Why travelling isn’t about seeing the world

Have you noticed how different people respond to stress? For some, they get jittery – speaking fast and waving their arms, battling through the discomfort of a difficult situation by spinning around and doing more stuff with a spirit of wired wild gusto.

For others, (and when I say others I really mean me), ‘they’ do the opposite. They get quiet, overly-thoughtful, cramped into themselves as if the overwhelming task list or difficult situation were actually shaped into an physical box around their bodies. For these people, stress and overwhelm makes them retreat from the world, until it actually feels smaller. Room sized. Not full of action and opportunity and big African skies and deep turquoise seas at all.

Which got me thinking about why we travel.

I could wax lyrical about this for paragraphs and paragraphs, but what it comes down to is this.

Most of the time I don’t think the reason we travel is to see and explore more of the world. I think we travel to break down the temporary prisons we create in our own heads. We travel to remind ourselves of the way things really are beyond that made-up world of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’.

Travel is a kind of therapy. It forces perspective. It deftly dodges unwanted responsibilities. At it’s best, it can put you into the kind of lost and wild situations in which you can get back to yourself. Your bigger self. Your freer self. The self that sees through it all. 

When I was in Oregon last year, after a particularly difficult few days, I left my apartment, hired a car, and drove. I drove until I hit the beach, and when I did, I stopped the car. I watched the waves and waited. I was listening for something, inside me, which would tell me which way to go – north to Astoria or south towards San Francisco. I waited for about 20 mins, until somewhere, deep in my gut, a ball of energy appeared, expanded, and travelled up my torso. Out of it, a thought came. Not one of those heady brain thoughts. One of the deep instinctual ones. I started the engine, pointed the car in the direction this instinct was telling me to go, and drove.

For what ever reason, it’s that kind of behaviour that we have license to indulge in when we travel.

Which begs the question, if this is all about breaking out of mind traps and acting on deep instinct, why do we wait until we board a plane to give ourselves permission to experiment with this kind of freedom? Can’t we do it right here, right now?

And on this ordinary Tuesday night, sat in my bedroom with my work bag stuffed with papers and to-do lists at my feet, in a world made up of turquoise seas and big African skies, it’s that thought that I’m going to focus on tonight.

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