Sep 18, 2021
9 mins read
Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not a typo, despite the insistence of auto-correct. If you're looking for that travel post that talks about the best places to eat with the locals on a Friday night, or which popular destinations make the best photo-ops, you might want to navigate away now. This is not that kind of post.
But if you're intrigued by the mental image you now have of a spool of thread running amok over a road atlas (or if Weezer’s “Sweater Song” is playing in your head!) then, by all means, read on.
This persistent little metaphor has been a growing theme over our first full year on the road, as the undulating miles weave a cord of new perspectives and realities through the tangles of my synapses. It goes something like this:
Untraveling leads to Unlearning
If you tallied up all of your experiences, you would likely find that you spend more of your life “unlearning” than learning. When something left a profound mark on your memory, it had an outcome contrary to what you expected, or it taught you something you were surprised to encounter.
We hit the pavement running and life happens very, very quickly as we slap-dash along, carrying all the baggage of things we were taught and things we thought we knew. A lot of what we learn early on is just what happened to be passed down to us in this fast-paced relay; enough to get us by, but quite unintentionally, not all quite right. And it’s ok to let go of some of this.
How much time we spend in the ensuing years “unlearning,” unpacking and examining principles and preconceptions, largely reshapes our world from the inside out, and massively affects our quality of life. As I make a more mindful effort traveling to unlearn, I've nicknamed these breadcrumbs "un-lessons."
UNLESSON #1: Go to Grow
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." Mark Twain
By leaving the familiarity of a place you know, you deconstruct your ideas about what is most important, how things work, and what people are like. This is a precious gift. Each change in your location prompts a new frame of reference that refreshes your point of view. For a curious mind that is eager to question everything, you find you can “average your thoughts out” a little better (and by extension, your thoughts about other people) through a diversity of places, perspectives, and conversations.
So, it really is best to try not to stay in one place too long, or play it too safe, or avoid the unknown. That's far riskier than it appears. The more opportunities you get to “unlearn” - to challenge and expand your understanding - the more depth and clarity you can apply to your life. Good stuff.
UNLESSON #2: Choosing quiet
These times are noisy. We are surrounded by voices - the people around us, the community chatter, news, advertising, politics, rants, and opinions (some of value and others not). This perpetual white noise can distract, disinform, and drown out everything important, and in our overstimulated society, the pressure to stay wholly engaged is strong.
Learning to disconnect from this constant input stream of sensational statements and dopamine dumps, and to embrace QUIET, allows our minds to focus clearly and confidently apart from the feedback loop.
Life on the road provides a uniquely balanced choreography with its built-in quiet times, from the ritual of setting up camp and the pauses between, to the windshield time on long drives, where you find valuable oases of personal space and unhurried calm.
Travel can be hectic, but it has its own necessities, and its own arch of progress, making it a great teacher of patience, and reminding us that being present is often more important than being busy. The frequent “changing of the channel" reassures us that it's important to detach sometimes.
UNLESSON #3: Get outside
"You should sit in Nature for 20 minutes a day in nature; unless you’re busy, then you should sit an hour." Zen saying
For many who travel often, the insatiable love of exploring the natural world is a driving force that grows stronger with time. The more of its wonders you see, the more of its cycles you are attuned to, the more you cultivate a humbling, grateful appreciation for the magical web of life we are part of.
Most of us spend far, far more time inside and plugged in than our bodies are compatible with, and now our modern lives are dependent on this. The craving to “get away” to some place peaceful in nature is not some idyllic fantasy, it’s a fundamental need. Isolating our ungrounded psyches from the real world of nature, and replacing this influence with a dangerously high dose of human & digital bombardment, is a recipe for toxic disaster.
Over eons of time, our human ancestors were wired to travel - we moved with the seasons, to find our food, to meet others, to exchange ideas & things of value. Making travel a way of life, the way it was for most of human history, rather than just a periodic detox from routine and a chance to see a famous natural attraction, causes cascading changes in the way we see our world and how we connect to it.
Whether your travels take you to the end of your driveway or the other side of the world, grab every chance to immerse yourself in the world that surrounds you; feel the atmosphere, sense the seasons, let your mind be captivated by the unique forms of life in a different place, observe the tiny connections that make the living world work. It's the cheapest therapy and the ultimate academy of unlearning.
UNLESSON #4: Choosing interactions
Isn’t it lonely, always being in a new place, away from people you know?
Our strongest and most valuable connections are often centered on just a handful of people. In an extrovert-oriented culture where the idea of personal boundaries is apparently a novel concept, the sum of our interactions often adds up to far less than the value of a few “sticky friends” who are just as present as if the thousands of miles between you didn’t exist. Your tribe is always with you, no matter how far you travel.
The loneliness of a being in a crowd, or in a superficial social circle - or the pangs of being misunderstood in an environment that never quite seems to line up with the way you see things - is always the sharpest kind. When you are challenged to re-learn being in your own space in a healthy way, you realize more the value of the companionship you choose, as well as the boundaries you set. How much of your social life is just habit or convenience, and how many of the people around you are the ones who will always be there through thick and thin?
I suspect that “quality over quantity” is a more natural way for many of us to seek out and build human connections; not in choreographed expectations and pressures of routine, but in the magic of temporary crossings. In this new space, this neutral territory of random encounters, we are surprised to find that more often than not, it is the better and more genuine side of human nature that is given the opportunity to show. After all, we’re all just fellow travelers passing through.
UNLESSON #5: Embracing uncertainty
“Our firmest convictions are apt to be the most suspect; they mark our limitations and our bounds. Life is a petty thing unless it is moved by the indomitable urge to extend its boundaries.” Jose Ortega y Gassett
In motion, our point of view reflects differently on what around us appears to be moving, versus what is still. Our evaluation of what we think is constant begins to change. Living on the road quickens and enhances this sensation of questioning what remains and what is changing.
It is an irony often lost to common distractions that nothing we tend to see as permanent is really as lasting as we think, and what we tend to lean on with the most certainty tends to be the most fragile.
Traveling or not, we might all view things differently if we dared to pop the “bubble” of consistency and stability, and thought of ourselves as the travelers we are, holding only what we can carry, racing through an episode of life on earth at thousands of miles per hour, inside a spinning galaxy, with nothing to show for it but the story we get to tell.
UNLESSON #6: Let that s**t go
Living on the road, one of the first lessons you learn is to scrutinize what you hold on to. It takes the challenge of simplifying to a much more realistic level!
How much is it worth to you to carry that around? Does it earn the space it takes to store, or the extra weight, or the thought it takes trying to figure out how to get to it when you want it? Do you need that? If you had to ask, you probably don’t. When you realize how few of those things you miss later on, that freedom begins to extend itself to other habits.
We all tend to carry more “baggage” than we could ever justify, simply because of what we insist we must carry around day after day. So many of our obligations are of our own choosing, or just in our head. The release from yet another needless tether becomes a continual delight as you free up more space, attention, and time for those that are are truly important.
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The writer who coined this phrase was an early aviator who flew thousands of hours of recon missions during WWI, and even survived a harrowing crash landing that stranded him in the Libyan Sahara. His vast experience “on the road” and his natural love of exploration nurtured his profoundly focused, thoughtful view of life - a potential side effect of a life of travel.
For many of us who love traveling, we aren’t in search of something we don’t have - we are just choosing the things that are worth holding on to.
Here’s to another year on the road. Keep unlearning! ✌️ 🌅