How travel helps make us our best selves

Hey, remember traveling? It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it?

Kala sips champagne in Barcelona

Some of us have had the opportunity to travel a bit in the past few weeks and months, while others have opted to remain cautious and keep their feet on solid ground. In all this pandemic talk about how we’ve changed, grown, and adapted to our surroundings over the past year (working at home, forging new business ventures, remaining as sane as we possibly can, gaining new skills and taking on new hobbies), we must not forget to remember how much change happens simply the moment we step into another world. I have often wondered how travel helps us become our best version of ourselves.

A particular moment sticks out to me when I think about how much I learn from traveling.

I took a trip to Portugal in 2014 with my then-boyfriend, and I have the strongest memory of being in Lisbon and completing one of  the most quotidien activities ever: getting on a bus. Where the bus was going I have no idea, but I remember watching how people got on the bus, where they put their fare money, how they greeted one another (or didn’t) and trying to listen for a word or two to indicate what might be the thing you say to the bus driver as you get on the bus. I remember watching also to see how people crossed the road (did they jaywalk or not?), how they ordered their food at restaurants, whether they shook hands or kissed each other on the cheeks, and always trying to figure out if I could make anything of what I was hearing in a conversation. (P.S. Portguguese from Portugal is really hard to understand… even if you speak fluent Spanish and understand French and Italian, as I do. I did better with my German than my Spanish – go figure!)

I remember on that trip feeling so completely alive, so aware of everything around me, so open. My ears heard more, my eyes saw more, my nose smelled more… all in an attempt to help me understand the culture and daily activities of the people living in whose country I was now staying. This trip happened when the seeds of Five Senses Tastings had been sown but before I had taken the leap into full-time entrepreneurship. I look back on that experience as one where I became acutely aware of just how much our senses – the specificity with which we, as humans, can sense the world around us – help us navigate the places we are and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Our senses are the only way we take in information, and therefore, to be deeply connected to somewhere – or someone – we must allow our senses to get down and dirty, get in all the crevices, and teach us.

Travel, to me, is the great un-doer.

It undoes all that is known to us. It asks us to free ourselves from the familiar, the usual, the rote. It asks us to trust that where we are and what we are experiencing will enrich us but only if we allow ourselves to be so enriched. I guess this is why I’ve always been so baffled by travelers who seek out Starbucks or McDonald’s when in Accra or Adelaide. Of course, the familiar is, well, familiar: we know what we’re going to get. But isn’t unfamiliarity, the not-knowing the very reasons we leave our homes and embark on travel in the first place? 

Many a wise (and probably not so wise) person has reminded us that experiences matter far more than stuff in the long term.

I wrote about that a while back, too, so I guess that makes me one of them? The phone with which we take the picture that reminds us of one of the best days of our life is merely the device which captures that memory. The memory – hopefully – lives on inside us forever. Those memories are solidified through the loving attention, or really the permission we give our senses to “feel” it all, so to speak. The more we slowly look around, the more we take the time to digest the flavors and smells that come at us, the more we tune our ears to the sounds around us, the deeper our connection with a place will become. Is this perhaps something we could attempt to implement in our own daily lives, right here, right now? 

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