Photo: Toma Stepunina/Shutterstock

My Advice to Travelers: Learn How to Stay Still

by Matt Hershberger Aug 28, 2014

One of the many horribly overused Facebook profile travel quotes is from Lao Tzu, the possibly fictional founder of Taoism. “A journey of a thousand miles,” it says, “begins with a single step.”

It’s the type of quote that inspires travelers to take that first step, whether it be a physical step out the front door or a financial step by saving some money for the next trip. Never mind that Lao Tzu meant it mostly metaphorically and not as a literal journey. It’s the type of quote travelers need to get moving.

Lao Tzu actually had something else to say about travel. “If you let yourself be blown to and fro,” he said in the Tao Te Ching, “you lose touch with your roots. If you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are.”

In other words, learn to stay still.

Treat everywhere as a destination.

Staying home often seems like a nightmare to travelers. There’s nothing going on at home. You’ve seen all the places. Done all the things. Had whatever fun can be had. It’s just a backdrop for the rest of your life. It’s a place to work and a place to live while making other plans. Home is boring.

Look: I don’t know where you live. But I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. I thought it was the worst. I couldn’t understand why my parents had decided to live there. It was close to nothing. It didn’t have anything to do. And the people were boring. I hated it. So I left and I traveled the world.

Now, I’m settled in Washington DC, and whenever I go back to Cincinnati, I have a blast. There’s a ton to do there. There are great bars, great museums, amazing music, incredible views, and a ton of cool outdoor activities. And the people are all really interesting.

The reason it was boring was because I was stuck in my hometown bubble, and I had to leave it for the bubble to pop. Not every place can be everything to you. Some will be better than others. But ultimately, if you want to find the people who are interesting and the spots that are fun, you will.

I’ve found that the best way to do this is to treat the place you’re living as its own destination. Go to the museums. Go to the events. Try and meet new people. Treat it like you’re traveling.

Learn to be alone.

Of course, sometimes going out and doing things at the same level you do when you travel isn’t possible, simply because of money or time constraints. So the second step to being still is to learn to be alone. Learn not to hate your own company. I don’t know you, but my guess is you probably don’t suck all that bad. There are probably people who enjoy being around you. Learn to be one of them.

Get alone with your thoughts. If you need to fit exercise into your day, try walking. Walking doesn’t have the same cardiovascular benefits as running, but it’s still a pretty excellent workout. And, more importantly, it offers you a chance to simply wander around and notice things in your neighborhood. It allows you time to think. And since it’s walking and not running, you’re not going to be thinking about how miserable you feel.

If walking isn’t your thing, just go outside. If you have a porch or balcony, great. If you live near a park, go find a tree to sit under. Read under it. Bring a blanket. Wear shoes that slip off easily. Put down the book occasionally and notice the other people in the park. Smile at them. They’re your neighbors. Don’t check your phone. Leave it at home.

If you’re into meditation, do that. If not, try yoga. At the very least — even if the namaste shit isn’t your thing — you’ll learn to stand on your head like a boss. If that doesn’t work, do anything that teaches you to focus on your breathing and pay attention to your other senses and surroundings. You can do this literally anywhere that isn’t in front of a computer or TV screen, and I promise it’ll help ease the restlessness and wanderlust.

Just find a place to sit, breathe, and take in the world around you the same way you would while traveling. You don’t need to be in motion to be alive.

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