When I was a young adult living and working in Boston I encountered the first of three of adulthood’s great crises; establishing a personal direction. Four years into my corporate life I was simmering in a stew of anxiety, unmotivated and directionless. They say if you place a frog in a pot and slowly bring the water to a boil it won’t jump out. My situation was something like that only I was able to sense the change in temperature in time. When I finally conjured the wherewithal to jump out of the pot, I jumped so hard and far that I landed in Korea. This was a vast overreaction and wouldn’t necessarily advocate this course of action to others but I did pick up a lot of insight between then and now.
If I had to choose the best and most irreplaceable part of detaching from normal life it would be complete ownership of personal goals. This was the real solution to my first life crisis. What is life direction but a series of thematically or philosophically linked personal goals? Back in Boston, I had very little ownership of the things I put the vast majority of my energy into. Leaving my career and setting off into the world forced my hand to claim ownership of my precious time. I was able to focus on the things I truly wanted to do; dancing, skateboarding, taking trips on my motorcycle, learning Korean, mastering a new city, taking boxing lessons, reading, writing, making new friends, getting to know my non-nuclear family members better, and a slew of other things to satisfy my curiosity. I packed a tremendous amount of “life” into a condensed nugget of time. Had I never left Boston I would have inched along in possibly two or three of the things I had mentioned with a feeling of morose dissatisfaction.
The second best part of traveling is living without the concept of alarm clocks. Oh the sweet sweet joy of waking up when your body wants to wake up. Just thinking about the next morning elevates my mood. The pain of years of being sharply jolted back into reality by a screeching noise gets swept away by a few months of alarm-clock abstinence.
The worst part of traveling are the side-effects of non-permanence. You get to experience all the different shades of discomfort. There is the physical discomfort of not having a permanent and private cove to retreat to. Dealing with lumpy beds. Switching to mouth breathing to tolerate the stinky feet of a hostel-mate. Simple things like not having familiar foods around when you need them can become burdensome. And there is the emotional discomfort of being transient. Being away from familiar faces. Knowing that every relationship you’ve made will come to an end when you step on that airplane. This discomfort puts a tightness in the middle of your chest and a large part of traveling is facing and unfurling this tightness.
Another less glamorous detail of traveling is getting used to staying in nearly empty cafes until your coffee gets cold. I hope this post provides a more balanced view of what it means to travel.