When I’m exploring the world and writing about it, I am my best self.
Nothing brings out the personality traits, qualities, ideas and behavior I’m most proud of like the travel mindset. When I take on the role of the traveler, I become more open, more aware, more adventurous and more creative. In fact, when I step back and concentrate on that mindset in order to recreate it, I feel my eyes physically open wider. And that’s just it–I associate travel with open eyes, mind and heart. To me, traveling well is about honest, exciting efforts to observe, practice and become.
However, how does that differ from living well? What is a life well lived if not a series of honest, exciting efforts to observe, practice and become? Achieving our best selves is about rising up to meet chances to do so with grace, whether they arise in Irakleio or Idaho.
Travel is an expensive addiction, and I’m a poor grad student. Though I can’t wait for the day when I am gallivanting off to foreign lands once more, I can live more fully in the meantime by taking a few lessons from my traveling self. So, when the piggy bank’s empty and the travel withdrawal shakes & sweats are too much to bear, here are some ways to use your love for travel to your advantage in your everyday life.
10. Think on a global scale.
The first step is to simply start thinking globally. Introducing more international items and activities into your everyday life is a great way to begin creating a global frame of mind for yourself. The concrete leads to the abstract; making curry turns into renting a Bollywood movie, and soon enough, you find yourself reading an Indian author in order to answer the intercultural questions prompted by the movie. So, cook international food! I may be biased, but Greek food is a great starting place–many dishes are simply prepared once you have the ingredients. Add everything from Romanian gypsy pop to Afro-Western dance music based on the traditional music of Malawi to your workout playlist (and please enjoy the utterly ridiculous music video for the latter in the meantime)! Decorate with postcards or photographs taken all over the world! Watch obscure foreign documentaries–extra points for bad dubbing! Simple, fun and exciting, whether explored with friends or solo-style, little things like this expand your frame of reference and get you thinking globally.
Postcards and maps are my decor of choice.
9. Bring a little vacation insanity to your weekend. And your Thursday. And your Wednesday…
The famous “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” slogan is famous for a reason. It taps into one of the most deeply alluring parts of traveling–that of throwing caution to the wind. While caution is still a good thing in moderation, especially in the city you live, work or study in, I’m hereby declaring that far too many people’s lives are dictated by it. That’s why we dream of vacation. That’s why ads for cruises depict people dancing, laughing and generally having an awesome time; by appealing to what we want, they imply we don’t already have it. Are they right? Not anymore. Anytime you feel the urge to do something crazy, ask yourself if you would do it if you were on vacation. If the answer is yes, then by golly, you go ahead and do it! Life is far too short for bedtimes, bland food and declined invitations to dance. Though we certainly must keep up with the practicalities of life, we have an equal duty to balance it out with a little insanity, just like we do when on vacation.
(As a side note, last night in Kateland included homemade spanakopita, antelope lasagna, bruschetta, and two kinds of pie, wine, rosemary-infused vodka, a poetry reading, live bluegrass, a heated discussion on Foucault, shouting “Ola kala!” while walking home on Boise’s Capital Avenue, and excellent conversation with excellent company to the tunes of CCR. Live the dream!)
8. Get outside.
Whether the outdoors are at your doorstep or an hour’s drive away, getting outside is one of the very best ways to recreate the travel mindset. While traveling, I’m sometimes struck by how very small I am, in the best possible way. With all these people, all this land, and the remarkable diversity therein, how can the seemingly dire daily dramas of my little life matter? The other context which continually reminds me of the same thing is the great outdoors. Surrounded by trees so much older than I, and mountains so much older than those trees, I’m so small, and therefore so free.
On top of the remarkable ability of travel and nature to put things in perspective, they also both create a state of wonder. Edward Abbey writes of his time spent as a park ranger in Arches National Park in Desert Solitaire, which includes one of my very favorite passages of nature literature:
“If Delicate Arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit, to compel us into a reawakened awareness of the wonderful—that which is full of wonder. A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”
Delicate Arch, in Utah's Arches National Park. Taken in October of 2009.
“The power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit.” Indeed, this certainly applies to travel; the traveler who returns home having never left her ruts of habit is a poor traveler indeed. Both travel and the outdoors open our eyes, all the better to see this “world of marvels.”
7. Be a tourist in your hometown.
A few summers ago, I went to visit my seriously rad aunt Trudy in Boston. (She’s a marathoner, a taekwondo student, a scuba diver, a CFO, and the mother of a newly adopted, beautiful baby girl. She’s also been to Fiji and makes the best crab dip I’ve ever had.) While in Boston, we did everything! We went to the aquarium, we went on a Duck Tour, we saw a show, we ate cannoli at Mike’s, and we even engaged in this ridiculous and seriously fun activity:
Do you see that smile? That's a pure joy the likes of which only going down a gradual slope on a segway can produce.
Though Trudy was born in Massachusetts and works in Boston, she had never done these “touristy” activities, and she continually marveled at how much fun they were and how much she was learning about the city. And why not? When you see the familiar with fresh eyes, it becomes that much more meaningful. I just hope your hometown touristry adventure includes segways too.
6. Make a friend from a different culture.
Whether you find them in the foreign language section of the library, the international programs office at your university, or the “ethnic” aisle of the grocery store (which always cracks me up–what does “ethnic” really mean, and why is it only one aisle?), your town almost surely has at least a small pocket of international citizens. Go forth, find them, and reach out! Making friends with someone from another culture is a win-win. You gain so much from becoming close with someone whose customs are different from your own, and as someone who has lived abroad, I can personally vouch for how crucial local friendships are when you’re living in a different country. For one of the most powerful stories of intercultural friendships I’ve ever heard, as told by This American Life, click here.
Carrie and I with our friend we made on the ferry ride from Istanbul to the Prince Islands in June.
Traveling facilitates relaxation and independence, and one of the best ways to achieve both those qualities in your everyday life is to distance yourself from electronics, at least temporarily. If you can turn off your phone and computer for even just an afternoon, you will likely find yourself feeling surprisingly light and free. Without the pressures of answering calls or e-mails, your time becomes truly yours; and when you remove the internet’s remarkable time-suck from the scope of possible activities, it becomes that much easier to be productive with your time (whether that means being productive in work or productive in play!). There’s something so freeing about being unreachable, be it due to foreign travel or purposefully done in the comfort of your own home.
4. Seek out culture shock.
As a new student at BSU, I just had my first adventure in Bronco football. I headed to a sports bar with some friends last weekend at four. The game started at six. We barely got a table. When we finally did, it was amongst men in blue-and-orange boas, deafening whole-bar team-spirit chanting, and even toddlers decked out in Boise State football gear.
It was terrifying.
But I like wings, and I like beer, and I even like football. Once I got over my mini-culture shock, I was chanting, cheering and booing along with everyone else.
We are surrounded by hundreds of subcultures. Especially in a highly individualistic country like the United States, we have an incredibly diverse array of strange little pockets of society. To prove this point, I’d like to point your attention to the bizarre phenomenon known as Roller Derby, the differences between the culture of a supermarket and the culture of a community food co-op, and the entire city of Portland, Oregon. That said, it’s remarkably easy to expose yourself to culture shock right in your hometown, just as you would when you’re traveling. It’s those moments of mind-blowing contrast that help to either reaffirm the familiar or open your eyes to something better, and in some ways, it becomes even more mind-blowing when it takes place so close to home.
3. Learn a language, and find a way to use it.
The key to this idea is its second part. All too many of us studied a foreign language in school, but never kept it up, and are now left with the “Donde esta el baño?”s and “Voila mon passeport!”s of foreign language study. However, learning a foreign language is one of the most accessible ways to broaden your horizons, just as you do when traveling. It’s also a fascinating window into a culture.
Signing up for a class, finding a language partner through a local program, watching movies and reading books in the language are all great ways to keep it up, but I’ve also discovered Livemocha. It’s an online language-learning community. I’ve been using it since March, and the 101, 102, 201 and 202 courses are completely free. Each of these courses for Greek includes 3 units of 5 lessons each. Moreover, after each lesson, it prompts me to type a paragraph in Greek and then record myself speaking in Greek. That paragraph and recording then go out to native Greek speakers, who give me feedback. In return, I give feedback to those studying English and French. I think it’s an incredible tool for times when native speakers are really hard to find… like, say, when you live in Idaho.
2. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
When I had to pack up my life into two 50-pound bags last year, I was astounded by the sheer volume of stuff I had accumulated in just 22 years. As a sentimental person who saves things and plays the cello (that certainly wasn’t going to fit!), I can’t even fit everything into my VW Jetta. However, once I arrived in Greece and set up the things I had packed, I realized that what I had with me was more than adequate. In addition, I even felt better and freer with less possessions. The same is true for a shorter trip; you make do with what’s in your suitcase, and when it comes time to move cities again, it’s so much easier to pack. Since I got back from Greece, I have been trying to whittle down what I own. I want to get to the point where everything (even what’s still in my room at my parents’ house!) can fit into my car, and am looking forward to enjoying the freedom and simple joy that will come with living a life less cluttered with stuff.
1. Challenge yourself, every single day.
Over the course of my travel escapades, I’ve accepted hospitality in the form of a big bowl of chunks of fat for me to eat, relied on a toilet that was no more than a hole in the ground, yelled curses in Greek at a pack of wild dogs to keep them from eating me alive, been out-danced by a pack of French four year-olds, and had a come-to-Jesus meeting with fifteen Greek teenagers, nine of which had just turned in plagiarized papers to me. I’ve pantomimed food poisoning to my French host mother, and a UTI to the school nurse in Greece. I’ve missed planes, left bags on buses, gotten lost, and cried in way too many airports.
And you know what? I’ve survived. That, to me, is one of the greatest gifts of travel–the knowledge that when the going gets tough, you’ll find a way to make it through.
Though the stakes don’t seem as high when you’re at home, you can live like you’re traveling by getting out of your comfort zone every single day. Try new things, do what scares you, and learn from it all! It can be as simple as talking to someone new or as grand as going skydiving. As long as you’re creating adventure for yourself, you’ll be living like you’re traveling.
That’s what travel does. It shakes you to your core by bombarding you with the unfamiliar. And in this “world of marvels,” there’s more than enough of the unfamiliar to go around. I wish you the best of luck in discovering it.