"No matter where you go, there you are"
[Backstory/disclosure: from graduating college in 2010 to 2016 I held office jobs in agencies and lived in Minnesota (basically) my whole life. Since being a kid I felt compelled and curious to see the world and understand other cultures, but I never made it a priority so it never happened. When I was 27 and had only been out of the country a couple times, I made a huge leap to go on a round the world trip solo for 6 months. Since, it's been a complete lifestyle change working remote and living in Rome, and I've traveled to Moscow and Azerbaijan to visit my partner's family. SO I'M NOT a long term traveler. There are many different reasons people 'travel', in this context I'm talking about leisure and also visiting family in RU+AZ.]
Recently I read a lengthy visual article on Medium titled "Travel Is No Cure For the Mind" that attempted to explain the logic behind why travel cannot fix the mental barriers you must cross to achieve true happiness. If you don't have time to read all of it the general gist is: you might find monotony in your daily life working at an office, so decide to travel. It starts as a few trips, and ends up with actually moving to another country, then in time you inevitably need to find a job again and end up in the same dreadful monotony but with different scenery.
The article concludes with how you must appreciate your current surroundings to be truly free and happy in the mind, that traveling essentially has no affect on this.
I love to hear all perspectives, and feel listening is an extremely important skill we all should strive to strengthen. I did enjoy this take on travel's relation to mental states and agree in the power of perception, though I personally could not relate, even though I am also a product of office culture as this article's perspective represents.
Instead, I believe the physical experience of travel cultivates momental life changing skills if you let it. Maybe the author of this article found themselves in a similar monotonous pattern after moving somewhere else, but for many, leaving your life all together allows a reevaluation and consideration like no other. You learn to take risks. When you have no path ahead, you are in full control of your destiny with all your usable attention energy to create something meaningful. Isn't meaning one step above happiness?
Actually it was the common phrase you see written across sunsets shared on FB, "No matter where you go, there you are" that I tried to force myself to believe when feeling stuck being broke and also with only literally 5 days of vacation a year while my best friends were living/having meaningful experiences in other countries across the world. I'd try to think, "I'm the wise one, prioritizing my career, they'll return to 'real life' foolish being so near sided! No matter where you go, there you are!" ...Yes, this worked out horribly for me. In fact this was this period in my life I experienced the worst anxiety to date- I remember one episode in particular that was a 4-5 day panic attack, where all I could do was lay stomach side down, barely be able to eat, intermittently cry, and for some reason was compelled to have Parks and Rec playing as the audio because it was the most positive thing I could think to listen to. (Thank you Amy Poehler)
The issue I see now with this phrase is that it can be interpreted suggesting it's not worth traveling because there's a cap to who you can be, there's a limit to your personality and you cannot work through inner struggles with outer circumstances, similar to what the author of the Medium article was writing. This interpretation is encouragement for mediocrity and simplifies the human experience as something linear and doesn't recognize our actual ability to grow into completely different lifestyles that in the long run benefits society. Certainly, you will be everywhere you are, that's a good thing. The more present you can be in the now, the more understanding you have of who you are and your place in the world. The world needs more people that think for themselves and have the energy and time to consider how the world might be improved.
No matter what logical reason, graphical explanations or number of times we tell ourselves a phrase over and over, mental barriers sometimes need to be crossed with physical manifestations too.
Let's be honest, isn't it a way more convenient solution to suggest all our problems can be fixed solely in our minds?
For me, the cliche of leaving my office job for a round the world trip wasn't some external temporary period of time that I returned from and resumed the same day to day as before. Instead, it was a physical action that propelled the next chapter in my life I was meant to live. The next chapter didn't include allegiance to an ineffective 9-5 lifestyle devoting my time and energy to another company with the carrot of security and retirement funds. The next chapter included owning my own content, taking risks, creating things, and living in a never-ending state of curiosity. I can soon enter my 30's location independent building meaningful things with potential to generate income for my retirement. That's a risk I wouldn't have taken before my trip, but it's a risk I can't imagine not taking now and my days have an unprecedented sense of meaning and adventure.
I'm not writing about my personal satisfactions to boast, in contrary I love psychology and philosophy and encourage others to think inward about what sort of physical manifestations they are destined to take as a reflection of their perceptions. Maybe 'travel' isn't for you, but TAKE A RISK IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING YOUR HEART! And I can't speak for anyone else's experience but my own, so I am sharing what I personally learned.
So in list form...
How traveling actually DID cure my mind:
- Travel took me out of routine— I was able to see my life choices from more of an objective birds eye view, and pay attention to what felt natural and what didn't (for example, waking up to an alarm 71% of my life with an immediate necessity to physically go to a different place never felt natural, and I never miss it. Unless I have something new and exciting to wake up for, I'm now able to wake up naturally after a complete sleep cycle and take sometimes hours to process and meditate on my intent for the day. Sleep is so important to health and happiness!)
- Travel made me excited to learn again— I didn't realize how numb and simple my brain was starting to mush to until I had opportunity to challenge it again. In high school and college I was so focused on self-guided learning. I'd watch countless documentaries and switch captions and voices on movies between english/spanish/french simply for fun. Curiosity and excitement to learn was inherently a part of me, but after working in the routine of office life without many challenges or threat to comfort in my day made my learning processes dulled. After work I just wanted to have a half glass of wine and zone out to the latest Netflix obsession. I just wanted to be entertained, but I never really felt like I was using my skills toward moving my life forward too. Now, I'm so CURIOUS and am so aware of all that I don't know. I'm learning Italian and Azeri, and am generally interested in other languages too just because it's fun. I still enjoy a few episodes of a show at the end of the night, but now it feels like a truly satisfying rest from living my day with intention.
- Travel made me closer to my family— I know this doesn't make much sense, but I used to live a 20 minute drive to my sister's family, and 1.2 hr drive to my parents. Sometimes, we'd go months without even talking on the phone. On the contrary, while traveling and also now while living in Rome we make it a point to videochat at least once a month, and when we do talk there's more meaning and significance. We listen more, we care more. Of course, there are also downsides which I'll mention in the next section.
- Travel taught me how to take risks— I never really took risks before! I'd take sort of pretend risks, like maybe dye my hair a color, or try a new medium when painting, but these really don't matter at all. Maybe experimenting with art and design helps build some microconfidence in this realm, but I would repeatedly get really close to making a big lifestyle switch then back out. I've since learned with risk can come great reward, and it has brought be much confidence in my decisions and abilities to try for things I might be scared of.
- Travel let me strengthen friendships with people from my past— When you are hyper aware of your physical location in the world, life looks different. Anyone you mildly know in that same physical location as you are so special. Someone you may have hung out with a few times in high school might offer their extra room in Hong Kong, someone you played red rover with in elementary school might off the cusp mention you're welcome in Ghana, exchange students and workers from all over might offer a place to stay. The BEST part of my trip was truly all the people I spent it with. I am blessed to have known people from all over and rarely had to feel like a complete outsider staying at a hostel. It was so meaningful to have opportunity to get to know these people more, and go from acquaintance to friends.
- Travel cured my fear of flying, plus my anxiety and depression was absent. Before leaving I was legit afraid of flying. It was something that built as I got older, and more worrisome. Now I see a flight as relaxing and an opportunity to meditate- it's the one time you can rest your brain without any responsibility. From Auckland to Hong Kong, I believe a 6 hour flight, I didn't listen to music or watch anything- I just stared forward and let my mind rest. It was the greatest. Also whenever I am going somewhere new, or have a place on my radar, I've noticed the crippling anxiety and depression I've been accustomed to my whole life dissipates. I never really took drugs for my instabilities, instead I believed it was important to figure out the reasons I was feeling that way. What I've learned is that feeling out of control in my life is a huge trigger. Now that I'm more stable I do have the occasional episodes without a doubt, but I've learned if I plan a small weekend trip or even just decide to explore a new neighborhood in the city by foot, it cures these feelings that can otherwise limit my ability to function.
I'm sure there's more, but those are the big ones.
It would be highly one sided and dishonest if I wrote all the ways travel cured my mind if I didn't mention the ways it didn't. So...
How traveling discouraged my mind:
- Traveling means you miss out on important events with family and friends— Thought I'd get the obvious one out of the way. It was kind of heartbreaking to have to Skype with my niece on her birthday like some digital talking avatar. It's hard to see your family and friends on social media experiencing things together and feeling left out, like traditions or seasons you used to celebrate.
- Traveling means you'll loose friends— Before I left, I felt like I had several fun networks of friends I could comfortable meet up with at a bar or party and legit feel welcome. However when you're gone for so long and are busy that whole time, it's hard to reach out to people and no one reaches out to you, and soon a lot of friends start to seem like acquaintances, and by the time you're back in town you feel kind of shy to reach out to them. Or, maybe it feels like half your coworkers flat our hate you. Or, you did stay in touch with some friends but the few months you are back in town you are completely mentally and financially depleted from socializing and are living with your sister 45 min from town and can't find the time see them so it's your fault. I think about my going away karaoke party at the VFW the night before I left, and get happy to think so many people I love came to send me off. It does make me sad to think I don't have that anymore, and also that it's largely my fault for not making it a priority to spend quality time with people when I was home for a few months.
- Traveling means you learn how no one really cares— I know this sounds incredibly negative, but hear me out because in a way it's just a good lesson to learn. This was hard for me to face, but after accepting it I'm learning to be more satisfied with less feedback and visibility from others. While going to new exciting places and meeting new people, I rarely felt lonely. I only felt this when I returned and assumed family and friends were curious about my time, but no one expressed interest to see any photos! I had been anticipating maybe hooking up my laptop to the tv and explain things in detail, and maybe that would have happened if all the variables lined up just right, but the reality is no one can really care that much. But how could they? You can't imagine or relate to these experiences, how does it benefit you? And wouldn't that take F O R E V E R to go through the hundreds of photos?! That doesn't sounds fun at all. With travel photos and details, just like dreams (I believe this line is from It's always Sunny), if you're not in any of them and if no one's having sex then you're not interested. And that's OK! With social media it's difficult attribute to have, to simply be satisfied with your experiences because they happened, not to need feedback or simply to be seen from others.
Despite these (all social) challenges from travel, I still think the benefits (in personal development) outweigh.
Contrary to the Medium article, I would argue that travel can in fact 'Cure the Mind' because it takes you out of the day to day routine of giving your usable attention energy to someone else, reveals the great reward in taking meaningful risks, and teaches invaluable skills and perspectives that can propel you into the life you're supposed to be living.
No matter where you go, there you are learning and creating and carving a new life path.
Thanks for reading,