Traveling makes me feel like a SIM

Some days I feel like I am at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs pyramid; fully content with everything I need and pondering the meaning of life and self-actualization. But some days, more often now than I have ever experienced before, I find myself at the very bottom, just trying to meet basic physiological needs to stay alive.

Extensive and frequent travel has me experiencing the full pyramid every couple weeks from bottom to top.

Yesterday I moved to Belgrade, Serbia. Over the past 30 days I have visited 7 different countries. Everything I own now fits into a 40L backpack. Every couple weeks, or sometimes days, I have to start over. I am immersed in a new culture, a new city, a new language, a new currency, new friends, new time zones, new cuisines, new landscapes, new allergies.

I arrived in Belgrade after a night in Malia, Crete where I stayed out till sunrise to catch a 6AM flight. After a night of self-imposed homelessness, which I have become all too familiar with these past few weeks, I reached the bottom of the pyramid quickly. At the bottom of the pyramid I could only focus on a few very simple goals before I could even acknowledge anything else.

“Must find food, must have shower, must sleep for at least a few minutes, must find a safe place to rest and keep my backpack, must find my friends, must charge my phone.”

In those moments you cannot be bothered with any other tasks or goals. Thankfully those moments have been brief for me so far, but I have experienced a very real difference in how I think and behave when I feel my physiological needs dropping.

It made me think of when I used to play the computer game the SIMS. In the game you had to keep an avatar, or a family of avatars alive. But keeping them alive wasn’t enough like in the Oregon Trail, in the SIMS you had to design a life for your avatars where they felt fulfilled not only physiologically, but mentally, socially, romantically, and professionally. The game had no ending or ability to “win” it, your avatars just became more needy as they looked to you to guide them towards the top of the pyramid every time you logged in.

I always thought it was silly to have to guide my SIM towards basic needs like hygiene or sleep or food. “Just do it yourself SIM, I’ll work on the hard stuff like getting you a job and a social life.” I now have a new appreciation of the basic needs after experiencing some hurdles to get to them in new environments.

Today I’ve learned a few phrases to ask for what I need in Serbian, I am unpacked in my apartment, I withdrew some cash, found my workspace and got on the wifi, and found some places to get coffee and food along my commute. I’m working my way up the pyramid again reunited with my RemoteYear team participating in social events and about to get online to start my workday.

It feels like an awakening of sorts to be so self aware of my climb up the pyramid each day. I think it has brought on a new confidence and freedom for me. As I continue to test my own limits I think, “if I can make it through this I can make it through anything.”

Kelli Lampkin

Kelli Lampkin is a writer, traveler, comedienne, and entrepreneur.

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