, that I no longer notice it. While walking through the streets of Chiang Mai, Thailand a couple of weeks ago, my friends would often ask me whether or not I was talking to them. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten I wasn’t. It was just me engaged in some ridiculously long conversations with myself, conversations that I was told were as loud and clear as if I was actually speaking to another person.

I’ll admit that’s a little disturbing and while it doesn’t necessarily translate to being dumber, it is another reason for concern.

Ahhh….traveling. To be out on the road, exploring, interacting and learning. It all sounds so glorious!

Except that it now takes me 10 minutes to think of words like ‘glorious’ and then another 10 minutes to remember why I was trying to think of the world ‘glorious’ in the first place, all because I’m too busy having a deep conversation with myself about the therapeutic qualities of Slovakian mud baths.

So, to all of you hopeful world travelers out there….I wish you the best of luck :)


And I’m curious to know if any other travelers have also sometimes felt ‘dumber’ as a result of their travels?

Photo credit: Brain
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161 Responses to Has Travel Made Me Dumber?

  1. Mai says:

    I’ve been soaking up as much as I can from your site these past couple of weeks, and I have to say you are my favorite travel blogger by far. Incredibly humble, street smart, resourceful, and hilarious to boot! Every entry of yours is worth the read. Every time I get stressed out about things going on in my life, I return to your blog and remember I’m preparing to be a long-term traveler in a few years, too, which is where I feel my true passion lies (in meeting people from all walks of life, living simply, exploring, and seeing the world for what it really is). Reading your blog confirms that for me; both the ups and downs do! You are so much richer because of the path you’ve chosen, and even if that makes you supposedly dumber, you are a king of the world. Thanks so much for existing. :-)

  2. Paul says:

    Very interesting post Earl. I’m curious as to how the brain works in this manner. Although you don’t converse as much with native English speakers as you would have in another life, you certainly have an excellent writing style and I can only assume that you read quite a lot too. I wonder why certain words that you don’t use much in speech take a while to come to the front of your mind when you still probably write and read them quite a lot. Funny thing the human brain.

    After 3 months in non-English speaking countries I noticed how unusual it was spending those first few days back in an English speaking country, having to readjust speech and all, so can only imagine how it must feel after several years!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Paul – I think with the writing, the benefit is that I have time to sit down and think of the words I want to use. But in conversation, I don’t have that luxury and so when I need to think more quickly, many words no longer enter my brain. I do read quite a bit though and that certainly helps ensure that I don’t lose my English vocabulary completely :)

  3. :))

    This is one of the funniest pieces that I’ve read this summer. And I understand you 100%. As I lived in Europe and in non english country I noticed my English going bad after some time. I see it right now when I write but I wouldn’t change knowing curses in Croatian for full and pure English vocabulary.

    Also, that first impression that starts fading after some time, your brain gets familiar with all those changes, that is sad but we can’t do anything but accepting it and going even harder on waves of life :)

    Cheers

  4. Joe says:

    What a relieve to read this post.I live in the USA and every year spend a couple of months in my native South Africa. There I experience the same problem.It takes me a good two weeks to get fluent in Afrikaans (my home language) again.

    Seems to me the old saying of “use it or lose it ” is true.

  5. Flo says:

    Just came across your blog while looking for arguments for my essay “Not all who wander are lost” and I’m going to use your blog as a source.
    I used to be a wanderer myself for 4 or 5 years, and now I am back to school and have to argue about topics such as Politics, recession etc. I also feel like a total dummy listening to my classmates who are 20 (I’m 30) debating. Well, I learned a lot in a few months. I am more aware about what’s going on in the world. What did I learn? that everything is corrupted (that I knew about it, just not in details), corporations are killing everyone with their greediness, and that we need to go back to a more sustainable way of living. Humm, that I learned it while on the road. So my point is even though we feel dumb and disconnected from the world and the current civilization, we learn MUCH MORE from wandering alone through this planet.
    About the language thing. Well, same thing here. I haven’t spoken French on a regular basis for 4 years, and I’m studying in the Us right now, so it’s getting worse. Apparently, I speak French like an old grandma… My english is also all over the place since I picked up slangs from other english speaking countries I lived in.
    Anyway, very cool blog, inspiring and truly honest. Keep doing what feels right to you!

    • Earl says:

      Thanks for that comment Flo and I’m honored that you’ll be using the blog as a source! If you ever have any questions, just let me know.

  6. Elena Robertson says:

    Hey!
    I seem to be wildly late in the game, but I just stumbled upon this yesterday (as in literally using stumbleupon) and am really loving it!

    I can relate a little to the whole losing-language thing, or at least speaking in a way that my friends/family can’t really understand when I get back from traveling. I recently returned from a 6-week stint in Ghana, where people generally talk less, more quietly and using very basic English mixed with Fante/Twi etc. Going through customs on the way home is always a nervewracking experience, because by this point my passport is pretty full of visas (I was reprimanded in Amsterdam for not having enough blank space for them to stamp…oops) and as a 20 year old girl, customs is wildly suspicious of what I’m doing scampering around the world unaccompanied.

    Anyways, when I was being questioned about what I’d been doing, I guess I was replying so quietly that the customs official couldn’t hear me. Eventually I looked up and noticed she was just glaring at me and said “I asked you a question. Why were you in Ghana alone?” I awkwardly missed a beat then realized that, apparently, she hadn’t heard me.

    Ditto went for my first week or two at home–anytime somebody tried to talk to me I’d answer too quietly for them to hear. Not to mention immediately saying “Hello howareyouIamfine!” to every person I encountered.

  7. Donald says:

    I’m reading this post and thinking to myself that I can sincerely relate to what you are going through. And the funny thing is, I’m not as culturally rich as you are. Meaning, I haven’t traveled across the globe to as many places as you have. But I have traveled well to the point where I share those self-same symptoms.

    When I was kid, I was back and forth between parents here in the states. If I wasn’t living with my mom in Camp Dennison, OH, I was living with my dad in either Boston, MA or Lithonia, GA or attending boarding school in Piney Woods, MS or being bored to death in Hampton Roads, VA. I’ve been flying since I was about 10 years old and I’ve been mistaken at times for being a ‘Military Brat.’ I will say one of my noticeable traits is that I don’t really have an accent, sometimes I’ll sound like I’m from Manhattan and other times I have this discernible Southern drawl. What made it worse was when I was in Boarding School in MS, where over half of the student population was either from Baltimore, Chicago or Detroit. Talk about culture awareness.

    There are certain things I can’t talk about with people because there are certain things that interest me as well, and I talk to myself so much it ain’t even a joke.

    So yeh, the traveler’s life is for me. Even though I’d much rather drive than fly (Flying can be so…….. meh at times)

  8. Joe Wong says:

    Hmmm, I’m barely getting started with becoming a traveling nomad, hope it aint true hehehe, love the post

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  10. Cindy Thistle says:

    Thanks Earl, I was beginning to think that I was suffering from early on-set altzhemiers when I read this blog and suddenly I realized there may be another reason for my lost vocabulary and stumbling conversation. Like you, I spend most of my time speaking with people for whom English is a second, or even third language. In addition, I decided a few years ago to “opt out” of TV watching and news in general, so I don’t usaually have a clue what’s going on in the world outside the range of my own senses.
    Last week I found myself on a small adventure cruise ship in Fiji with 9 other passengers, 7 from the UK and America and 2 Dutch who spoke perfect English. Quickly I discovered that only thing I had in common with these people was my skin colour and then again, I’ve been avoiding Canadian winters for a few years so even that didn’t match up especially after the first day when most of them came out of the water looking more like cooked lobster than people.
    Within a day, instead of joining in the nightly conversations in the air-conditioned lounge or on the fancy back deck sipping on cocktails, I found myself sitting cross-legged in the hallway or on the bridge with 10-15 crew members drinking cava, listening to Fijian/English conversations and guitar accompanied traditional music and laughing…we did a lot of laughing and I wouldn’t have traded a minute for an “intelligent conversation.”
    All this to say thanks for the insight and reminder that I’m not out here alone.
    Kind regards,
    Cindy

    • Earl says:

      Hey Cindy – That seems like quite a rewarding experience on that ship and I have a feeling if I was in your shoes, I would have ended up doing the exact same thing. So on one hand we may have lost our ability to partake in ‘normal’ everyday conversations but on the other hand, we are drawn to experiences that we will remember forever instead. I guess I’ll take that trade-off, even if it means I’m technically dumb :)

  11. Ron says:

    I’m loving this post and can definitely “feel” what you’re saying here. I could easily take both sides of the fence when deciding whether or not travelling makes you “smarter” or “dumber”. Although I haven’t been travelling as long as you have by any means, I could see how the unusual becomes usual but then again, you could look at it from this point of view: if these things become normal to you, you are expanding your mind to accept new ways of life and new customs. In a sense, you are not becoming “dumber” but more so becoming accustomed to a “global” way of things, not just one society like most people.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ron – It definitely can go both ways and there are moments when I feel dumber and plenty of moments when I feel smarter of course. Perhaps in the end it all evens out, but I certainly wouldn’t give up the experiences regardless as becoming comfortable with a completely different set of customs is more than worth it!

  12. Haha this is funny. I’ve been rehearsing my best baby caveman english for haggling purposes and taxi bargains round asia.
    Seriously though, it would be a massive culture shock to try and adapt to a corporate job, real world life after long-term travel.
    I can’t imagine prospective employers being too impressed in job interviews with a spiel like “Me want job, me good worker” as you munch on some pad thai you pulled from your pocket.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Chris – Ha…that had me laughing, as I imagine my job interviews in the corporate world would take place in the same manner. It’s hard enough to carry on a normal conversation in English sometimes, let alone a conversation while under pressure!

  13. Michele says:

    Hi Earl, thank you so much for sharing this information :) I’ve been reading your blog for about 2 weeks now so I’m fairly new around these parts. I realize this particular post is several months old, but I can’t even describe how much I enjoyed it! I’ve been planning some long-term travel and had actually considered this myself.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Michele – Well, I’m happy to know that a post about my ‘dumbness’ made for an enjoyable read :) But seriously, it is something to think about if you plan on traveling as well and if you are aware of what can happen from the start, then the chances of you being affected will be much less. I didn’t realize I was getting ‘dumber’ until a few years into my travels!

  14. Lily Leung says:

    Hi Earl,

    What a great post! I’ve only been travelling 8 months and I already feel as though my brain has been deprived of analytical stimulation. Non-fiction English books are hard to find (e.g. books about business, economy, science etc), even though there are Twilights in every single country I’ve been in. Thank goodness for TED Talks, tech/business talks and being able to use software on my computer to build things!

    - Lily

    • Earl says:

      Hey Lily – It does happen quickly, especially when you visit countries that are not full of foreign tourists! Books are difficult to come by and like you I imagine, I prefer to sit and stare at a wall than read Twilight books :)

      We just have to be creative and find ways to keep ourselves mentally active in our own languages, with TED talks being a good example. Of course, then I start to worry that I should be out and about more and not sitting around on my laptop and that’s when the confusion really sets in!

  15. Hahahaha this was such a funny read!!! Goo goo ga ga?? lol I still haven’t traveled in countries where I don’t speak the language yet, but I know it is going to be an even greater adventure just communicating alone ;))) thanks for the laughs!!

    • Earl says:

      @Superxicana: Well, now you’ll be prepared for what happens as your extend your adventures :) All I can say is good luck!!

  16. Tom says:

    Highly amused at the talking to yourself comment. This is seen in England as a sign of mental abberation, however it is something that, living alone, I do quite frequently, and I am well read, reasonably intelligent and with any signs of mental illness (although my imaginary friend is willing to argue the latter point)

    People are usually by nature gregarious and like to hear voices, to which end so many people walk around with walkmans on, it is surrogate company. Talking to ourselves is merely a way of experiencing conversation without having someone to discuss the things we see with.

    One of my greatest worries when I do eventually follow the route that Earl has taken is the effect of solitude, however I hope to ameliorate that issue by utilising dorm rooms in hostels and ensuring that where I do stay for a while there are phones and TVs in the rooms.

    Most people like to talk to each other, however in the UK the adage that an Englishmans home is his castle has become a way of life and people in the main actively avoid interaction, locking themselves away in their castles at night. Speaking to a total stranger usually elicits a look of horror (why is he talking to me), I am hoping that the more friendly and outgoing nature of the people I met on my previous travels around the far east will make solitary travel less than solitary.

    • I am a little surprised – I thought one sign of a perfect Englishman should be a drop of excentricity :) Talking to oneself should be perfectly acceptable. I have to admid I didn’t feel this “wall” in my relations to an English person – quite the contrary. Mind you, I’ve only been to London and Boscomb and not for long. I was very impressed in London, many years ago, when two young men (definitely British) stopped in the street to ask whether they could help us in orienting ourselves. I was holding an open map and probably looked very lost while the three people I was with (all men….not speaking English) looked entirely detached and helpless. And they did that in a very natural way – they were very nice and they saved my life :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Tom – Thank you for that comment and I too wish that people would talk to each other more often instead of isolating ourselves from each other. The good news is that when you do start traveling around, you don’t even need dorm rooms to socialize. There have been countless times that I’ve met other foreigners in the street, maybe at a particular sight or in a cafe, struck up a conversation and ended up spending a day or two or even a week traveling together. When traveling, it seems that socializing is completely opposite than what it is back home. Everyone talks to everyone else and finding new people to interact with is much, much easier!

      And I’d say that this one of the main reasons that I’ve continued this lifestyle. I’ve met more people traveling than I probably would had I just stayed at home.

  17. Giulia says:

    Travel made me dumber too! Now, when I want to speak Italian I speak English, when I want to speak English I speak some sort of broken English too, when I want to speak Russian I speak Arabic and all this because I think my brain can’t take it anymore! :)
    But honestly, I think it’s much dumber to speak in perfect English/American in the streets of India (or Egypt in my case) and not being understood, than trying to make it simple as you and me do. Yes, this can cause some loss in our language skills… Oh tell me about it! But it also allows us to fully live the experience.
    Oh and I also find myself talking to myself. Often practicing other languages. Wohooo, I’m not alone! :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Giulia – Hopefully you’ll be able to understand this message. Maybe it would be better if I wrote it in several languages all mixed together :)

      I absolutely agree with what you said about it being better to speak a slower English or to mix up languages than it is to travel and not try to learn other languages at all. Even though I feel a bit ‘dumber’ with my English, I still wouldn’t change the way I travel and it doesn’t seem like you would either!

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  20. Juno says:

    Talking to myself is a highly recommended way to solve problems. And, it’s fun but it’s weird, I know. And it gets worse time after time.

    I think about.. I am dumber when I jump right into something that I would normally not do. Just like the one story I commented on your Syria ‘Hello’ Story. I would never come to stranger male’s house and have home cook meal in here, ever. But I did, and I talked to myself on the way back to the hostel, ‘what’s wrong with you?’
    It’s a brilliant experience, but highly dumb move at the same time.
    Even though I’m living in my country at the moment, because I use English all.the.time for blogging and tweetting… sometimes when I say something an English word pop up in my head but not in Korean. How stupid is that, I sometimes think.
    But you know, what is ‘dumb’, really? It’s all relativity.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Juno – It is all relative, you are definitely correct. And I don’t think that any of the things you describe actually are signs of being ‘dumb’. They are signs of being well-traveled! After all, if you are mixing up languages or making decisions that you wouldn’t make at home, it simply means that you have a lot of new information inside your head :) You’re a smart traveler and I’m sure that everyone thinks the same thing. I would be surprised if anyone notices the things that we think are dumb!

  21. I remember after living in Prague for a year, then moving to Toronto it took a few weeks for my normal vocabulary to resume. I thought I had become dumb too!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Roy – Hopefully your vocabulary has returned by now!! I’m still waiting for mine to return but it doesn’t help that I keep on traveling….

  22. Vishal says:

    Ha man! So funny and interesting. Though I must say you have good writing skills, so I’m a little hesitant to believe that you’ve become a little dumber. But I am not surprised in any way. Just like anything in life, you need continuous practice to be good at something. I was recently in Italy and France and after coming home from there, I was video-skyping to someone from Colombia (I had started learning Basic Spanish a while ago) and I had completely forgotten how to even greet in Spanish. All that was coming in my head were Italian greetings.

    Also after being away from Nepal for four years (my mother tongue is Bhojpuri), I only get to speak in Bhojpuri with my family once in a while. When my brother from Chicago visited me this winter, I realized that I had forgotten so many Bhojpuri words. I could barely converse with him without mixing Nepali, Hindi and even English words.

    Now I’m really excited about how we’ll converse. :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Vishal – Seems like you have too many languages floating around your head! I can imagine that it would be difficult to find the proper words if you haven’t been using one of those languages often. Hopefully our conversation won’t involve the both of us stuttering and pointing, unable to communicate clearly :)

  23. Idelish says:

    LOL! Hilarious post, thx for sharing! Totally rings a bell!!! The word I think I use most when traveling is OK. Goes like this… *points points points* OK? OK!… More gesturing and pointing while talking to the cab driver then “OK!” :)

    • Earl says:

      @Idelish: The universal “OK”! It’s the word we turn to when no other word comes to mind or we can’t communicate at all. Your comment had me laughing as I thought of all the times I’ve used OK to try and convey my message :)

  24. I travel a lot but mostly for business and I’ve never stayed anywhere longer than a week. But I do know what you mean when you mentioned having your brain becoming “less stimulated by what were once considered unique and eye-opening moments”. It doesn’t mean travel is making you dumber; it just redefines what is ‘normal’ for you.

    But travel does make us feel dumber in the sense that the more we travel, the more we know new things, and the more we know new things, the more we realise how little we knew before we left the comfort of home.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Mimi – That’s an excellent point and at the end of the day is the very reason why many of us continue to travel for so long. Once you get a taste for all of the knowledge out there to be learned, it’s hard to stop traveling when you know there’s still more to be digested! And while such long-term travel does make it harder to relate to family and friends at home and harder to join in many of their conversations, I would still choose the education gained through travel any day…

  25. Stephen says:

    Earl,

    I’ve been skipping around your site for about an hour now, and really enjoy it.

    I cant identify as much on the vocabulary, but absolutely can on the conversations. Especially when I go back home, I feel like I have nothing to talk about with some of the people I was good friends with before I left. IT almost makes me feel, sometimes, like I’ve become less interesting for having been away and traveling for a while. Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t a comfortable feeling is it?

    Keep up the posts, I’m definitely bookmarking.

    Stephen

    • Earl says:

      Thanks so much Stephen and welcome to the site! I know that feeling you’ve described and I think we just have to realize that we’re not actually LESS interesting, we just have completely different interests after spending time away from home. Unfortunately, when we go home, most of the people we meet will not share our interests, making us feel somewhat isolated, as you’ve experienced. And then we have two options, work hard to find like-minded people at home or hit the road again, where we feel much more comfortable :)

      And I see you’ve been to Bagan in Myanmar…that is one of my favorite places on the planet!

  26. Arielle says:

    I am so happy I found this post. Last week, I finally finished a 6-month tour of (almost) complete immersion in Graz, Austria, where I tried to make my brain think in German. While studying in Graz, I decided that it would be fun to take an Italian class (taught in German, whereupon I had to translate all words to English). The level of brain error was incredible, and every day after Italian class, I went straight home and vegged out for a couple hours. Near the end of my trip, I traveled to France to spend time with a friend.

    After not speaking French for nearly 4 years, my ability to recall words in French was… embarrassing, considering it was my best subject in high school. Not only that, but my friend would talk with me in English and his host mother would talk to me in German, so for being almost-fluent after 6 months of German, and for having had just 4-years of high school French, switching between the three languages was more of a headache than something to show off.

    Upon returning home a couple weeks ago, my friends now find me frequently lacing German words into conversation, or pronouncing English words with an accent that is neither particularly German, nor French, nor Italian… it’s just foreign. And I’ve also noticed that my ability to recall specific words is very stunted. In describing anything “cool,” the only other obvious synonym I can find is “awesome” or “rad.” So now, although I went through very intense liberal arts studies at one point, I have managed to come home to the US with a “surfer” vocabulary.

    I think what this all comes down to is, I relate so, so much. Even the talking to yourself part… I find myself trying to say things in a different language, perhaps to see if I can. But the awkward glances I received from the elderly woman at the bus stop were enough to make me wonder, “Okay, it’s been only 6 months, have I been gone for too long?” …I can’t even imagine how you must feel after so many years of endless adventure.

    Thank you for the humorous insight on this very interesting traveler’s dilemma, Earl. I will definitely share this with the friends I made while studying abroad. :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Arielle – Thank you for your comment! And it seems that you are all too familiar with what I was talking about in this post :) I’ve been struggling with English and only bits of other languages so I can’t even imagine your situation with having several languages running through your mind all the time. Hopefully though, you feel the same way that I do in the end…that the cultural experiences abroad are worth the stunted vocabulary and inability to communicate clearly at times! It’s just a sacrifice we travelers have to make!

  27. Bill says:

    In college, I had a room mate who was born in Russia, moved to Spain, then Brazil and finally to South Plainfield New Jersey (US). Listening to his conversations when he called his parents was a lesson in language use. They used whatever word came to mind – in any of their four languages. It was quite odd to hear.

  28. justine says:

    Thanks a lot for this funny article ! :)
    I definitely can relate to every points you made. Especially about losing your own language. I’m a french native but I’ve been living everywhere but France those past years and really whenever I’m back to my own country I struggle a lot when having to keep a conversation up and I find myself throwing whatever words come to my mind in the situation (be it an italian word or whatever else…). People usually give me strange looks wondering why I can’t remember simple words.
    Anyway you’ve got a good blog here and I really enjoy your lifestyle and the way you share your adventures with us ! Keep going ! Et bon voyage !!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Justine – Thank you so much for your comment and it’s always nice to ‘meet’ another person who prefers to live all over the world :)

      And it’s true about forgetting simple words. It’s not just rarely used words that we tend to forget but often times, simple, everyday words that we’ve been using for years. That’s what becomes so troubling at times and leads us to throw random words into our sentences, in any language, hoping they will make sense or that other people won’t even noticing what we’re doing!

  29. Bill says:

    We hosted German exchange students for 5 years in a row (and 1 Parisienne) and we saw this without fail. With our first student, he came down one morning and said “I’m losing my vocabulary”. We said, “You speak well”, to which he replied “No, my GERMAN vocabulary”. And it had only been 6 weeks. My wife saw this for herself after only a month in Mexico studying Spanish. Go figure.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Bill – That seems to be a clear case of travel affecting someone’s language skills. And six weeks seems like a short amount of time to start losing vocabulary of your native language but it really doesn’t take long when you find yourself in a completely new environment. Thanks for the comment!

  30. Roy says:

    I think when long term travel just becomes the norm, we just get desensitized and need something more exciting each day to feel that adrenaline rush.

  31. Great stuff Earl, I just found your site today. It’s been circling, no doubt. But I specifically love this post because of it’s honesty. I might be your arch nemisis here. I’m set on staying in a place and making as much connections as possible to figure out who I am in the world.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jonathan – Haha…we definitely enjoy quite opposite lifestyles! But each have their benefits of course and I have no doubt that those deeper connections you do make are infinitely rewarding. I appreciate the comment!

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  33. Daniel N. says:

    Great post Earl!

    Now define ‘dumb’ please.
    Would talking in simple English and not being able to follow a conversation about politics or economics make you dumb? Even though you have an extremely rich cultural knowledge about the world?

    If someone asks my opinion about the economic crisis, I’d answer: ‘It’s bad’ because I have no idea what to say or what it actually means (=dumb). But what if I ask him about how to prepare a tea ceremony, or the lifestyle of nomads in the deserts of the UAE or how to cook lamb under the desert sand, or the subtilities of Lebanese language vs. Syrian.. Would he also feel dumb?

    I think it’s just that you now have a wider range of knowledge, you are culturally rich, you have other interests. You may be speaking baby caveman english but you also can communicate in many different languages and not feel dumb when in a foreign country.

    We are not dumb! I refuse to accept that!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Daniel – You are absolutely correct my friend. I think I used the world ‘dumb’ because nine times out of ten, it is I who is in the position of not being able to follow along in a particular conversation. Sure, we may have that insight about languages or cooking lambs under the desert sand (which you need to teach me one day!), but how many times do those topics come up in conversation? Much less than the economic crisis. So sometimes it can be frustrating when you’re always on the “It’s bad” end of the conversation. But I do agree completely that as travelers we gain a much wider range of knowledge…I just wish I could use that knowledge more often!

      This is another reason I need to get back to Chiang Mai, in order to be surrounded by people I can talk to!

  34. Oh my gosh Earl!! I just had a thought. I think I might know what is wrong with you. You aren’t pregnant are you???

    Because forgetting words is a serious sign of pregnancy. Even the most basic of words.

    I’ll never forget standing in the health store buying some Spirulina tablets when I was pregnant with Kalyra. I stood there for about 5 minutes trying to remember my pin number on my bank card. It’s the pin number I have used forever and for every card.
    After multiple attempts, I had to say “I’m really sorry, I can’t remember my pin. I’m pregnant and I can’t remember much. I’ll have to phone my husband.” Lucky his number was on speed dial and he thought I was really special having to ring him to find out my pin number.

    Yep. I think that pregnancy be your problem Earl!

    btw.. I couldn’t reply directly to my thread above. Might be my computer.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Caz – Sorry, I just did a pregnancy test and it was negative! Phew! But maybe it would have been better if it was positive so that I would finally have known the cause.

      That must be bizarre to suffer from pregnancy-related memory loss. Combine that with getting older and extensive travel and you’ll be senile before you know it :)

  35. Neelima says:

    Hilarious post, seriously! I relate to most of the stuff except for the baby english for I travel extensively only in India and if you have been to India you’d know how long it takes to cover the country tip to tip.

    Half the times I am in conversation with myself and there is no way I can sit through the conversation with a group of people who are not talking travel. I do not seem to have anything else to talk about. :-| And as many others have said already, blogging sure keeps my vocabulary at an acceptable level yet.
    Waiting to see what happens once I step out of the country. :D

    • Earl says:

      Hey Neelima – I am definitely familiar with India as I’ve spent over two years in that country so far and still haven’t visited everywhere I want to go :)

      And I know what you mean about not having anything else to talk about except for travel. That happens to me as well. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are other topics out there that other people are interested in talking about!

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