You'll wonder, "how did I never notice that before..."
What if I told you it's possible that the only thing preventing you from traveling is how you define travel. It would be too cute for me to tell you some on-brand travel blogger advice like "just get out there and travel." "See the world!!" Experiencing new cultures is important, right? See, my aim here is to give no advice that requires pom-poms. I want to lay it out for you in practical, pom-pomless terms: how you can live a more curious and intriguing life without "going outside your comfort zone." The pom-poms, where are they!!
I don't want to talk you into any sudden changes that if you did make, probably wouldn't be sustainable anyway or worse, would have unintended consequences.
I want to be helpful and speak to the lived reality of the vast majority of people, not the minority who like me, take traveling to the far end of the spectrum. I'm doing what I do--living a life of spontaneous adventures--to show you that you don't have to talk yourself out of your an adventure, if you don't want to. A realization I've had to make, is that there are real constraints to traveling that for some, will be prohibitive. That's why I want to inspire you to see new things in a way that works for you.
Here's me in Austin against the sunset backdrop of the city skyline along Lady Bird Lake, a place where you can sit an listen to the birds. The road-trip I've completed as of writing this, was from San Diego to Connecticut. It took a about month. A previous post was about my stops in Denver and the Grand Canyon. The next post will be all about my extended stays in Nashville and Asheville.
Unlike me, some people prioritize staying in one place over traveling. There are major advantages to this. Health-wise, it's easier to have a solid routine when you're not constantly packing up and having to deal only the bare-bones essentials. When I'm living somewhere, I have my blender, foam rollers, and all the other instruments of health that tend to make me feel my best.
It takes more diligence to keep up with a health routine while traveling, and it will often be a stripped down version of what you'd do at home. Additionally, there is a reality that travel bloggers who spout off platitudes like "get out their see the world," tend to gloss over: the baseline stress to traveling.
It's not always the bad type of stress, often it's eustress which can be beneficial and actually necessary for your overall wellbeing, but at least for me, theres a baseline primal concern of constantly being in new places that's not negligible.
Our sense of safety as humans is rooted in familiarity, so it takes some extra mindfulness to remain assured in your personal safety while traveling, especially solo. Being in unfamiliar places doesn't necessarily mean you are any less safe than you are at home, it just triggers that constant need to remind yourself that you are safe.
Most of these concerns can be eased through mindfulness, however mindfulness is a real energy expenditure that you need to account for in your traveling itinerary. Most people aren't willing to take me-time while traveling because they don't have it. They have 1 or 2 weeks of vacation time each year so naturally, they fell compelled to squeeze as much out of the trip as possible. You won't see someone like this sitting a fun coffee shop reading for an hour, while slowly sipping a warm beverage.
If you didn't guess, coffee shop time is an essential for me, I need coffee shop time. I need long sits in the grass. As far as the time-crunched vacationer, their idea of travel would not be sustainable because they are not building into their trip the necessary mindful down-time that makes traveling doable for longer periods of time for someone like me.
What's different about me compared to other explorers is that I don't downplay the disadvantages of my lifestyle. I recongize that every lifestyle, including my own, has pros and cons. Another advantage to not traveling is: the longer you stay somewhere, the more community you will build, and the stronger your ties to a community, the more you will work to protect it. Who are the people changing things on a community level? It's usually the ones that decided to stick around.
The beauty of travel is it stops when you do. If you're nomadic, you can choose to spend time in one place that you really love, for sheer enjoyment or to replenish the funds that allow you to travel. The latter is closer to the way I've done things since graduating college, working for periods of time and then traveling for periods of time.
Now I'm venturing into the land of digital nomadism, where one can earn money through online sources in order to work while I travel. Some people decide the starting and stopping point of their travel far in advance based on the amount of time they get off from work. Some people hardly travel at all. If you prioritize staying where you are over going to new places, I know a way you can still get to travel.
Especially if you are willing to change how you define culture and travel.
There’s a great scene in Friday Night Lights, a television show I often draw parallels from…well, geeking out here, it just has poignant scenes with really important lessons that somehow—and i know how this sounds—I never learned quite as well through a real life experience. Sometimes fiction can give us a rare glimpse into perfection. It can regenerate some part of us that has atrophied due to harsh realities imposed by modern day life. I don’t think anyone would deny that. And it’s not Steinbeck, but for me Friday Night Lights that allows me to feel something I want to feel that’s incapable of being imitated by my reality.
As an aside, you can travel the world and learn about new places just by going on your computer. If you curate your Netflix, Instagram and YouTube feed to be a positive (and efficient) experience, then screen time isn’t necessarily an abstraction from reality, if it makes you a better person in real life.
The scene in Friday Night Lights consisted of Julie, the daughter of the town’s high school football coach, who is in the throes of her coming of age in a town that revolves mostly around football. Also in the scene is the slightly older, more travelled guy she’s sparked up a romance with while working together with Habitat for Humanity.
They’re sitting on top of a water tower in the town of Dillon, Texas. Looking out over endless fields of yellow grass, Julie asks, “I’ve never been here before, how’d you know to come up here?” He explained that he usually seeks out the highest point in whatever town he’s in. Amazed at how she’s seeing a place that’s all too familiar to her from a completely new perspective, Julie takes in a few moments of awe. A few moments go by and then he asks her what she wants to do after high school. “I want to see the world,” Julie says. Briefly after saying that, he faces his camera towards her and snaps a picture. He looks down at it, smiles and then turns the screen around for her to see, and as she looks at the picture of herself, he says “that’s you..." gesturing his hands outward "...seeing the world.”
My favorite thing about being in a new place is noticing what people do as they come and go from work, cross crosswalks, and walk down the street with their coffees in hand.
Watching al the comings and goings is an absolutely fascinating thing to witness. Does that sound weird? To simply experience the people of the places you visit AS a thing to do. Possibly even to interact with them? To say to them, “hey I’m visiting, what’s your town like, how long have you lived here?” My favorite sidewalk icebreaker is to ask one of those coffee-in-hand people where they get their coffee from.
from large populations of people in far off places that I have nothing in common with.
to any size group of people experiencing something that's unique to them
You can get a better pulse of what a culture is like by walking around downtown at lunchtime than you can by visiting the top ten must see destinations. Because who are the visitors to those top ten destinations. Probably other people who are in the same bubble of experience (AKA culture) as you. That’s not in anyway to say you shouldn’t see the most talked about things in a particular place. You should. It’s just to say there’s more to it. Or actually less to it.
Because scaling back your conception of what “traveling" means could allow you to do it it a broader range of circumstances. For example, if you consider travel to be the seeing of something you haven’t seen before, then you could conceivably travel forever without ever going more than a couple hours from where you live. Even in that small amount of space, there will always be new things to see. Because there will always be something new to see, everywhere. The world is changing. The only constant is change. And actually, what you do notice is a very narrow margin of what’s happening around you all the time anyway. It’s how your brain works.
from a a costly, once-a-year trip to a tropical island
to a fun excursion to anywhere that's unfamiliar in any way, near or far.
See, we have this system in our body called the Reticular Activating System located near the base of the brain. So basically a very old part of the brain. It acts as a filter to all the stimulus around us, essentially determining what we notice and what we don’t. Consider this, you are always noticing some things and completely missing others. Sounds, tastes, colors, images. Why do you notice some but not others?
There can be up to 2,000,000 pieces of data at any given time, and the brain, as powerful a supercomputer as it is, can only process so much. So basically your RAS lets things in that it thinks are important. And it knows what’s important by what you focus on most. And it’s a well known fact that our brains are not very good at distinguishing something that’s imagined and something that’s real. So our thoughts matter too. What we imagine in our mind as being true about ourselves will become reality, even if it's not currently true. Good or bad. It’s how our brain functions. If we say, “I’m always late,” our RAS will show you things to prove that it's true for you! The more you focus on something, the more proof you will see, and the more proof you see, the more you will believe it.
In addition to setting your RAS to believe good things about yourself, you can set your RAS to notice things that are new. This gives you the sense of novelty in a place you've been a thousand times before. And all of the sudden, you will be transported to a world that’s filled with new and exciting things. Essentially you get to experience all the positives of travel without any of the negatives. Where you live will start to feel like bigger, and more expansive, like there’s more for you there than you had known.
So park yourself on a bench one of these days and begin to train your RAS to notice all the things that are blue when you had spent years noticing all the things that are red.
What you may notice is that any of these observations can be made from the town or city you currently live in, no matter how big or small. Just because you may be recognized or you may recognize some or all of the things around you, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a new and unique experience just be choosing to see things in a new way. You can park you butt on a bench in the park downtown and just watch the world 'round. "You’ll wonder, “how did I never notice that before.”