By SV P
By Sarah Castellanos, From One Bird To Another www.fromonebirdtoanother.com
There’s an incredible piece by Alain de Botton called “On Anticipation,” that goes into depth about the ways in which we travel. In the piece, Botton compares the differences between anticipating travel and actually traveling. I think one of the things I want to talk about here connects deeply with what he says – not the where and how we travel, but why. We see so many people focused on how many countries they’ve gone to (guilty!) and what kind of travel they’re doing (whether it’s luxury travel, or backpacking, or hiking, etc.) and we don’t often talk about why we travel.
I think it’s easy to look at a picture, at a slice of a moment, a slice of the world, and want to swallow it whole. We live in a time in which instant gratification rules the satisfaction of our experiences, and I think it’s difficult to remember that there is a whole process that comes into the act of traveling, not just literally, but also historically and emotionally. I started traveling at the age of 19 and I remember caring little about why. I wanted to show the world that I had done it, I wanted to share the Instagram picture, fill the Facebook album, and post the regurgitated caption about ‘experiencing’ x culture. 46 countries later, I look back in shame. I neglected to acknowledge my privilege, I neglected to acknowledge my position as an observer (we will never truly be participants of a culture that isn’t our own), and I neglected to acknowledge the rarity of my experiences. I focused so much on where and on how many, that I lost sight of what travel was beginning to do for me.
There’s this whole idea in yoga about “breathing into your muscles” and I used to think this was really mumbo-jumbo zen talk. What it really means is that you have to relax the tension in your muscles in certain positions so that your muscles have the ability to actually stretch. When we put ourselves in uncomfortable positions, whether that’s literally moving our limbs, or physically being dropped into a new country, we have the tendency to tense up rather than let go and relax the muscle into accepting the pain. At the cost of making this all sound melodramatic, I urge you to breathe into your muscles and be present when you’re in a new place. I urge you to recognize that there is a historical story behind your ability to be somewhere, related to issues of colonization, race, imperialism, and capitalism. I urge you to recognize that travel is an experience in discovering yourself by recognizing what is different to you, and that this can be problematic. In essence, I urge you to question why you travel and to breathe into the discomfort of asking yourself these questions.
Alan de Botton touches on a very similar subject in this piece, I mentioned. He talks about eudaimonia, which is what the Greek referred to when they talked about human flourishing. I think that when we don’t travel with eudaimonia in mind, we have a greater possibility of stinting the limitless possible growth we can obtain from traveling. We have the privilege to do it, and the act of consuming it means nothing without self-awareness. Why are you there? What are you learning? What do you know about the people, the geography, the food, and the culture? And like the incredible, self-aware traveler, Anthony Bourdain once said… walk in someone else’s shoes the next time you go somewhere new.
Happy traveling, friends! Please feel free to read more in my blog at fromonebirdtoanother.com J