It’s More Than You Know.
~New York, NY
One of the upsides of travelling constantly is the confidence you develop in going through the process. TSA security? Forget about it–I’m such a pro. It’s probably embarrassing for everyone else, how good I am at it. I never arrive more than 5 minutes before my flight, because that’s all the time I need. Trust me.
I know about taking off your shoes and your belt. Nothing in your pockets, not even a balled up tissue, OK? And I know that you have to put your hands up in the body scanner-thing, and then wait before the agent says you’re clear. You have to wait. There’s a little screen that indicates whether you’re threatening or not. They don’t have to tell me. I just know. Really. Sometimes I leave a little scrap of paper in my pocket just to see if it really works. It usually does.
I’m really good at boarding, too. No nonsense for this guy — I know exactly where my seat is before I even think about getting on the damn plane, and then that roller bag is–bam!--up in the overhead bin about 1 second after I arrive at my row. I’m in my seat about .05-.07 seconds after that, thus allowing traffic to keep flowing by me. I never check bags, but that’s a story for another time. The point is, if someone from Delta was grading each passenger on how they boarded the plane, I would get an A+, every time. Simple as that.
But there’s another side to travelling constantly that actually makes me less confident. It goes a little like this: the more exposure you have to foreign people and places, the more you realize how woefully inadequate your own set of knowledge and information is in the grand scheme of things. You start to see your bias, and how it has, in a way, prevented you from seeing certain truths in the world. You being to learn, slowly, how little you really know. Cue the fans of Dunning-Kruger.
Here’s a hot take: The places we visit and the people we meet are, repeat after me, SO MUCH MORE than what we experience there. Never, ever forget this. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself when travelling. The reflex for many of us is to take our anecdotal experience in, say, Rome, and then project it unto all things Italian henceforth. This reflex does not just apply to Americans visiting foreign, far-away, bamboogily-speaking places. When people from the Boston visit New York City, they do the same thing. And vice versa. Your trip and the place you visited become, in your mind, the same thing.
Obviously, this is wrong. At worst, it’s dangerous. At best, it’s arrogant. That place existed before you ever even heard of it, and will continue to do so long after you have left. But this bias is real, and works to undermine the true value that comes from travel, which is being able to appreciate an alternative perspective.
So what is the solution, then? To try to be a faceless, personality-void sponge, bent on absorbing as much local gusto as possible? No. In my opinion, you’re better off being an authentic version of yourself, who just thinks a little more carefully before they open their mouths, asks lots of questions, and uses the experience as an opportunity to inflect inward, not outward.
As counter-intuitive as it might sound, try focusing on yourself in a newfound place. How are you reacting to the environment, to the people, to all of the new and exotic offerings, and, more importantly why is this your reaction? Are you mad, sad, frustrated, unimpressed, annoyed, irked, happy, content, joyous, enthralled, bewildered?? OK, WHY? Asking yourself this might be the key to making your travel a revelatory experience–one where you take away more than you brought with you. Make it about you, ask yourself why, and you might stumble upon answers that, at least from your own perspective, explain the differences you see between yourself and these “other” people around world.
So, the twist is that you actually use travel to learn more about yourself and about where you came from. You learn about things and concepts you 100% took for granted. This, to me, is what makes it all so fascinating and worthwhile. It’s a perspective you never could have achieved from staying put. So, travel on.