There I was, watching a documentary about Tibet, dreaming of snow-capped mountains and fascinating traditions… as I looked out at snowy mountains and wondered about the views and traditions at home that we forget.
Travel has both become a fact of ordinary life (if not a nuisance for the business traveler who has to jet around the world) and remains a dream and promise. Even as – or because? – it’s being recognized somewhat that travel isn’t for everyone, but also (much less so) that not all tourist ventures are going to fulfill the promise of experiences that are life-changing and make world-wise, it’s being said that travelers are a special breed and travel is the necessary experience.
Those who don’t travel are seen, if not always said, to have let themselves become rooted to a spot, immobile of life and limb and mind, unawares of the adventure that would await, if only they went out seeking it and weren’t closed to the attitude that would let them learn and grow.
The focus on exploratory living, I appreciate, but it goes wrong to think we’re developing roots when we remain in places and positions, and free ourselves when we travel.
The view that vagabonding is somehow the pinnacle of human freedom may serve its marketing well – it’s not for everyone, it doesn’t have to be for you, you have to decide for yourself… but we who are living like that are better – but it’s not how things are. Travel just makes it easier to have memorable experiences. (As long as it even is travel and not merely pre-packaged tourism.)
But, in all its excitement and supposed education, it can also be just an escape, filling a hollow life with the excitement of new places and new experiences, running away from growing up. If your mind isn’t open to new understandings, all the move to another place will do is confirm the stereotypes you already have. If you are intent on growing and changing perspectives, travel can be less deeply life-altering and improving than staying in a place but really exploring life and building roots there, actively and purposefully.
I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.
Travelling is a fool’s paradise.
Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thing is, we get used to where we are, what we see there, and how we act there, to such an extent that we do not notice these places anymore. When we go somewhere else, especially if it’s a somewhere else that is different enough, we notice the differences, we are thrown out of our rhythms and habits, and there’s an excitement – and exasperation – in that.
We may be changed by it.
All too often, though, it is just the outside circumstances that have changed while our personalities remain the same, our attitudes make us notice only that which suits them, and it’s all like an intervention that makes one act differently just as long as there is a therapist or a coach around – but give it time to get used to the new situation, move back to the old, and old habits and ways reassert themselves.
Meanwhile, in all the obvious excitement of travel, with all the cultural baggage of how travel, and only travel, will make you worldly, that we carry around, we are blinded to the fact of the journey: It’s a journey not when you set out to other places on the map. That’s just motion. Tourism. Been there, done that.
It’s a journey when you set out into the unknown, with a mind set on growth, on learning, on change. Places far-away are only one potential beacon for such a journey. The places we are can be the greater adventure, though, for they are more difficult to see anew. The growth isn’t in the world outside, it has to be brought in. A book can change you more, for the better, than a lot of travel. A change in habits is the harder thing to do than an adventure in far-away lands.
By all means, travel. But travel every day: Turn left where you’d usually go right. Unplug from your headphones, stop, and look up where you’d normally just rush through, music on, head down.