A “vacation”, to me, is when you go somewhere for mental relaxation and physical enjoyment. Go to a beach, read a book, and pass out in the sun after too many exotic mixed drinks. “Touring” might be what you do when you want to go somewhere and to see the place or do a particular activity. You set up your hotels, transportation, and trips before you get there because you already know what you want to get out of your stay there. “Traveling” or “exploring” might be the name for a trip that has a set duration, but is done without planning out the details in advance–that part is left for exploration and open-mindedness. You’ll figure it out when you get there. The last option is what I would call “getting up and going.” I could probably find a better term for it, but this is buying a one-way ticket without a plan to return (it’s also what I did 7 months ago). Maybe you will come back (most likely), maybe you won’t. It’s an amazing privilege as it requires a unique set of life circumstances that involve financial freedom and lack of major responsibilities (namely children), and most of all, an open mind. These last two types of travel are not popular but are very different from the first two. They can change your life dramatically.
I’ve spent the past seven months abroad in a similar sort of travel journey. It took me about eight months to get myself into the mindset where I was ready to get up and leave without a plan to return. It took a lot, and probably not what you think–it was actually a new-found fascination with science that ended up making me question things enough to reach the point where I was ready to get up and leave. I have no regrets, and I’m going to share some of the best reasons I’ve found to get up and go.
So let’s go:
1. EVERY ONE OF YOUR SENSES will be bombarded with new input.
This is a fancy way of saying “you will discover a lot of new things.” This is the most obvious one–new tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and things to touch (whatever that may be for you). But more importantly, new things to think about. I’ll leave it up to you to decide the value of that, but I will say that with all the new experiences (simple things like using public transportation, walking along the roadside), time seemed to move slower for me. Not in the moment, but when I would think about something that happened yesterday, it seemed like it happened the last week. This is because of all the new stimulation received (there is actually a scientific explanation for this time-slowing phenomenon. Thank you to reader and amazing person Jon Yale: http://nyr.kr/pgX4hA). Your day will be packed with new experiences that you, at this point, cannot even imagine.
2. You will learn about your self and your life at home at light speed.
How, exactly? Well first consider that when you’re at home, your identity actually merges with your environment. Your life becomes your friends, your house, the roads you travel on, the things you do, etc. But these things are not you. Traveling is like a science experiment, where you are the control–the thing that stays the same while everything else changes. When you first arrive, it’s easy to see how you spend your time, notice how changes affect your situation, be aware of your routine, and in general see things that your eyes became numb to before you left. It’s hard to realize just how much time you dedicate to your friends when you’ve spent every afternoon and weekend with them for the past four years. When you land some place new and have to build your schedule from scratch, it becomes vividly clear how each little thing affects you. This is a great way to explore your self. Overtime, we naturally start to numb ourselves to our surroundings, so there is a diminishing marginal return to this effect.
3. you can always go back home
It’s not a huge commitment. If stuff is that bad, you can go right back home. If you are doing more exploratory traveling and only booked a one-way ticket, make sure that you always have enough for the return trip. If you don’t, you’ll have an even more exploratory trip. But yes–if it’s great, you stay. If it sucks, you leave. Win-win.
4. You might affect and improve your thinking on a fundamental level.
What am I talking about? Who killed Biggie? I’ll answer the first. A person’s language has a very intimate relationship with their thinking. In fact, it seems that words are building blocks of thought, and without language, we would not think the way we usually do. In her book “My Religion,” Helen Keller described learning language for the first time as “having a new mind enter my head. Before it I was a lifeless clod of earth.” I quoted that from memory, by the way, so the words aren’t exact. Words have a yet to be totally understood relationship with our thoughts and learning a new language has untold benefits as it forces you to think differently. [If you are interested in this concept and want to hear some fascinating stories and case studies, listen to my favorite episode of my favorite podcast, which is on this subject, it’s a Radiolab episode called “Words.” I recommend it tremendously. It’s an hour-long episode so save it for a special time.]
5. the last time I checked, you don’t have the answers to all of life’s questions.
What I’m trying to say is that by taking life too seriously, you may end up making a joke out of it. If you know that you don’t have all the answers, then why be afraid to try something completely different? We still don’t know where life came from, how to explain consciousness, why there is a universe, and we don’t have an instruction manual for our bodies. Unless you’ve experienced enlightenment, you aren’t totally clear on what you are doing here. To get so deeply embedded into one place or one way of life is to not approach life with the curiosity and wonder that it deserves. If you’re not willing to put your plans or visions on the chopping block by seeing what else is out there, you are limiting the possibilities for your life. Are you positive that what you are doing right now is exactly what you need to be doing to carry out a purpose that you are totally clear on? If not, be willing to explore new possibilities–and traveling is an excellent way to do just that!
6. Traveling is the best way to question your beliefs and assumptions.
This, to me, is the most important reason of all. We aren’t aware of all the assumptions we’re currently making. We are all operating under assumptions so fundamental that we aren’t even aware that we’re assuming anything at all. It’s the same reason so many people still subscribe to archaic religions despite many relevant advances that seem to go unnoticed. If knowledge is the healthy food, most of us aren’t hungry because we get full on junk food. The junk food is unexamined beliefs, and we stop eating it when start questioning our beliefs. When we stop eating junk food we end up craving a nutritious meal. Traveling helps us question our beliefs because so many fundamental differences exist across borders. To someone who grew up in a traditional culture, a trip to the United States might make them wonder, “Wait a second…do marriages really have to be arranged?” I’m not saying which tradition is right or wrong–just that it’s good to question and you might never question if you never know an alternate exists. A questioning populace has large societal impacts as well. Consider the Milgram experiments, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience (think electrocuting another person). A lot of people will do something they know is wrong if someone else told them to–they never questioned. This leads to things like genocide (Holocaust, for example). Don’t be one of these people. Is this the only way life can be? What parts could change? You won’t know until you experience it yourself.
For those interested, Rolf Potts wrote a book called Vagabonding which was very helpful in adjusting my mindset. It also provides advice and resources for people who have lifestyle restrictions. Another fascinating guy, Chris Guillebeau, writes on “The Art of Non-Conformity,” which includes a lot on the topic travel. He is a world traveler and his insights were inspirational to me.
My last thought is that nothing works out how it was originally planned, and it’s impossible to accurately plan or predict how things will go–from where you will stay, what your experience will be, even down to the reason why you left. I ironically learned a lot about why I came months after I arrived. You don’t know what you will find or how your thinking might change, and you owe it to yourself and our planet to find out.
Before the development of tourism, travel was conceived to be like study, and its fruits were considered to be the adornment of the mind and formation of the judgement. The traveler was a student of what he sought. -Paul Fussell
When you travel you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, and the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. […]You begin to be more accessible to others, because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. -Paulo Coelho