Tuesday 22 September 2015

Dear world, I miss you - 13 things I love about travelling

A confession, of sorts: a year ago, I returned to Australia after 18 months of no-fixed-address travelling and I haven't used my passport since. I’m ok with that from a “no impact” standpoint, but as a travel writer used to constant motion, it feels more than strange.

I hardly recognise myself
when I'm not travelling
This is the longest I’ve not-travelled in about 15 years. I’ve been grounded by choice, satisfying a yearning for a home, and I haven't been completely stationary: I’ve relocated from Australia’s largest city to northern NSW, I've explored my new surroundings a little and I’ve had a few trips within Australia.

Sometimes it's good to "stop"
(in Russian)

Still, I don't feel quite myself. 

“You’ve got itchy feet," a friend said to me the other day. "You need to get away.”

She's only partly right. I do need to get away, but I’m not just hankering for new sights or a different culture. 

I miss the "me" I am when I'm travelling, and I miss the travelling state of mind. I miss having my world view changed on a regular basis, being tossed around in a sea of new experiences, disappearing into a new place.

But a funny thing has been happening over the past year: by not-travelling, I've remembered what I most love about travel. That in its purest form it is not an escape from life, but a diving head-first into it. Being in a new place can wake us up to the world beyond our work-life balancing act, and clarify our place in it. At the same time, I believe you can take the spirit of travel with you wherever you go - even when that's nowhere at all. 

Like riding a bike,
you never forget how
to travel
Travel is just life in a different place, after all. And just as in life, it's not WHAT you do, it's HOW you do it. The joy of travel is less about where you go and more about how you feel when you're there.

You don't even have to wait until you get there. Travelling a lot, and not having a family to come home to, I've often felt more “at home" when away. Transience can be oddly comforting. Nothing lasts forever; when you understand that, hotel rooms and departure lounges aren't so different from our homes and driveways.

Still, not-travelling for so long, I’ve noticed my travel self getting restless. I love much about my new home town, not least the ability to converse and watch movies in my own language and understand the road signs. But a large part of me – the travelling me – is lying dormant, wondering what to do with the skills it has honed over the years.

So fellow travel-lovers, this post is for you. It’s an ode to travel with a twist, an invitation to reflect on what you love about travel and invite that into your life, wherever you are.

Because very few of us can be constant-travellers, and even the most nomadic among us come home eventually – even if it’s not to the place we set out from – if only to regroup, repack and plan the next episode of life’s adventure.

I give you: 13 things to love about travel, even when you're at home:

Simple me in a canoe in Canada
1. Freedom. Feeling free isn't the exclusive domain of the traveller, but being physically "away" makes it easier to shrug off everything familiar and relax into a simpler version of ourselves. And when we're at home, there are moments of freedom in even the busiest schedule; the trick is to catch them as they whiz by.

2. A sense of possibility. Whenever I board a plane headed for anywhere, I feel as if I'm stepping out of my small life and into the big world again. In a new place, new things can happen. Particularly when you have time on your hands, which can happen more often when you're away. For wherever plans are not tightly woven, the light of chance shines through. We can allow that in our home lives too, in the so-called real world. Try this: just for a day, accept whatever happens, trust life, expect nothing - and see how that feels.

Morning view, the Philippines
3. Simplicity. My favourite trips involve stripping life back to its essentials. This is one way travel can liberate us, by reminding us how little we really need. You don't need to carry your own pack or paddle a kayak; there's simplicity in a hotel where daily logistics are taken care of (no cooking, no cleaning!), leaving you free to experience each day.  

4. Offline time. Part of travel's simplicity comes from being out of touch and offline. Sure, free WiFi on the road can be useful, but spending too much time recording or sharing our experiences can make us miss the real thing unfolding right before us. The best thing about unplugging while away is that you have the perfect alibi for not keeping up with news, others' views and emails. "Oh, I missed that, must have been away..."

5. Time to think. Thinking and writing go together for me; when I have time to think, ideas land on me like butterflies, ready to be written down. Travel gives you the gift of do-nothing time, cleverly disguised as, say, waiting for a bus. Even if you don't want to write or create, do-nothing time can be a blessed relief for over-stimulated minds and hearts. 

Fun in the sun in the Philippines
6. Interacting with strangers. This one has a basis in science: behavioural researchers have found that interacting with people we don't know - say on the subway - makes us happier (here's a story about it in The New York Times). 

And when do we talk most to strangers? When we travel. We ask directions, we chat to people we don't know at cafes, we converse with guides. In fact, we don't even have to talk. A smile is worth a thousand words. And so much is communicated, in all cultures, without words. This is one thing I loved about living in Japan, feeling understood and learning to understand others before I'd learned a word of Japanese. We can do this at home too. Smile at the barista making your latte, or the deckhand on the ferry, connect with those around you. We're all in this together.

Man with mountain (Dhalagiri), Nepal
7. More outdoor time. Even when we're city-hopping on our travels, we're generally doing more walking than we do when we're at home, at our desks (except, of course, on those long-haul flights when all we do is sit...). Add a little cycle touring or trekking and you get the bonus of uplifting landscapes.

8. Learning. As a writer, it's my job to learn as much as I can about the places I visit, while I'm there. New words, new people, new ways of doing things - almost any kind of travel offers up new experiences of all kinds. Of course, advanced souls don't need new vistas, they can learn anywhere - without opening a book or Googling. As Marcel Proust famously said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." 

Fallen flower, Switzerland
9. Embracing ordinary. When you're far from the familiar, even a simple trip to the supermarket is a small adventure (another thing I learned in Japan). It's not all about the place; when we're away we often have a more open attitude, innocent and interested. We pay attention to details. What if we could do that anywhere, anytime? 

10. Taking pictures. Walking around with my camera - rather than just whipping out my iPhone when I see something interesting - always gets me in a travel frame of mind, reminding me to notice light and details and everyday beauty all around us. 

11. Feeling empowered. Real, unchaperoned travel throws us in the deep end every day. You have to quickly figure out how things work, how much things are worth in different currencies, where to stay and eat, which subway line will take you where you want to go. Decisions, challenges, small victories. Dealing with them all is a great confidence booster. 

Mongolian woman who welcomed
my friends and me into her ger
12. A sense of wonder and humanity. Boil it all down, and this is really why most of us travel: to remember that, despite what the 24-hour news cycle might tell us, the world is an amazing and mostly friendly place. Travel can restore our trust in life and other people. Interact with animals and you get to escape our humancentric world. They don't have to be wild elephants or whale sharks. As Eckart Tolle once said: “I have lived with several Zen masters – all of them cats.”

So there you have it, my ode to travel, written from my virtual armchair - which is soon to take off. That's #13: Anticipation. It's true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. By the time you read this, I'll be on my way to the Maldives for a work trip. And I can't wait. 


  1. Great post Lou! A beautiful reminder of the world and our place in it.

  2. Thought provoking post, Lou. You nailed it!
    Happy travels

  3. Nice words Lou, as I sit in Dubai coming back from lovely Morocco and Sardinia - refreshed by travel's riches

  4. Wonderful food for thought Lou-thank you! It was just lovely connecting with you again after all this time. Happy travels. Katherine xxx

  5. I love this post Lou! I'm sitting in a cafe in Venice Beach during an LAX stopover and made my way here by public transport rather than jumping in a cab - it's a little thing but provided such a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment people watching - the girl in a sparkly skirt with super cool skates, the boys who are probably skipping school but having a lot of fun...

    1. Thanks so much Ali, and thanks everyone for such positive feedback. Reminds me of the joy of writing from the heart and that words can connect us :-)