According to some of my Instagram followers, I "travel all the time." Which is somewhat true. I travel a few months per year -- and that is enough for me. During these adventures, I sometimes meet full-time travelers...
And I don't understand them. To me, traveling full-time seems like it would be miserable.
To me, the common-ish belief that traveling all the time brings real happiness reflects a misconception about what "real happiness" is.
Happiness isn't just about having fun. It's also about finding and creating meaning. It’s fun to take and absorb and do… but how can one feel fully satisfied without a sense of creating and giving back?
Moreover, if you need to travel to feel excitement and wonder, you may need to develop your mindfulness, curiosity, and playfulness skills.
Let me break this down into a few parts.
1. “The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust
One of the reasons I’m so happy is that I try to stay in the travel mindset, even when I’m at home. As I wrote in Life Hack: Do What You Do When You Travel While You're At Home:
Many people will go abroad to have a wonderful adventure. They will put effort into seeing everything and meeting everyone. They'll spend time researching opportunities, sights and activities near them. They'll be spontaneous, excitable and down for anything...
There is no good reason that a drive through Bali:
OMG, I found where the marigolds come from!
needs to be any more exciting than the “boring” drive to your parents house:
Fun fact: the place I took this photo is literally YOLO.
Or a day trip to a local attraction:
There’s no reason that the people who live in or near your hometown are any less interesting or worth talking and sharing perspectives with than someone you meet in the Philippines. There's no reason local forests, attractions and other destinations aren't just as exciting as the ones people travel around the world to see.
IN FACT! You may live a short drive from an attraction people on the other side of the world travel around the world to see! (As I wrote in 8 Reasons to Spend MORE, Not LESS, Money, I'm always surprised by how many San Francisco residents have never been to Alcatraz.)
The differences are more obvious when you travel abroad, sure.
But if your eyes are open and your mind is hungry, you’ll spot the differences. You’ll revel in the beauty. And you’ll always be curious, happy, and engaged, whether you’re on the road or back home.
One author who really turned me on to this way of thinking is Kate Fox, author of Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behavior. As an undergrad, when I told my friends I was going to study abroad at Oxford... they almost seemed disappointed. "You're so adventurous, Eva," they'd say. "I just thought you'd go someplace more... exotic."
But perusing (which -- real quick, and contrary to popular belief -- means, "reading or examining thoroughly, carefully or at length," not, "skimming") Watching the English, I realized that with a curious, attentive, and hungry set of eyes, you might notice things about other people that they themselves have never noticed.
Even when they have the same skin color and speak the same language as you.
2. That said, travel is a priority for me.
I love traveling. That’s why I make time to do it every year. I don’t do it because I’m looking for a way to be happy. I’m already happy. I’m just looking to learn, expand, and grow.
I do it because I love experiencing new foods, music, biodiversity, and cultures.
And, more depressingly, I want to see the manta rays and the whale sharks before they’re all dead. I want to hike in the jungles before they’re gone. I want to surf with turtles and dolphins while I still can.
During travel, I can do things I can't normally do. I can do the exact same things I do at home... but somehow, they're completely different. And, yes, Those differences in the people and the environment and the culture are a lot easier to spot.
Travel is an important an enriching part of my life...
3. BUT I DON’T NEED IT.
Traveling contributes to my happiness. But even if I could never leave the good ol' USA again, I would still be happy.
I would still find ways to create, interact, and have fun. I’d continue with my kitesurfing lessons. I’d hike more of the hundreds of trails I’ve never hiked before -- did you know that there are buffalo in some places in California? (They're leftover from the shooting of old Western movies.)
Cataina Island, CA. You're supposed to give wide berth -- "especially while menstruating." I also heard the menstruation thing about Komodo dragons in Indonesia, and have always wondered if it's actually true...
I’d learn how to cook foods from around the world. I’d write songs -- or at the very least, play at open mics and rock out at karaoke.
I’d join a basketball team and a frisbee league. Or maybe even a rowing team! Who knows?!
I'd still be playful and goofy -- just, instead of doing charades to communicate in a language I don't speak, maybe I'd play stickball in a dry lakebed.
Don't have an outfielder? Try a German Shepherd.
The point is, just because you're not traveling, doesn't mean you can't keep having adventures, trying new things, having fun, and seeing the world with a new set of eyes. It doesn't mean the world has to stop taking your breath away. You can still feel like ou're traveling, even when you're not.
Because it’s true what they say: boring people lead boring lives. But! It’s also true that playfulness, mindfulness, and curiosity are all skills. If you don’t have them now, you can learn them. (See also: Playfulness Isn't a Trait. It's a Skill. And If You're a Millennial, You Probably Never Learned to Play.)
4. “Happiness” doesn’t just mean “having fun.” People also need meaning and purpose.
Humans didn’t evolve to just have fun. People who only wanted to have fun died, and they don't exist anymore. Throughout our whole history, there has been a strong selective pressure to crave lasting connections (whoever said sex is more important than love didn’t understand human evolution), feel extremely sensitive to loneliness, and strive to achieve and build.
Which is why “having fun” is only one small part of being happy.
Yes, we all need a way to blow off steam. We all need exercise. We all want to do things that make us smile.
But that is not all we need.
So, no. Travel, on its own, won’t bring you real happiness. Unless you can connect your fun and adventures with a higher purpose in your life, eventually it will start to feel hollow and repetitive and meaningless.
And remember: too many photos like this:
I know, right? It's hard to believe you could want more than this...
Could mean you'll never have any photos like this:
Matrimonial bubble blowing with about 20 cousins and one of the coolest aunts in the world!
5. I think that travel is one of the best ways to learn certain life skills, including curiosity, playfulness, and presence.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to “teach” playfulness…
And I think that travel is one of the best ways to do it. When you get off that plane, your mind is on. You’re open to opportunities and activities you’d’ve never tried at home. Everyone has a story to tell. Every trip to the market is a possible adventure.
As I wrote recently in 7 Ways I'm WAY Healthier When I Travel Than When I'm At Home:
When you travel, your eyes are wide open and hungry all the time. Everything you see out of the bus window is foreign, exciting, and worth photographing.
So if you’re looking for happiness, if you're trying to become more adaptive or playful or mindful or curious, I say, GO! Go now! Travel for as long as you can! But pay attention to the way you look at the world while you’re doing it… and make a conscious effort to bring that attitude home with you.
Never again will your life feel boring or routine.
Because who says this:
Has to be any more meaningful or relaxing or beautiful than this:
FWIW, I think rivers are WAY underrated... But they are also very noisy.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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