I have been traveling around the world for two years doing mostly nothing. The places where I did the most nothing are probably Indonesia, my six weeks in Japan and my collective three months in French Polynesia, but I have done nothing all over the world.
See, on the surface, travel seems like it should be nonstop action — go, go, go, fill the day! But in reality, you can travel to do absolutely nothing, like I do.
Okay, so in some cases, you have to do a lot of something to then do nothing. A good example is when I climbed to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. We huffed up and down hills and stairs with our stuff on our back for five days! Just to get up there and exist for a moment. To stop the marching band of thoughts that bangs away in my head and be quiet. To appreciate the nature that was all around me even before I started that damn trek.
In Japan, it was easy to do a lot of nothing, especially out in the country. The culture can be a bit isolating, and Japanese people are generally a hushed people. You might be horrified to learn that there were many days during my time in Japan in which I would sit in my Airbnb, drink soup, and do a puzzle or some writing. All of complex, stunning, delicious Japan sparkled out my window, and I would sip tea and clatter away on the keyboard in a sweater. In Japan, the days felt long. The country invites you to be quiet, to be slower and more deliberate, to speak only when there is something meaningful to be said.
In general, travel invites the traveler to slow down rather than speed up. Laundry on the road is an all-consuming task. Rinse, wash, wring, hang, fold. It is a meditation within itself. Pack and unpack the suitcase. Dine at a restaurant upon which you have stumbled as you walked with no particular destination. Listen. Observe. Experience.
Travel itself facilitates interactions and experiences for which we do not give ourselves time for back at home. To stop and shoot the shit with the old woman on the corner, to walk around with no particular destination, to be open to diversion, to sit at a cafe and watch the world go by; these are beautiful “wastes” of time that almost exclusively in travel become “valid” uses of time.
I’ve had moments when I look back on my trip that I wonder what the hell I did for the past two years. I just returned from three months of driving around the country with my dog. I looked through my photos and realized we did not once set foot in a kayak, other than one on the side of the road. We climbed no mountains, sailed no seas. What we did do is drive around to some beautiful places, meet interesting people, and just take it all in. I haven’t skydived in Oregon, but I can tell you about the guy we met on the coast who, out of nowhere, quit his job and cycled from Florida to Canada. We didn’t camp deep inside the redwood forest, but we met a guy named Antonio at the rest stop who has the most tragic and beautiful life story I’ve ever heard. We didn’t climb some huge cliff to see the eclipse, but down at the fish hatchery on that day, we did meet a gaggle of ladies with whom we still keep in touch to this day.
It’s about the pilgrimage, I think. Travel allows us to open our eyes to things which we glaze over every day. People. Natural beauty. Stories. Empathy.
The journey is the hard part, the fun part, a big part of the spiritual allure. But when you get to nothing — the moment when you can let go in joy, awe, and gratitude — that’s when you know you’ve made a worthwhile journey.
This article originally appeared on Medium.