I’m writing this from a bus. 8 hours into a 24-hour journey from the Argentine Lake District to the heart of Patagonia. Sounds perfectly exotic and adventurous until you realise I’m on a fucking bus…for 24 hours. 20 minutes earlier it was a sauna on wheels, two small windows, broken air conditioning and dust roads. Nice. Now the sun is going down and I’m in the Goldilocks zone with a beautiful breeze in my face. Of course, it will be an ice box on wheels in a matter of hours. Look Mom! I’m travelling.
The Travel Image is Bullshit
We’re sold the image of the adventurous soul, the bearded, travel-worn man walking through a local market. The woman looking out across a vast mountain landscape while wearing a backpack. Travel is seen as the ultimate experience. 2 weeks, 2 months, 1 year. The more time you can spend on travel the more successful you are. The more exotic the location the greater ‘points’ you obtain.
When I dreamt of travel I conjured those images above. And for those lucky enough to obtain those dreams, well it can quickly descend into a pissing contest. Exactly with whom I’m not sure, but when I thought I’d take 3 months off I then realised from all the blogs that this was not enough time at all. My god, some people had been travelling for 3 years. When I thought of driving around Europe (my home continent) I was made to realise this wasn’t exotic enough, I needed to think bigger.
Let me get this point clear. I’m on a trip of a lifetime and loving every minute. I realise how privileged I am to be in this situation. I’m awestruck often and get lessons in modesty daily. But I don’t need to be in these exotic locations to have these feelings, I don’t have to be gone for months to finally ‘get it’. Travel (at least my definition of it), is so much simpler than that. The truth most people who travel won’t tell you is that all the spectacular things we experience, the interesting people we meet, most could have been enjoyed in our own country. And maybe even right on our own doorsteps.
My new definition of Travel
Earlier, while sweating my proverbial (and actual) balls off, I had no desire to write anything. Zero inspiration. Then I got some ideas for a book I want to write. Then I got the notion and the inclination to write this. What I realised is travel to me is a shock to the mind, it kick-starts my creativity, it’s a hard restart for my brain.
Travel is different for everybody. Insofar as people have different experiences, different thoughts and different conclusions. But travel is the same for everyone in what it changes. It resets the mind, allows you to look at things from a different perspective. It’s similar to meditation but possibly a more invigorating or shocking alternative. Where meditation is more relaxing, like letting the engine cool down, travel is more like hitting the engine with a spanner to get it going (I’m no mechanic obviously). Travel is shock meditation (is this a wanky name? It’s hard to tell, my brain has probably been jarred too much by all the rocks on this Flintstones road I’m on).
How Do I Shock Meditate?
Each to their own on this one, I’m not one to tell someone else how or where to travel. For me it involves weekends, getting on my bike or walking around the city I live in. Just for a couple of hours. I get a coffee somewhere new, walk a street I’ve never been on. The key for me is to take my time and look around at my surroundings more deliberately.
It’s OK to repeat the same things of course. Like going to the shops for the newspaper. Turn it into travel, talk to people if you can. Go a slightly different route to work when possible. Seasons change, weather changes, this is all refreshing for the mind. Listen to different music. Whatever, it’s so easy. I just catch myself zoning out and then try to pass more consciously through my surroundings (look around, try and spot things you haven’t before).
Aside from that, I save up for bigger trips, like the one I’m on now. But not everyone can do that (kids, debt and other things can understandably get in the way). A few points I want to add here. Firstly I think travel can be done for free every weekend, or days you have off. So debt should not be an excuse to not shock meditate (and in fact should be a reason you need to shock meditate). I’m not saying you can live in Costa Rica on $10 a day (because that’s a lot of bullshit), I mean free.
Secondly having kids should not be an excuse either. My brother has two kids. Every other weekend he takes them on what he calls “the adventure walk”. It’s a small path leading away from his house, through a wooded area, up to a hill. It takes 30 mins and the goal at the end is a packet of crisps and a drink (brought from home). They’ll never forget those walks. Never. And as for my brother. During that time he see’s the walk through the kids’ eyes, and it’s never the same. If that is not a type of travel I don’t know what is.
Bad health, mental or physical can drain motivation to do anything. It’s difficult to see the world in extra colour when we’re bedridden. But if you’re house bound you can sit in a new seat, change the scenery maybe, move a chair into an area you’ve never sat at before. Listening to some new music. Even reading about far flung places and looking at images can give you a new perspective. I’m not saying it will fix you or anything, and travel maybe the furthest thing from your mind, but it could be helpful. (I’m writing this when I’m perfectly healthy so maybe I should edit this after I’ve been sick.)
Why Do Shock Meditation?
The benefits of travel have been bandied about the internet for years. In my personal experience, my mental health is greatly affected by this. I do not in any way have mental issues (apart from a healthy dose of cynicism and mild narcissism) but I do get low motivation from time to time, or a little bit of overwhelm, like everyone I assume (and hope). I did this shock meditation at least once a week and it always allowed me to recharge my creative batteries and go into the rest of the day and the next week feeling pepped up. I cannot say the impact it will have on you but why not give it a shot.
In terms of physical health, it has been a massive boost for me. My preference for travel/shock meditation is to cycle my bike around the city or go on long walks (city or countryside) when I have the chance. While I’d struggle to measure the impact, I did go from being comfortably able to walk for 30 mins to 2 hours. And from comfortably being able to cycle for 1 hour to 3 hours. So my fitness has certainly improved in that regard.
Finally one of the main reasons and benefits of shock meditation for me is opportunity. I get all my new ideas in this frame of being. I’m most open to new opportunities when I’m shock meditating. I need to remember sometimes that opportunity doesn’t knock at your door, I’ve most likely missed many a chance because I was in the wrong frame of mind, or watching TV. So I need to get out there.
You’re a Hypocrite
All of the above is related to very simple travelling. But I’m now on a 6 month trip to South America. “So you’re saying travel is simple while you go on a jolly up around the world. Sounds hypocritical.”
I think simple travel as explained in this post can also be mixed with some good old-fashioned world travel when it’s an available option. But it’s not necessary. And I only realised this a month into my travels. I have other goals for this travel (such as learning to work from different locations so I don’t have to be tied down to a specific city or area) but below are the main benefits I get from this type of travel.
Organising a trip (any sort really, it doesn’t have to be of this magnitude) has multiple benefits for me. The happiness I garner from organising is quite frankly scary. This may not be your bag, but I assume you would at least look forward to a trip in advance. For me, it can be 6 months of happy thoughts (thinking about and planning my upcoming travel). The trip itself has all the aforementioned benefits of course, and in this case, it will last 6 months as well. And finally, there is the happiness I take from the memories created. This has a ridiculously long half-life. I still get giddy when I think of my childhood summer holidays to the countryside.
So one small piece of shock meditation can give many multiples of happiness. It stands to reason that larger pieces, such as 6 months travel, can greatly increase that further. I understand it is easy for me to say to others that they don’t need to travel while I’m actually doing exactly that. But I think it beats the normal blog attitude of ‘you must go <insert activity> in <insert exotic location> because I’ve done it, and it’s magical’. It’s also my honest opinion on the subject.
Feel free to comment, question and argue!
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