The Opposite of Travel
This essay appeared originally on the outdoor media site She-Explores.com.
This time last year, I was a few months into my first full-time internship in field that I care about. While I should have felt lucky, all I felt was stuck. I spent most of my free time planning an escape from the routine in which I found myself lodged. I applied to study abroad (for the third time in three years) and plotted over potential summer trips.
It’s not the first time I’ve sidestepped settling into a schedule using travel. After a childhood spent moving from country to country, my adolescent life seems to have been defined by how effectively I can avoid routine. I spent my college years bouncing between studying overseas and working internships. By the time I graduate this spring, I will have only spent four semesters as a full time student on my campus in Boston.
As graduation creeps closer, my old habits are dying hard. With nothing left to bind me to my city, the jobs I seek out are as far flung as they are different from one another. I still cringe a little at the thought of anything over a year long commitment. I daydream about packing a car full of everything I own and driving west.
Denver, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco: they all hold a fascination for me. I find myself thinking about what my life would be like there, wherever “there” is. Of course I’d have the right job, one that makes me hate Mondays just a little less. I’d go on adventurous trips every weekend and pick up interesting hobbies. And in these situations, I’m a mysteriously better version of myself, too.
As I finish out my time in a great city that I sometimes feel stuck in, I’ve been thinking a lot about travel’s much less interesting but incredibly important twin: staying put.
Staying put without getting stuck is an art, and not one I’m particularly good at. It’s inevitable that the opportunities and places that were once new and exciting become familiar, and then a little too familiar. You forget what was so new and fascinating, and start thinking about the next job or place that will definitely change your life. Five years ago, all I wanted was to be living in Boston and graduating from a great school. Now, deadlines and final exams make it easy to forget that I’m living out that dream every day.
Sometimes, moving somewhere new can be exactly what you need: an opportunity to recreate your life. More often than not, though, we carry the same dreary problems with us from place to place like that box of old notebooks and regrettable fashion choices we can never seem to throw out. Between preoccupation over situations that can’t be changed, worrying about problems that I haven’t even encountered yet or a tendency to get stuck in my own ways, I realized that I was letting months go by in a blur. It had nothing to do with where I was living and everything to do with how I was living.Since I sat in that cubicle a year ago feeling trapped, I have been figuring out how to change my life without changing locations. It’s the final stretch of my college experience, and I have never been good at final stretches. But with a little shift in perspective, I’ve begun to build a life from which I don’t feel the need to escape.
It started with being present as often as possible, in good and bad moments. Walking down the same streets I see every day, I stopped writing out to-do lists in my head and began to pay attention to the way the sky looks before an afternoon storm. Suddenly, moments that had once been lost to speed-walking and overthinking became some of the best parts of my day. Bringing myself back to the moment became a constant goal of mine, and still is. I began to notice what brought me clarity or contentedness, and what cluttered my life and brought me down. I realized that whatever was missing, whatever I needed from my days- I was going to have to go out and find for myself. Piece by piece, I began to do what I find myself doing when I travel, without going very far at all. I danced embarrassingly at concerts with friends, got up early to do yoga, left the city to spend weekends in the mountains, and signed up to go skydiving. More often than not, it wasn’t being stuck in one place that was holding me back, but the limitations I made up in my head. I learned to stop talking myself out of doing what makes my heart race. I decided to seek them out instead.
When you stop thinking about the next moment or the last, everyday life becomes much clearer. Do more of what you love, take note of what you don’t, and make the life that’s in your head a reality every single day. If you don’t, no one else will.
It hasn’t made me stop googling cute Seattle neighborhoods or eyeing one-way tickets to Costa Rica, but it’s made me work harder to see that I don’t need a plane ticket to enjoy my life. Just a few completely present moments a day, and a reminder that having the life I want is as simple as creating it: no matter where I am.
Screw waiting for Friday, the summer, your next trip. Do the things your imaginary better self would do. Live a life that makes stupid happy on a Tuesday.
“You know where I wanna be right now? Right here. Nowhere else. Not in the future, not in the past. This is what I worked for all my life, just live for the moment.”
– Yvon Chouinard