Wednesday, February 22, 2012

why travelling makes us happy

There's a special kind of travel that the wanderlust-y yearn for. It's the kind of travel that takes us to another place to live and to feel. It's the undergraduate semester you spent in Spain. Or the six-week summer program in Kenya. Maybe it's the year you taught English in Japan.

Those kind of experiences can be transforming, and blissful.

I was thinking about that the other day, about my own experiences abroad, and the great deal of happiness I felt being a stranger in a strange land.


Sure, some of that happiness is a result of the place...the beautiful sidewalk cafes, the fascinating history, the joie de vivre of the people.

But I think that's oversimplifying it. I think that these experiences force us to examine ourselves in certain ways that are amazingly fulfilling. Studying abroad exists because it is such a valuable and transforming experience for us during the time when we are voraciously trying to figure out who we are.


So I got to thinking about what has made me happy when I've traveled, and why it is I've never thought about replicating that feeling in my day-to-day life. And I realized, I can. For some reason, we put this strange limitation on our own growth when we have to deal with the day-to-day. But I don't think we need to.

Here are six ways I believe travelling makes us happy...and they can be managed without leaving your hometown.


1. Expect less of yourself
When we travel, we take off our responsible hats and put on our fun hats. It doesn't matter if we miss a trip to the gym, or leave the bed unmade in the morning. There are more important things to see and do! At home, it's so easy to pile on a bunch of silly, unimportant pressures every day. If we can learn to let a few of those things go (easier said than done), we start paying attention to the bigger, more important, more fun things there are to do.

2. Expect more of yourself
For as many things as I let go of when I travel, I take on many things as well. I remember my first bout of panicked, clenching homesickness in Berlin...and waking up alright again in the morning. I remember getting food sickness, and vomiting my guts out in the middle of the night, all alone, for the first time. I remember getting on a bike after 15 years off of them, riding through city traffic, and falling off...multiple times. When we travel, we're forced to rely on ourselves. And we're brave enough to try these challenging things, because that's part of the journey. But if we pay attention, we have the opportunity to do brave, challenging things every day. Taking on those challenges teaches us how very strong we actually are.

3. Do new things
Just get up, get out, and do it. I am so guilty of the opposite. I have plenty of days where I don't want to get dressed, or I just want to get errands done, or I insist on staying local for dinner. Did I ever do that when I traveled? Heck no! There are interesting and thrilling things to do and see in our own backyards, but we have to get out and do them.

4. Find the 'new' in old things
One of my favorite things to do in a strange place is go grocery shopping. Suddenly yogurt and crackers become so interesting. It's good practice to look at what we see every day with new eyes. How would your city and your stores and your apartment look to you if you didn't see them every day?

5. Simplify
I love my stuff. I love my dishes and my wardrobe and my television. But when you travel, you're limited to what's in your suitcase. Bills don't follow you around. Emails go unanswered for awhile. I'm not suggesting you take a total hiatus from your life, but I bet you could find some ways to make it simpler. Get rid of some junk that's weighing you down. Unsubscribe from a few mailing lists. Stop reading fifty blogs every day! (Guilty as charged.)

6. Be whoever you want
Being in a foreign place makes me feel so mysterious. No one knows who I am, and I feel fundamentally individual. It's hard to feel like a stranger in your home. We build comfortable structures around us that remind us who we are, but those structures shouldn't keep us from waking up every day and deciding who we want to be right then. Those are the decisions that lead us to the things that make us happy.


All that said, there is something about traveling that we cannot get from staying in one place. I just feel it in my heart. And one of the best things I've learned is that there is no "right time" or "too late" when it comes to travelling. Sometimes we are meant to be at home, and sometimes we are meant to fly. So when wanderlust hits, I try to remember that we have all our lives to live, and it will happen no matter where we are.

16 comments:

  1. Absolutely loved reading this post! And what you said at the end is so very true...we have time.
    xoxo

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  2. Those are all quite excellent points. For me, travel makes me a kinder person, as a sort of ambassador for Americans. It also really makes me appreciate the place that I come from. I've learned that travel doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't have to be a blast all the time - it's really the experiences that make it what it is

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  3. I really hope that NIck and I get to do some traveling before we have children. I'm planning on it, but like doesn't always happen the way we plan it! I think my favorite part of traveling, besides the obvious parts of getting to see new things, meet new people, etc. is the point you made about simplicity. I love living life without the internet (most of the time) and living without the "stuff" I have at home. It's a nice change from reality!

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  4. This post comes at a perfect time, as I leave for Paris in 2 weeks! It's nice to be reminded of the things that really matter, to slooowww down and just take it in! One of my favorite parts about travelling is the feeling of excitement leading up to the trip, spending all your waking moments imagining how FAB it's going to be :)

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  5. Hi! I found your blog through Jennifer's (of Simplistic Living) link to you today. This post made me instantly like you. It speaks directly to a goal I have in life - live like a tourist.

    Thanks for these great reminders and it's so nice to "meet" you.

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    1. Oh yay! Jenn is the sweetest! So glad you stopped by...hopping over to check out your space now!

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  6. I love this Clair! #1 is my favorite... It's so nice to leave the to-do list behind and simply enjoy!

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  7. Wow, I love this. As I was reading your reasons I was thinking to myself, "yep, uh huh, so right!" and it made me realize that if I can't travel the world on a weekend basis [which, well, I can't] the joy can be found right in my town. Such simple but fulfilling joy. Thanks friend!

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    Replies
    1. I should've known you would love this!

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  8. very inspiring, definitely like the whole 'nobody knows you and has any expectations individuality' idea and living in a big city, should work on enjoying this more intensely!

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  9. Lovely post Clair...did you study abroad in Germany? It's so true what you've said about recreating that appeal of travel at home. I've never thought about it quite like that. Letting go of some of the everyday pressures is great advice-we are all so guilty of doing this to ourselves, aren't we? And I too love grocery shopping abroad! It's one of my favorite things to do. All the different brands and things you can't find at home. I could get lost in those stores for hours. Haha. Great advice!

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    1. Yes, I did! Berlin has a special place in my heart.

      Glad you enjoyed!

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  10. I always graceless a lit inside my country and my city (I loved being a tourist in my own neighborhood) and I did the same when I moved here, but now that I'm kinds settling my life here I feel I got a little "lazy" to explore new places (I've been in Boston just twice since September when I moved to MA...I know... this is bad). So thank you for remind me about the pleasures of travelling, I miss being a tourist...
    Btw I love Berlin also :)

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  11. Gee, sometimes the auto correct thing on my kindle gets crazy! Graceless? hehehe I meant traveled... and lit? I have no idea what I meant... :/

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  12. Love this post, Clair. Makes me want to travel even more than usual. Paris has been calling me for a couple of years now, just waiting for it to send me the money.

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Thanks for making me smile. =)