Can We Be Travellers In Our Own Country?

Addicted to being abroad and spreading her love of Latin America through El Nomad (www.elnomad.org)

Approx 6 minute reading time

Video directed and produced by Sophie Saville for The Vocal.


Returning home from a trip abroad is the only shitty part about leaving in the first place. Hypothetically, it’s unavoidable, and to an extent that’s true.

We will (albeit sudden death) return home at some point.

However, what if I was to tell you there are specific neurological shifts that are happening in your brain while travelling? Even better than that, there are practical and viable ways to trigger these thought patterns without actually being in a foreign country?

You’ve heard it before, but important things happen to us when we’re abroad. We do cool things like learning & growing. We’re thoughtful, open-minded and aware. We like new things (and not just shiny ones) and we say stuff like “I’ll hike to an altitude of 5,500 metres. Tomorrow? Sure – it’s not that high.”

Then, we come home.

We pack away this mentality along with the rest of our things, and settle back into “real life”. Re-uniting with old habits, nurturing stale friendships and accepting the general shade of fluorescent (#officelyf), that typically fills up everyday life.

Entirely unimpressed by this idea, we relentlessly interrogated friends and family on what it truly means to travel.

Three simple concepts emerged: time, distance and difference.

We tore them apart, searching (somewhat desperately) for a way we could become “travellers” in our own country.

Time

When I travel… I have more time to think, reflect and just do anything I want

Whether it’s thinking, reflecting or just doing really fun stuff, it’s the concept of time that matters when travelling. We live by the belief that travel gives us more time, unconsciously assuming that being at home gives us less time.

There we have it, a self-constructed brick wall.

When we travel, we ask ourselves what it is we want to do with our day. When we’re at home, we tell ourselves what we have to do with our day.

In a society that glorifies manic busyness, it can be difficult to shift our mentality. However, what we do & do not do with our time should directly reflect our priorities – travelling or otherwise.

Simple steps:

  1. Begin by working out how you’re actually spending your time. This app tracks the way you divvy up your day (hint: “work” isn’t descriptive – be specific). Pop your results in a pie chart and see how appealing your life looks to you.
  2. Know what changes you want to make. Nut out where you want to put less time and where you want to put more. Hell, think about what you give no time to that you’ve always wished you would.

Baby steps. Give yourself an annual goal and work towards it by adding and subtracting 15-minute time frames to the places that need it most. 15 minutes doing something you love each day is the equivalent of around 8 full days a year. Not a bad start.

Distance

When I travel… Anything feels possible. Every day I’m inspired to challenge myself & feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Studies show the way being at home within our recurring, everyday environments,  restricts our ability to innovatively problem solve, engage abstract thoughts and entertain possibilities. It is closeness (physical, temporal & even emotional) that blocks essential neuro-pathways in our brain. Our imagination is bound by the same set of associations we’ve always had.

Jonah Lehrer (Trained Neurologist/brain geek dude) describes it as being “shackled by the familiar”.

Studies support this idea, revealing that we’re more likely to think of creative solutions to problems that are far away, rather than close by.

So, when you yell a giant “Fuck this, I’m outta here” and jet set abroad, you experience a shift in perception that is actually a neurological response to distance.

Fuck this I'm going to Narnia

It is the simple act of being physically away from where you normally spend your time that triggers new associations and new possibilities.

You’re empowered to do that which you never thought you could.

How can we encourage the abstract thought & possibilities stimulated by travel while at home?

Simple steps:

  1. It’s too easy to mechanically shift between our essential environments, in most cases, work and home. To break this habit, make a list of all the new places you’ve been wanting to visit but haven’t yet been. Restaurants, parks, suburbs, farms, friends’ houses, theatres, galleries, trails, mountains. Extra points for creative choices.  
  2. Start by ticking them off the list. One new place a fortnight, then see if you can make it one a week.
  3. Mix it up by giving yourself challenges. How many new places can you go in any one week? Break your record.

Difference

I travel to find others. Meet new people, try new foods & explore new places

Being somewhere totally unfamiliar is like having a blank canvas. The place is yet to be filled with the things that make up life.

People, memories, routines and associations.

As a result, we want to do everything and anything, soaking up all that this new place offers.

In these scenarios, our mind is more open to what we have in front of us. We look at things freshly, without any prior assumptions or judgement lurking in the background. Typically, we’re better at taking things for what they are and people for who they are.

Take for example that really, really great guy you met in Colombia. 30, from the Netherlands, travelling the world and unsure of what he wants to do with the rest of his life. He’s had a few unsuccessful relationships and a series of “meh” jobs.

When you’re travelling, you really only care about who he is and maybe where he’s going next (because you want to go with him).

When you go back home, you tend to ask different questions.

“No girlfriend? Wife? He doesn’t even know what he wants to do with his life? Really? Isn’t he 30? I mean, he’s not really “young” anymore.”

How can we bring back this fresh perspective and open-minded mentality to our life at home?

Simple steps:

  1. Meet people beyond your regular circle. Getting involved in couchsurfing and having exotic strangers from interesting places stay one or two nights on your free couch brings back perspective and shows invaluable support for the travelling community.
  2. Ask more questions. Have you noticed that while abroad, the biggest questions we have begin with “why?” We’re desperate to learn more about where we’re going so why not keep learning about where we come from?
  3. Get involved in a new community that you typically wouldn’t identify with. If you’re sporty, go to an artsy class. Workshop have some great creative choices and meetup makes it easy to access a new community.

By breaking down three concepts; time, distance & difference, we begin to understand why being abroad is so ridiculously fantastic and why it feels hard to come home.

The act of travel unconsciously sets off creative and inspired brain movements that can be more difficult to trigger at home. However, with simple, conscious steps (like those listed above), it is plausible to consciously rewire our brain.

However, don’t take my word for it. Get the answers for yourself.

What’s your verdict – is it possible to be travellers in our own country?