One day I deliberately missed the 8am train and caught the 8.15am instead. It was a small act of rebellion against a culture of efficiency and routine. I reveled in my lateness, and so my journey that day was more memorable than most.
We travel for similar reasons; to make ordinary days stand out in memory; to ensure that life isn’t just one long blur. But many of us sacrifice much in our daily lives to afford to travel. We order the $12 pizza over the $35 Lobster Frittata; we take the bus in the rain over catching a cab. And then, we book the tickets, select the hotels and throw thousands of our well-earned savings into travel. Here we are in photographs wearing exotic garbs, drinking Turkish tea, and smiling with long-lost locals. We’re beaming happy like prison escapees, recording every moment as though every precious second counts. And it does.
There are many travel guides on how to break free of the grid of everyday life. In Vagabonding, An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, Rolf Potts advises long, drawn out travel over short-stints, what he likes to term vagabonding. “Vagabonding involves taking an extended time-out from your normal life,” he writes. Six weeks, four months, two years or more if you can manage it.
In recent years, travelling companies have met our desire for ‘abnormal life’ by theming travel - cycling, food, astronomy, urban adventures, philosophy and historic tours. A particularly hot market is ‘spiritual tourism’; short-stays in monasteries, abbeys, and convents, or intensive meditation retreats in Buddhist temples. People pay exorbitant sums to escape their ‘normal life’ and routine, even if this involves ‘breathing’ into a blank wall and eating rice gruel. If it’s not home, then it’s worth paying for.
Potts believes that travel makes us take an interest in people and places, to look and learn. Most importantly, he says, travel forces us to use our precious time more wisely. “Everything you see is new and emotionally affecting, basic tasks like eating and sleeping take on a heightened significance and entertainment can be found in the simplest curiosities and novelties,” he writes.
But must one literally leave home to travel? Or can these benefits of travel, that we sacrifice so much for financially, be acquired in other ways. Sixteenth century French philosopher Count Xavier de Maistre penned a diary about his travels, which he indulged in for 42 bountiful days. “The interesting observations I have made, and the never-ceasing pleasure I have experienced upon the road,” writes De Maistre, “have excited a wish to make my travels public,” he wrote, which he did in Journal Round My Room. You see, the French philosopher travelled for 42 days without leaving his bedroom, proclaiming it a “new method of travelling” independent of age, location, character, and fortune. “It costs nothing!” he excitedly declared, as he observes in lavish detail the elm-trees before his window, the twittering of the swallows, the virtues of his faithful dog, and the artworks that line his walls. “I love to enjoy these happy moments,” he sings, “and prolong as far as possible the pleasure I experience whilst lying rapt in meditation in the soft warmth of my bed.”
If travel is about breaking routine, using our time more wisely, and learning to see again, then could the spirit of travel be subsumed in mundane goings on of ordinary life? What if ‘normal life’ could become an adventure? Each day an intrepid discovery of delights. Indeed, why can’t we set out to acquire a new language from home; listen to foreign music beats; cook exotic dishes, and live more sparsely by packing up the house. One could journal observations in a diary; take an interest in locals, the postwoman, the barrister (Where are they from? What do they like doing with their time? Do they have children?); One needn’t take a long-haul flight to visit local historic sites, or read up on local history.
As naturalist John Muir once said about travel; all one needs to get ready for an expedition is to “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence”. It’s true; the spirit of home travel requires no planning, no savings, and the best part about it is that the holiday doesn’t have to come to an end.
From Issue 13, Turkey, Womankind, purchase here