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November 11, 2012 / A Mindful Traveler

Perpetual Travel? Perpetual Meditation? (Part 2)

This post stands on its own but reading  Part 1  first will deepen your understanding of it.

It wasn’t until I began traveling independently myself that I even became aware of people involved in perpetual travel.  I suppose this isn’t surprising since in those days digital nomadism hadn’t yet become a lifestyle choice.   Much as meditators speak of retreats and some meditation centers offer refuges, many people, myself included, thought of such travel as an escape from staying put rather than a positive life choice.

Long-term travel has its own challenges, besides the obvious financial constraint, which the incomparable Nomadic Matt has noted and these challenges are among the factors that led him to  end his five year sojourn.  None of this should be taken denigrate this movement, epitomized by the equally original Wandering Earl whom I would describe as a nomad from the pre-digital age who adopted and harnessed technology to further his mobile lifestyle.  However Nomadic Matt’s list does implicitly raise some of the ways in which perpetual travel is not necessarily consistent with all the reasons I enjoy traveling, and thus why have preferred to be a happily employed expatriate who travels frequently rather than a full-fledged nomad.

I began to travel independently, with friends, while in college.  In doing so, I hoped to deepen my knowledge of the history of Europe, which was both the subject matter and location of my undergraduate studies.  After graduation, I found it more challenging to find travel partners and so began planning solo independent trips. I would eagerly ask others how many days I should allocate to see certain places.  I swiftly learned that given my propensities for moving quickly and willingness to focus on seeing sights with the efficiency (and obsession) of a student cramming for an exam I could lower the number of days I spent in particular places… and thus visit more locations.

I saw a lot (and probably learned enough to teach a course on using European public transportation) and have the photographs to prove it, but I actually didn’t really see much at all.  Once I began traveling to less developed countries, further flung destinations and less reliable transportation and information compelled me to actually try to understand the places I was visiting.  I began to seek to see fewer places in more depth.  Instead of taking the conventional wisdom and subtracting days, I would add them.  I began to focus on being places, not seeing places.  I supposedly I’d begun to practice slow travel.

Perhaps my most transformative experience in this regard was on Easter Island, which the flight schedule compelled you back then to visit for one week, four days, or three days.  Most people whom I spoke to regarded four days as adequate, but given the considerable fixed cost of flying (even at low season fares) I chose to spend a week there.  I visited in May, the rainiest month of the year, and every day brought a downpour of some kind.  This frustrated me as every sight save one was outdoors, but compelled me to appreciate the island’s isolation and its vulnerability to natural forces to a greater extent than I otherwise would have.  My experience was nothing compared to that of the residents, many of whom in the past had to save for years for a flight to the mainland.

How does this this connect with meditation?  Even within a meditation retreat, participants often spend a considerable amount of time doing things other than meditation, such as chores or eating.  They do these things mindfully, with the intention of bringing this knowledge and awareness back to their daily lives (or “lives in the world”).  Returning to travel, I find that its value to me has been to bring the things I’ve learned and flexibility I’ve developed to my daily life, as I do with meditation.   It is that knowledge and the way it intersects with meditation that I hope to share with you.  I welcome your comments and emails for the same reason.

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