On the Art of Travel

It occurs to me, having spent the greater part of my Sunday immersed in Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, trying to finesse a poem that simply won’t come, and making heavy notations on Maslow’s thinking about the marriage of “higher living” and our instinctual lives (including his concept of “aggridants”), that it might be best for me to switch gears today. And pour my energies into crafting a simple post. A post about stuff I like. It also occurred to me that while I’ve discussed a number of my interests, hobbies, and passions here within the context of creative and/or sensual living, one very important one has, to date, remained neglected: my love of travel.

To be sure, there are few activities that ignite my spirit the way travel does. It’s the incomparable exhilaration of experiencing new places and meeting new people that I love. It’s the physicality. The movement. The confluence of the senses. The freshness of perception. The need for reorientation and the temporary burnishing of an identity. Together, an aesthetics of possibility. Of wildness. It is, of course, this feeling—or amalgam of feelings, which constitute the inner experience of travel—that intrigues me most. Indeed, I view myself, in some ways, as having the soul of a wanderer. I am capable of being—and at times in my life have been—a full-time traveler. A nomad. A professional vagabond. (I used to work in the transportation industry in a position that dictated 100% travel.) It wasn’t until I began thinking of myself as “a traveler” (as opposed to someone who simply enjoys travel), until I began to understand that wanderlust is an integral part of my being, that I saw travel as a near-spiritual practice. An inner art, if you will, not only for its profound effects on my internal states, but on the quality of my perception, as well. Here are some thoughts:

Travel restores balance.

Some of us, by nature, it would seem, do not do well in a highly routinized existence. I am one of those people. While I do enjoy a certain degree of stability–and very much enjoy implementing and adhering to routines of my own design–I don’t function well when too many of my daily activities are dictated by someone else’s clock. I feel as if my vital energies are being siphoned, curtailed, as if I am suffering, over time, a kind of discreet premature death.

Some of us, I think (and it seems to me, creative individuals, in particular), require the freedom to move. Perhaps, we cannot not only tolerate, but need more chaos, more unpredictability, more of the unknown in our daily lives in order to function optimally. In order to sustain our intellects, our creative impulses, to feed our curiosity, and to remain vital, productive, and happy. (I would, of course, be remiss if I didn’t note the parallels between this description and that of the personality trait, openness to experience.)

Whenever I feel too stable, too still, too much a slave to routine, I must interrupt myself. I travel to revitalize, refresh, and restore to my world a necessary sense of wildness. That is how I balance myself. How I keep present the thrill of being alive.

Novel environments stimulate creativity.

There is something magical, enlivening, even intoxicating about being in a novel environment. For me (as I know is true for at least some other creatives), plunging oneself into the aesthetics of a novel place stimulates creativity. I tend to write with greater ease and to generate ideas almost effortlessly when I am somewhere new. Whether it’s a new city, a new country, a different coffeehouse, or simply a room in my own home that I spend little time in. It is the element of novelty that matters most.

In addition, there are, related to travel, those venues I like to think of as places of flux. Where all is movement. All is suspended. All is now. Airports are the clearest, most poignant example of such a place. And while I’ve spent a great deal of time in airports over the last several years and frequently find myself annoyed by overcrowded security lines, horrendously overpriced food and drink, and other people’s generally bad manners, I still love a good airport. Because, while I inhabit that space, I am in flux. In a state of readiness, of not-yet-ness. I’ve left behind the old but have yet to discover the new. I am neither here nor there. I am dissolved. I am in motion. I often find myself in a state of both heightened creativity and heightened perception when I’m in such a place. A consequence, perhaps, of both novelty and an cavalcade of sensory stimulation.

walking girl in red

Travel expands our identities.

When in a new place, I try to afford myself the freedom to experience the joys of daily living with an attitude of gentle curiosity, with a sense of wonder, with fresh eyes. In those moments–in those moments in which I find myself not only doing differently but imagining differently–I begin to get a glimpse of my own limits. Or of the possibility that exists beyond them. To see myself with fresh eyes. It is that awareness–the awareness of my own patterns of thinking and behavior, the ability to spot self-imposed limits (at least some of the time)–that I believe travel has helped me hone over the years. But, it is the possibility that exists beyond those moments of heightened awareness, in which I get a real glimpse of myself, that motivate me. The possibility that I can continue to see more, to do more, to be more, to somehow integrate all of the things, the places, the people, the experiences that I love into my being. Into a holistic view of the world. It is that possibility that keeps me moving.

22 thoughts on “On the Art of Travel

  1. I realize that one of the things I enjoy most about your posts is that I experience your writing in such a way that I feel part of your writing moments (I think I said this once before). I relate very much to what you have written. For years I travelled between Madrid and Seattle often twice a year and I experienced the hours in airports in much the same way as you have described. Tomorrow I will travel to what to me is a well-known destination – our cabin in the San Juan Islands – and I find myself both excited and anxious because experience has taught me that travel is all about the unexpected and the surprises that make a long day so worth it. I love traveling because if I allow myself to, I feel alive in ways that ordinary daily existence does not allow me to. I have enjoyed very much the energy in this post.

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    1. Haha it’s nice to meet another airport lover! During my tenure as a flight attendant, I used to have to work shifts in my base airport, waiting for a phone call to go…wherever. Sometimes, I’d finish my shift and go home. Other times, I’d end up in LAX, SFO, Seattle, even London or Paris. As I waited, I used to just sit back and “take it all in.” I do the same thing now. Sit back and watch the people rush back and forth. It’s actually more fun being a regular passenger. 🙂 But, you’re right. You feel a different kind of alive when you’re on the road. And, it is, I think, an incomparable feeling.

      Safe travels to the San Juan islands! They are not far from the mainland, right? I have heard it’s beautiful there. Enjoy!

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  2. I am impressed. I’ve often imagined what it would be like to be a flight attendant. That must have been quite a life. A few years after college I left my job at a small newspaper and found a job as a caretaker working in the homes of wheelchair-bound people, and the experiences I had changed my life. The San Juan Islands are close to the mainland, but since I don’t drive anymore (living in Madrid accustomed me to not driving, and now I work at home and we live near the center of the city), I must take a bus very early in the morning and many hours and a ferry later I am on Orcas Island in the San Juans and from there I cross Orcas in a taxi to where I launch a small lapstrake rowboat and row a little less than an hour to where our cabin is (there is no ferry access to where I am headed and no stores or paved roads there either). So every trip inevitably becomes an adventure. Your post makes me eager for our next trip to Madrid.

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    1. Wow! That sounds like quite a trek. It must be so gratifying to unwind when you finally get there. Yes, being a flight attendant was a lot of fun, something I had wanted to do ever since I was a little girl. I am fortunate to have been able to have the experience. I imagine being a caretaker must be incredibly challenging. Not something I think I have the personality for, but I commend you. I’m sure the experience was life-changing in ways I cannot imagine. Best of luck on your journey tomorrow. I hope it is filled with the most pleasant kinds of adventures. 🙂 It’s funny, I was recently telling a girl friend that she and I should take a trip to Madrid…I’ve spent so little time there, but I loved the feel of it.

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      1. In retrospect, I did not have the personality to be a caretaker. I was just discovering that I was an introvert … I was often overwhelmed, and at the same time the experience of helping others changed me definitely for the better. Sometimes I bike across Orcas Island to where the boat is, but this time I am bringing too much stuff with me. And the feel of Madrid is what I love about it … I loved walking through the city and entering this or that bar for a small glass of beer or wine (usually with Javier, sometimes alone) and then walking some more before stopping again, then usually to eat. Have a great week!

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  3. Let me begin by saying “what a great post”! Balance, Creativity, Identity, perfectly sums up just about everything that travel has done for us two oldies over the past 10 years or so. From Kathmandu to Chicago, from Madrid to Shanghai, touring our own country (England), visiting vineyards around Europe, trekking to Everest Base Camp 8 times, planes, trains, ships …… those three words of yours have encapsulated everything about ourselves and travel. Travel creates a kind of harmony in us, although retired, it takes us out of our daily routines and opens our minds to new environments, people, cultures, it refreshes us! Creativity is stimulated, writing and blogging increases exponentially. Our identity is reinforced, but not negatively; an Englishman with a Nepalese wife sees new places through different eyes as we reminisce about our own upbringings or current lifestyle. Thank you! A definite reblog!

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    1. Thank you very much. 🙂 Everest Base Camp 8 times…Now, I am impressed! I did Kili in February of this year, and I suspect once will have been enough for me. I am glad you found this post relatable. I also like to think the benefits of travel transcend—or possibly even get better with—age. And, it sure is wonderful to have someone to share those experiences with. Thanks again!

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      1. In many cases Everest BC was a stop-off en route to something else! I think you are right about age and travel, we are both now more reflective, more mindful, existential even 😂

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  4. This is a wonderful post…how well expressed! I can identify with everything you’ve said. At the start of the post, I thought, right, not sure I’ll get much from this topic, but you’ve stunned me! I’ve often felt that travel has tapped into the true me, underneath the routines at home. I become more centred in myself, more free to think and I love being open to new wonders, seeing how I will respond – tiny or huge, depending on the context, this feature can be strengthening and validating. My hubby and I haven’t done much travelling for years now…there is no incentive, which may be because I derived a great deal of what I needed from past places, whilst now being lucky enough to be fully me at home. I don’t have to fit roles or ‘imposed upon me by other’ routines…and I’d never thought, until now, that might explain why there is no wander lust sizzling away! So thank you…

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    1. Thank you for the kind words, Lynne! I go through phases with travel, also. Sometimes, I like to hit the road frequently. Other times, I prefer to stay home for long stretches. Variety keeps our lives interesting 🙂. But, as you say, we can find the balance we need in a variety of different places and different ways.

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    1. Thank you, Frank, both for the kind words and for sharing Whitman. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Leaves of Grass, but his voice—exemplified perfectly in the excerpt you’ve shared—always refreshes me. And, happy travels, wherever the road may take you. 🙂

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  5. I sure do like what you have to say about how much you enjoy living by your own schedules, routines, etc., while not functioning well when you are dictated by someone else’s clock.

    I’ve spent the last several years doing everything I can to live this way. Yes, the freedom to move, at my pace, on my schedule makes all the difference for me.

    Alain de Botton put out a very interesting little philosophical book called, “The Art Of Travel”. Maybe I’ve brought it up before. Not sure. Another great post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alain de Botton…hmmm…I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of his, but perhaps I’ll try to give the book a fair shake. Thank you for he recommendation. I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

      Like

  6. Some great perspective. For someone that previously lived in a number of different countries, my wings now are clipped. But travel can take you out your comfort zone, particularly independent travel, off the beaten track, and that helps one to grow.

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