I’m not sure why but there comes a time on almost every service trip that I go on at which I decide that I am sick of everyone and need to get away to avoid going crazy. I’ve been around the same people, often eating the same food in the same cramped hostel/campsite/converted school room floor for days and I can’t take another minute. Even the best people start to grate on you if you are around them for too long. I feel a little bad writing this but I’ve heard the same sentiments expressed by a lot of other people so I really don’t think it is just me. You really can suffer from companionship burnout, as bad and ungrateful as that sounds.
Resist Blowing off Steam - One of the most dramatic expressions of relationship burnout that I have seen on a service trip was when I was with a group of teenagers in the Dominican Republic. We were on a construction project and we had about 15 team members. Bad sleeping conditions, extreme heat, dehydration and a generous helping of culture clash had converged and one girl got so mad at another that she threw herself at her in a full on tackle, knocking her to the ground and the whole thing turned into an all-out brawl. We got the two separated quick enough but the blow-up put a damper on the rest of the trip.
Although I haven’t yet tackled a traveling or service project companion yet, there have definitely been times that I have snapped and later regretted saying what I did. It takes herculean strength to avoid blowing off steam and going off on somebody but once you start to learn to hold your tongue you discover the satisfaction of knowing that you have the self-control to avoid making a fool of yourself. Remember, if circumstances can make you a livid, ranting spectacle then they control you. Not a pretty place to be. Especially if the people you are yelling at are going to be your traveling or work companions for the next several days or months.
Make Other Friends – Give old friendships some breathing space – I was on a bus tour in Cuba and as we pulled out of the Havana area a friend and I started to clash in conversations. There was a lot of down time on the bus and rather than finding it relaxing, I found myself getting more and more annoyed at this particular friend. There was one complication. Apart from my sister, who was also on this particular trip, my sparring partner was the closest friend I had in Cuba. I felt obligated to patch things up. But when I tried to smooth over the damage done from our clash, it just got worse. Frustrated, I did what I should have done from the start – I gave the whole thing some breathing space. I hung out more with my sister. I befriended some of the other students on the trip (we were on a highly supervised academic study tour from an American university) and had a great time with them on our one beach day. The more I avoided forcing a patch-up with my friend, the better things got between us. We were cracking jokes at the end of the trip and by the time we were back stateside we hit downtown Miami with a vengeance like nothing had happened. We’d gotten the break we needed.
Realize that just because you are on an exotic adventure, not everything can or will go well… and that’s OK
Something always goes wrong on trips. Get over it. Don’t let bumps in the road ruin everything for you. Expect some awkwardness and be willing to take some heat – it’s part of the package. Sometimes we hype overseas trips so much before leaving that we expect the whole thing to be some kind of otherworldly experience. It can be disappointing when we realize that traveling is not magic. Bad things happen just like they do at home. Realizing this and being smart about your reaction to it all will determine your level of fulfillment.
How do you deal with friendships gone stale on the road? I would love to hear your ideas!