How ought a person live? What are you really supposed to do? Do people need to form a
strong relationship to a place in order to have fruitful, meaningful lives?
What’s the best way to live in relation to others? To the Earth? These are the
questions which travel inevitably and gracefully pulls out from my soul. Well,
if I have one of those. :)
Feelings Arising from Travel
When I’m in my car, away from home, without solid plans or an easily-identifiable go-to place... My mind feels so open. This planet is a lively place with unending mysteries and fun surprises, to be played on and explored.
However, even though this exploration is supposed to be enjoyable, it sometimes feels like a burden. “I just have to find something to do! I can’t sit in my car and dick around all day!” Then there’s the burning of gas/killing of things. There’s also the making both use and meaning of my life. Well, and not spinning a wheel around for all my waking hours.
Of course, it’s not life’s biggest tragedy, and the feeling usually can be shooed away quickly. But my questions and concerns are still legitimate—and the process of travelling to answer them, invigorating. And I don’t even know what I’m doing yet (though shall I ever? That is another tale).
One thing I love about travel is just that. Solo, spontaneous, free-ballin’ travel was an unknown experience for most of my life, and it still feels alien. Staying at typical vacation spots with my family for a few days to stay in a hotel, eat at restaurants twice a day (or avoid them, if you’re me), swim in pools, sit on beaches, and shop around is fairly familiar ground. But even though my lonelier travels can and have incorporated some of those things, somehow this is a different ballgame.
It’s not that I haven’t done awesome stuff when with my family (though I tend to go on my own for the more exciting stuff anyway). But when I’m with them, I’m still attached and obliged to something. I still need to report back to the hotel room by a certain time. I’m still expected to be at certain activities with them, and their presence artificially restricts me (yes, as much as I allow it to, I’m aware).
But when I’m alone? Well… Then I’m just Floating Through Space. I have to make meaning of myself and my experiences. It is solely up to me what I do- and the choices are many. My health and safety lie in my hands, and no one else’s. If I lose the preciousness of my life that is time to unfavorable activity, I can blame only myself.
I can’t help but think that this is an incredibly valuable challenge to be up against.
A notable aspect of travel I’ve noticed is compatibility. When you drive through a town- or better yet, a city- there are tons of places you could go. There are plenty of things you could do. But you walk into some places, and they’re not quite what you hoped. Others you expect to be awesome, and turn out better than you could have dreamed. The former has been more commonplace thus far. And then there are places which you expected a “meh” from upon leaving, but were pleasantly surprised.
Sometimes I feel a small obligation that I just have to stop at every place possible and reasonable, just to “optimize” each mile that I drive. You never know, dude- that place might rock! But with more experience I see that this isn’t totally necessary. I can’t totally justify this stand yet, perhaps aside from time and attention constraints as well as the odds of places “not working out,” but I think it will take me somewhere.
That’s the beautiful thing about travel: you’re always moving, never quite at a destination- at least, not for too long. The thoughts and feelings I have and lessons I learn related to travel function quite the same: they’re always changing is all.
This may be most prominent in my feeling that I ought to travel. I can’t quite point to a clearly-identifiable, logical reason for it. It feels like the reason is all around me, but I’m not sure I know how to articulate it- or whether I can. Sometimes I think that “I just want to be everywhere, and love everything.” That can sound a tad strange, but that statement doesn’t exist as some concrete, single point on the map either. It’s just all over the place. It extends for miles.
Somehow, I think I’m supposed to be the same way. At least, for a while.
If I sat down to concisely and logically analyze myself and pick myself (i.e. my thoughts, behaviors, desires) apart, I would go nuts. When I try to look at myself as I think another person might, I start milling over how weird I am. But it’s not even the helpful sort of analysis: it’s usually consists of negatively dwelling on things that aren’t really important or “bad.”
When I let go of that seemingly-degenerative perspective, I’m fine. I don’t need to scrutinize over myself. In fact, I tend to perform better this way. It’s been said plenty of times: When I’m not so darned worried about what other people think, it’s a whole lot easier to not only be myself, but to improve myself.
In contrast, when I place others’ supposed perceptions of me above all else, what results do I get? Mediocrity. By trying to impress others and press myself into a box I depress my abilities. Go figure, man.
Travel is similar. If I have to know RIGHT NOW, WHERE THE HECK I’M GOING AND WHY PLEASE STATE FIVE REASONS I’ll just sit behind the wheel and let silly thoughts spin around. But when I don’t worry about trying to fulfill some agenda- well, I’m fine. At the very least I keep moving. And even if I don’t find one of those awesome places I still enjoy myself to some extent. Beats sitting on my bed wondering what could have been, eh?
Logistical Considerations of Travel
A logistical detail: transit. I’ve decided that it’s ideal to spend as little time behind the wheel as possible. This doesn’t mean to avoid driving long distances, but rather to avoid sitting in my car either trying to figure out what to do or driving from one place to another within a five mile radius and ultimately deciding that “I don’t want to go to any of these places.” That can get you stuck in the car for hours.
I must say I’ve really found the Internet to be a crutch so far. It’s super fabulous to have GPS. It really is. Though I prefer to avoid it when I think I can find my way around, I won’t argue with that one. But it can be easy to stare into my GPS, click the little “Points of Interest” button, and try to figure out where I should go next. And that eats up so much time… It’s like buying a guidebook and spending half the trip reading it. Well, or going to a party and texting the whole time. I guess I’m not totally alone in my guilt. J
On top of that is the thought that, Eh, maybe I should look this place up before I try going to it. I have no idea about their hours or specifically what they have to offer or anything… I guess I’ll have to come back sometime. And if I had a smartphone, I’d probably sit in my car even longer doing just that. I have to wonder whether that would be preferable to not being able to look up these details. I can’t find out until I try (though “buy a smartphone” is not on the priority-list).
In this way, the Internet better allows people to pre-plan their trips. Yes, the more you pre-plan, the less time you will waste sitting behind the wheel, wondering what to do, and wandering. Some time spent wandering can be enjoyable and exciting, but a day filled with aimless wandering can be a tad frustrating in that it feels so passive. Yet, a lot of life in modern America feels frustratingly-passive. Hm…
That’s one of my biggest hang-ups about travel: so far, it has been a largely-passive activity for me. Sure, I like to look at cool stuff, but I don’t want to do only that. On a larger scale, I also don’t want to feel like some Emperor roaming around the Pleasure Garden that is the world, receiving fleeting and flighty pleasures from it yet contributing little in return. I would like to be of some use.
And do I always have to be so alone? Is it safe for someone like me (young, alone, and female) to reach out to strangers for company and hospitality? From the woods to city streets, being a solitary teenage girl hasn’t gotten me in trouble yet- no, not in the last two years of going anywhere and everywhere by myself, by foot and by car. But might trying to make friends for a day or even asking to stay at someone’s house be a step too far? Would it even be safe to sleep in my car by myself? I don’t know. Again: I can’t find out until I try. But you only have to screw up once…
Yet somehow, as always, I feel like I’d be fine. While life has gotten bad it has yet to completely and irrepairably fail me. Does life ever irreversibly fall apart on anyone prior to death? I don’t know. That might be up to subjective (one’s own) interpretation.
I’ve considered that if I were to travel long-term, I ought to keep at least one weapon of some sort in my car. It might be a paranoid, new-agey thought, but I can’t help but wonder if having a weapon lying around will magically attract danger to me. Again: I’ve never tried it before. Probably the more pressing question is whether I could bring myself to use it if I needed to. That’s something I ought to practice before embarking on a great adventure, eh?
And then there are all these oughts. All these things I ought to have and learn and do before I leave, so that I will be a ready-and-able traveler. Again, these concerns are not illegitimate, but it can be all too easy to pile up a list of pre-requisites so high you’ll never get going. It’s like trying to register for a Networking class.
One pre-requisite in addition to self-defense is money. It seems like a traveler could never have enough money. The more money you have to throw at the businesses you find along the way, the better. The more fun you can have and the more luxury you can secure. Well, and the more likely you are to survive. And pay for gas.
How much money does a traveler need to maintain his lifestyle, anyway? To at least eat and keep the car going? But how much non-monied fun can be had beyond food and fuel- especially if you aren’t in a particularly “outdoorsy” place (e.g. natural areas to explore, like mountains)? Well, if you just expand your horizons a tad, probably a lot more than you’d think.
Some other things I have to ask myself in regards to long-term travel: While travelling, what else could I reasonably pursue aside from travel in itself? How long should I stay in a place (probably as long as I want!)? How often should I bother with finding “actual” shelter? It might be tough to eat as well as I do now- will I be okay? How often will I need help from other people? Will all the sitting in my car destroy me? If my car gets stolen or damaged, am I screwed? Probably not, but the resulting series of events is interesting to consider.
ATM, PayPal, and other digital transactions should mean that most of my finances should be fine (unless I’m naïve); but if someone gives me a check, where will I cash it? My bills will be addressed to my current house, but how will I see them? Pooey, I don’t know the first thing about bills (though I doubt they’re too complex).
And the biggest, most important question: Bills aside, will I miss out by losing access to snail mail? … Nah. J
As I reflected on in The Operating System of the Mind, travel forces me to overcome fears that I normally cave into while at home. Asking people for help is one in particular. I suspect that striking up conversation with strangers may be next, though that sounds kind of mediocre and silly to say. Maybe there’s something beyond that I need to do. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
It’s not that it’s bad at my house. I get treated well. I have quite a bit of freedom, as you might be able to tell- perhaps more than most other kids around my age (though I think a lot of it has come from deliberately pushing the boundaries my parents set; their expectations have certainly been tighter in the past). I have a nice room to hang out in, a stove to cook on, and a fridge to keep my food. Sometimes the other humans are live here are nice to talk to, but usually I try to tune them out. But still, they’re tolerable.
No, nothing bad has happened at home that I need to run away from. But it’s too darn comfy here- so much so, sometimes, that it feels disgusting. I just feel like I just need to go. I know, I could just continue going to college and find an apartment nearby so that I have some space to breathe (in contrast to dorms). But do I really want to do that? I don’t think so. I never really did. Do I have to? I don’t know. Is it in my best interest to? Is it in your best interest for me to do so? The world’s? I guess that depends on what I would do with my education—which, directly, doesn’t seem like much at this point. Hehe.
But at the same time, it seems silly that I need to convince anyone that it would be okay for me to travel for a while. You know the motto: If you want to do something, just start doing it. It’s not that weird—plenty of people from plenty of age groups and backgrounds have done it. It’s not special. It’s not worthy of spitballs.
And, as I said before, I’ll probably be fine. I should just continue to think about it, lean into it by going on small trips, and steadily start going on longer, farther trips. I just return whenever- if ever- I am ready to. That’s it. No complaining needed there.
Yes, I’m aware there are many “I’s” in this article. Apart from the college/apartment paragraph, I don’t mean to be self-indulgent. I’m just reflecting on thoughts and concerns I suspect other people may have or eventually meet with- that’s all.
And I do not mean to do much complaining here, either. When I look at my wall of questions, I feel endlessly curious as to how I will go about answering them. Each is likely to take an adventure, for sure. That is invigorating to know. :)
What to Do from Here?
So what about yourself, my dear? What is the call to action you can take away from this?
Well, if you’re curious about travel, just start doing it. You really don’t have to go far at all: you just need to allow yourself to get out of town for most of a day and explore another place. Farther is better, of course, since you will likely be less tempted to resort to typical go-to places or to go home completely. But the way I see it so far, it’s largely about simply allowing yourself to be (relatively) unattached to a location for a while.
If this is new to you, you will probably come up against a good many blocks. However, removing yourself from your typical environment may in turn help to remove you from your typical behaviors. You don’t have to act the way you think you do at home; in fact, you probably can’t and shouldn’t. Those old behaviors may not be fun or useful. No worries, though: if you really want to grow, you probably will. It will not happen without effort, but happen it shall.
I think the point of travel is to better understand human existence. If travel has led me to ask the questions such as those in the first paragraph, the most prominent being, “What shall we do with this life?”, surely it can be a viable means of doing so.
Of course, you don’t have to put so much pressure on yourself. Some of our ancestors, like nomads, travelled quite a bit, but a multitude of others remained within a small radius for the whole of their lives. Neither has to be superior to the other.
In addition, you don’t always have to be thinking about the nature of existence and how you can improve yourself. These things tend to come about both as side products of and precursors to activity of all kinds. Travel, as well as life, can be a lot of fun. Learning is certainly a big part of the fun, but if you make it your one sole aim you may throw yourself on to an anhedonic treadmill, perhaps of a mental sort (in contrast to physiological, monotonous overtraining). If you aren’t constantly struggling to stay alive but you aren’t having fun either, then just what are you doing?
One more thing: I know the world isn’t always safe. I do wish I could speak better to this, because I seem to be a very lucky person (no stranger-danger, no major incidents). Whenever I’m lost and alone in any sense, I tend to find my way out soon enough. In addition, people have mostly been kind to me for my whole life.
I know this is not the case for everyone. For those who constantly live in real and imminent danger, I’m not sure that I can relate; I won’t try to right now. But for others who may have a similar background as me (middle/upper-middle class, reside in a relatively safe suburb), consider whether the distrust you bear is necessary. Sure, you should consider that any situation can turn dangerous. I always wonder whether a guy will turn on me and make things kersplode, even if that’s someone pouring corn oil in my gas tank before I get out of the car.
But this doesn’t mean you must avoid all such totally-unfamiliar situations entirely. How many times were you worried about danger, and went through the event totally unscathed? I know for me, this has been many. Just as all the money in the world cannot satisfy you, all the safety in the world cannot reassure you. A read of Building Trust with the Universe (if I may promote myself) might help you think about that one differently (though your thoughts are no more or less valid than mine).
To end on a nice note: if you’re not sure where you ought to be, it’s possible that you should try being all over the place. Who knows: perhaps “all places” is the place for you. If you’re not sure that you belong anywhere, you might just belong everywhere.
Isn’t that what we found out at the end of Lucy?!
Pavlina’s Travel articles: How to Achieve Travel Goals is a favorite of mine.
Read Related Articles: