AFTER TRAVELING FOR A YEAR, then settling in San Francisco and not traveling for about 12 months, I began to feel like it was time to hit the road again. But for a good 365 days or so, I honestly did not have the desire to travel.
Fast forward to now: We’re halfway through this year, and I can feel my life slipping out of balance.
So what happened? I once heard that if you’re bored or unsatisfied with life, it simply means you’re not saying ‘yes’ enough. So about six months ago, when I decided it was time to start traveling again, I began saying ‘yes’ to everything.
When I’m coming, going, and boarding a plane every other weekend, life is grand.
On top of that, as a travel writer I can literally feel my career taking off when I’m on the road. I meet kind people, experience new food and fascinating places, and feel as if I’m living life to its fullest. Yet when your passion is your career and your career is your passion, it can be difficult to not let it be all-consuming. And I have learned that travel alone does not fulfill my life. (As the Little Mermaid sings, “I want mooooore.”)
When you’ve been saying ‘yes’ for so long (Yes! I’ll take that trip. Yes! I’ll write that piece. Yes! I will help you plan your entire vacation) the natural response when life is out of balance is to start saying ‘no.’ I began instead to say ‘yes’ to staying home. I spent more than a few nights at a time in the apartment I’ve created a home in. I slowly began making coffee dates and happy hour (and actual) dates that weren’t rushed or consumed with conversation about where I was headed next. I reveled in home-cooked meals and cups of tea by the fireplace.
Yet in pausing to take a break, in between all the excitement and the noise, a new silence arrived — one I wasn’t comfortable with.
I am familiar with the restlessness of wanting to go someplace new or feeling the itch to get on an airplane. This was something different.
Have you ever just felt off? Call it a funk, call it a lack of normal levels of daily enthusiasm, call it whatever you like. If you’ve felt it, you know what I’m talking about. I know it because I’ve been in a funk before — one that lasted around three years. So now when I feel it setting in, I’m like “I see you! We’re going to fix this.”
I equate traveling to listening to my favorite piece of music. When I need to hear it, it is the best thing in the world. I’ll play that song on repeat. I’ll wear my headphones all day. I’ll turn it up and dance around the house.
But at some point, it just becomes noise.
And you know what happens when your music is too loud? You can’t hear anything else.
In my quest for the external I had been neglecting my internal needs. As an extrovert, it’s easy for me to do. With writing as my career, I have had to learn how to tune into my mind and spend quite a lot of time alone. As a result, I tend to turn to constant external stimulation: being busy, staying social, skipping town, running around.
I’ve heard it said that full-time travelers are running away from something. While I don’t necessarily agree, to me the idea of traveling full-time is a bit like the prospect of running several marathons: That’s cool, do your thing…but it’s not for me. I’d rather enjoy a speed walk or a simple 5k from time to time.
The good thing about running, though, is it has a finish line. You know where you’re going, and the end is in sight. So no matter how much you’re suffering, you know when it’s going to be over. You can push through.
But this is my life. There’s no arrival. There’s no finish line. And there’s no need to suffer. There are times in life we need to push through to reach a goal, or sacrifice. Sometimes, we need to keep going. Other times, we need to slow down.
When we have this desire to see the world, it can be tempting to pack in as many countries, cities, sights as possible. I understand that, I’ve done it myself. It’s especially difficult when we have limited time in a place or away from our “normal” lives at home. Yet it is only when we do slow down, when we linger, when we explore aimlessly and stop to listen…that we can hear and know the subtleties that enable us to really know and fully appreciate a place. It is the same with our own lives.
When we’re part-time travelers, we don’t always get to travel slowly. No matter the length of the trip, the lessons of travel continue to teach us how to live better at home. Just as slow travel gives us the chance to pause and reflect on the internal, so does slow living. And if we find ourselves in the lucky position of being able to both travel and maintain a home, we need to do a better job of savoring the slow moments of both.
Time and time again travel (and writing,) has allowed me to step back from my daily life and learn something I might not have otherwise. It comes down to this: speed. The speed at which we’re traveling and living affects us on so many levels. The irony is, of course, the faster we’re going the less likely we are to even recognize our own speed. Traveling at a fast pace for the past six months, with so many obligations both professional and personal, left me out of breath.
I’ve now likened this fast pace to running and noise. In simple terms, being home with no plans to leave…is sitting in stillness. Sitting still can be difficult for an ambitious person living in our modern world, even more so for a traveler. But how can we find meaning without the time and space to reflect on it?
In my recent moments of stillness, this is what I’ve learned: outside of your comfort zone is always going to be where the magic happens. It’s where growth and experience and everything that is worth anything originates. Yet I’ve come to realize that getting out of your comfort zone isn’t as one dimensional as it seems. Sometimes, staying home and not having any plans is uncomfortable. This applies whether you’re traveling or not — in our culture of ‘busyness’ and our ever-increasing pressure to do, be, see, and be seen. Can we sit with that?
Let us challenge ourselves to take some a handful of moments and simply be. Perhaps it’s in that stillness we find the illusive balance we seek.
Life is not a race, it is a journey meant to be savored at each step of the way.
It might not be as exciting, but it will be worth it.
12 tips to slow down (on a trip or in life)
1. Cook your own food. Take your time.
2. Dine outside — either at a restaurant or on a patio in a home. Eat slowly, savoring each bite.
3.Take thirty minutes and read a book (not a Kindle, a book) or…
4. Go for an aimless walk.
5. Meditate for 10 minutes. Trust me, just do it.
6. Enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of wine with no distractions.
7. Turn off the wifi for a couple of hours. This is a big one.
8. Sit, close your eyes, and take in all of the other senses around you.
9. Spend time with someone who makes you laugh, perhaps to the point of your face hurting
10. Spend time with someone who agrees not to talk about work with you for days, even weeks at a time. You are not your work.
11. When someone talks, try to listen fully and not interrupt. Do not look at your phone. (Who else is terrible at this?)
12. PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE. I know, I know…it’s hard. Do it anyways.
This article was originally published on Part-Time Traveler, and has been re-posted here with permission.