“So, has travel changed you?” and Other Questions

“How is it being back?”

“How do you feel?”

“What was it like?”

No one really asks why you go travelling. It’s so commonplace these days that even if you haven’t actually travelled its normal to have the aspiration to … so no one really asks “Why?”.

But lots of people are interested in what it was like when you get home. And there is an assumption that it is life-changing – full of profound learnings, poignant insight and self realisation. Its not, really (if you have already had some experience of holidays to foreign places). But there is a lot that I want to say about it and why everyone should make a concerted effort to do it if the opportunity arises. Strike that… why everyone should create the opportunity to do it.

Here are the 10 Reasons you should travel.

1. Fullness

Do you ever feel starved of worthwhile, meaningful life experiences? Bored by the same old routine? Have you sleepwalked into the habitual? Have you stopped being engaged and aware of what’s going on around you?

… sounds like a bad US commercial…

Yep, travel will sort that out in a jiffy. The overwhelming sense you have is of feeling ‘full’ – its a kind of soul sating that literally feels like you’ve had a lovely, healthy, satisfying meal. I’ve stuffed myself full of brain food. My memory banks are topped up with all kinds of goodness, plus a cherry on top.

As Lloyd Grossman would say, I can now “digest, cogitate and deliberate” (or something like that).

2. Belonging

When you have been in foreign places for any length of time there is also a wonderful sense of belonging when you return to your home and your clan. Its not that it wasn’t there to begin with, but you only appreciate it after being away and – well – not exactly uncomfortable and alone, but rather discombobulated, unable to communicate and at odds with things. In itself, living in another place and culture and feeling this way is interesting and enlightening, but you get used to it – coming home reminds you how calm life can be when you recognise the ebb and flow, the setting, the pace, the idiosyncrasies, the norm…. its like nestling under a lovely, warm blanket of familiarity.

3. Your World Shrinks as your Horizons Expand

This may sound like a juxtaposition, or like perfect reason in a relative sense.

What I mean is that when your life simplifies to just a backpack full of possessions and a few daily tasks (washing and eating, basically)… there is space to live in the moment, be aware, and accept all the wonderful things that Universe is showing you. Amazing natural scenery, different cultures, joy and sorrow, wonderful people. You think at a different level… not weighed down and constricted by attachments, planning, demands, expectations.

You wonder.

I expect that’s why this point sounds a bit ‘alternative’ – wondering at creation is the nearest I get to spirituality.

I like to think this is why we immediately started throwing “things” away when we came home, on some subconscious level we didn’t want to be weighed down by it.

3. We don’t have much time

I’m going to read, draw, learn Spanish, blog, meditate, exercise… I’l have so much time for all the things I love and which are enriching.

That’s what I thought before I left.

Turns out, I didn’t do an exceptional amount of any of these. It wasn’t exactly that there wasn’t time – more that my choices about how to spend my time changed. I don’t want to try and fit things in ALL the time. I don’t want to fill “dead time”. I have realised that I NEED “dead time”. I need to sit and stare. I need unstructured downtime.

So long as I can have staring, I’m happy with a little of the other things I love (a nice range of learning, creativity, moving.. a modicum of each).

‘What’s the staring for then?’ you might ask. It’s just ‘being’. In the moment. Being aware of things. Being able to let your brain run riot if it wants to….. or think nothing. Letting it all just happen.

Perhaps this is what people refer to as unwinding. A brain tightly wound – taking in information constantly, laying down memory, tessellating logistics, reasoning decisions – cannot continue for every waking second. I’m not sure when “productivity” crept into our cultural lexicon as the ultimate aspiration, but “producing” seems to be the new mantra.

New research in Interruption Science is showing that it takes 25 minutes to recover from a phone call, and yet on average we receive one every 11 minutes. We’re never caught up with ourselves. How much of what we are doing is lost into the ether of meaninglessness? If we can’t process it, nor remember it, nor benefit from it, why are we doing it?

We should all be more about…

“Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

What worries me now is that our remaining time whilst travelling (after enriching things and staring) was only spent researching what to do, and then doing it – or various everyday tasks like washing, going to the laundry, sleeping etc. How can ‘work’ possibly feature in this equation again? What gives?

Even now I’m already trying to make every waking moment productive…  I’m all “Must. Read. Must. Contact. Must. Remember.” for my job hunt. I carry my laptop everywhere like its a baby, although I’m more dependent on it than it is on me.

So I have taken to reading a lot about the work/life balance – a phrase I abhor. There should just be space for the ebb and flow of work, family/friends and personal enrichment or improvement. Travelling removes two of these dimensions, redresses a balance and gives you some perspective – but it doesn’t solve the problem of not having enough time, or feeling guilty about not being productive after you come home.

4. Time Goes Quickly

I have learned that even if you savour every second, time goes quickly. But at least I remember every savoured second. I can remember what I was thinking and appreciating – beauty, calm, nothingness, time stretching in front of me.

Make time to savour some seconds. Or travel – then you will have time to savour it all.

5. Peaks and Troughs are Unnatural

I used to think my life was exhilarating. Pushing comfort boundaries every day, welcoming anxiety in. Building to a crescendo on a Friday. Letting off steam in spectacular style – excesses of eating or drinking or laughing or something. Crashing on Saturday. Quelling the anticipation anxiety of a repeat cycle each Sunday. Flight or fight? Probably both.

Sound familiar? Sometimes this entire cycle happens in a single day.

When you travel, you are freed from the pressures of particular constructs of your business, your community, the media. There are no demands. There’s no “be ambitious at work”, “keep up with the trend”, “trick people into liking you”.

You wake up and think “How do I feel? What do I want to do today?” – and mostly you are free to do it.

Life is no longer about peaks and troughs. Insane cycles of boom and bust. Life is a gently meandering, flat path… it is much more natural and gentle on your senses and body. It follows your disposition rather than setting your agenda. Why isn’t it always like this? Maybe we need to make deliberate choices to enable life to be like this. And until then, go travelling for a break from the extreme sport of life.

… the epitomy of serenity….

6. Roll with the Punches

I’m risk averse, I like to plan everything in order that it’s controlled and certain. I did a bit too much of this whilst travelling, researching a bit too much. But the good thing when you’re away is that you cannot obsess – you have to get moving with uncertain information (at best) or no information (at worst). At some point you have to relent and simply roll with the punches. And you know what? The universe will generally look after you and provide what you need. Maybe I should trust it a little more.

this photo depicts a potential crisis. Beautiful isn’t it?….

7. Friends are Friends

Friendships are like fine wine – you are lucky to find those rare people that you click with, you invest time in the friendship and it ripens with age. When you have really good friends, you find you don’t need more – it seems like hard work to get to that good stage where you can be totally yourself and laugh freely and be silly and no one cares.

Most people travelling are single, however. You need travelling companions, and I’m sure along the way that time invested sees blossoming friendships. But travelling need not be about meeting new people if you’re a couple (and you get on!). It wasn’t for us.

Kissing Seats

Kissing Seats

8. Time Together

Most people don’t really get meaningful space together – without the distractions of work, life, kids, friends… or without having to negotiate the minutiae of life, living together and logistics… without time pressures.

Its one of life’s joys to be playful. To have space to find the funny things. To be silly. To laugh. I think our cultural lexicon should prize playfulness above productivity.

9. Incredible Lightness of Being

We all try to rejuvenate on holiday by favouring our personal realm over work, or family and friends. Taking time for ourselves, to relax and have fun. But I have never fully been able to detach from work. I spend less time thinking about it, yes – especially over the course of a 2 or 3 week break – but I do still think about it; is everything running OK in my absence, did I leave enough instruction, how many hundreds of emails will I be returning to & how will I cope with this extra pressure? It is ever present, looming, invading my consciousness. And of course, a couple of days before I go back to the office I have already scanned all emails and probably responded to most.

It is exhausting being invested and responsible. I want to care less, be able to detach fully, but to some extent this is personality driven. I might strive for less responsibility at work, to be called upon less for decisions, more 9-5… but I can’t help caring.

But that’s OK. Just quit your job… that sorts out that problem, then.

10. It is Good to be Stared at

I didn’t first realise this on this trip – I was about 19 years old when I did, after a lot of pointing at my green eyes – but travelling always reaffirms it.

Your life is not normal. A lot of people in other countries lead vastly different lives – mostly, I expect, not as comfortable nor as blessed as yours. You have internet, after all.

And there is a great deal of discrimination in the World that probably has never been directed your way – you know it happens but have never actually experienced it to any impactful degree.

Being stared at makes you feel different. There is something different about you. Its enlightening to reflect on this, maybe this is where empathy lies.

The Key: A Sense of Perspective

If there’s one thing you take away from this, consider that this blog post was made possible by quitting jobs and travelling for 6 months. And then coming home.

“It’s only by keeping a distance from the world that I can begin to see its proportions and begin to try to sift the essential from the fleeting.” – Pico Iyer

I imagine the second time travelling is the best – having learned it all the first time, and applying it all the next….

 

Having read this blog post, I asked Jim for his comments and if he had thought similarly.

Turns out, he’s clearly already living the zen life as his reflections whilst travelling consisted of:

“It’s nice here isn’t it?”

 

One thought on ““So, has travel changed you?” and Other Questions

  1. And today’s “Thought of the Day” is:

    When there is stillness within, I can hear the voice of my own wisdom.

    Apt?

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