Alright. I know this sounds a bit far-fetched, but hear me out. Travelling can make you live a longer life. I’m not talking about this in the literal sense, of course. That is, unless by travelling, in a dance with fate, you avoid some tragic event back home; one that would otherwise show you an untimely death. But that’s not where I’m going here.
This is a happy post.
It’s All About Perception
Travel changes our perception of time; or at least our awareness to the passing of it. This idea was first brought to my attention through Chris Ryan’s podcast: Tangentially Speaking. Though not a travel podcast per se, Chris has done a ton of travelling. And he talks of it, and how it has impacted his life, regularly.
In one such episode, Chris mentions one of his trips through India. How at one point, while living on a guesthouse rooftop in Rajasthan, he was asked by another traveller how long he’d been staying. Initially, he figured two or three months. Though upon thinking for a second, he realized it had been less than one.
Although he had only been there for a few short weeks, to him it felt far longer.
When I first heard this, I immediately understood the phenomenon he was referring to. Kylee and I feel this with nearly every journey we take. And I believe that it’s caused not by the act of travel, but what you experience on the road.
It’s Anything but Mundane
Routine. Rhythm. Repetition. It’s what we do. We wake, we work, we eat, and we go to bed. It’s how we live our lives most of the time. Wake, work, eat, sleep; repeat.
Those precious hours between working and eating and sleeping, are typically filled by following the same pattern. We watch the same TV shows, walk the dog along the same route; we visit the same pub for an after-work pint.
Travel is anything but routine. And while it has its own unique rhythm, it’s rarely repetitive. Even in those cases where you return to a previous location, it’s likely things aren’t as you remember.
Experience Adds Life
The longest year of my life, perspectively speaking, was during our first trip abroad. Six months in Southeast Asia, followed by another six, while living in a car, as we crossed Australia.
It felt like a lifetime.
Aside from a few weeks in Oz when we’d stop for a few days and live in a campground, picking fruit to refill our dwindling bank accounts, everything was a new experience. Nearly every single day that year, from touching down in Tokyo, to blowing our last remaining dollars at Disneyland, was full of powerful new experiences.
Every new food we tasted; every tuk-tuk, waterfall, hike or hostel. Every sunburn, food poisoning, tropical disease or hangover. Every new friend we made along the way. Each of these events, regardless of significance, made our lives fuller.
During our recent time in Europe and Morocco, the time that passed the quickest was the one month in Essaouira where we stopped moving. We rented an apartment and worked. We had a schedule, a routine. The month disappeared in a blink.
It Isn’t Merely the Act of Travelling
I believe that with this constant stimulation of fresh experiences, our minds are constantly adapting. It’s not merely the act that causes this effect, but the way we process it. Rarely during your routine are you truly processing what’s taking place.
How many times have you driven to or from work and not remembered the drive? Think of how often Friday afternoon comes around and you find yourself saying “Holy shit, it’s already the weekend!”
You’re going through the motions; not thinking about them. Without that thought, that processing of information, your mind doesn’t truly acknowledge the moment. And because we typically view time — or at least the duration of the passing of time — in memories; the lack of significant moment-memories gives the illusion that time has passed quicker.
…I promise that I’m not high right now.
The more that you live in the moment, and truly recognize what you’re doing and what’s taking place around you, more time will feel to have passed.
“But Mark, time flies when you’re having fun. Isn’t travel fun?”
Of course it’s fun, I love travelling! It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. But there’s more to travel than just “being fun.”
Yes. Time flies when you’re having fun — but not because you’re having fun. When you’re having fun, you’re comfortable. You‘re with friends, or family, or even just yourself. You’re flowing, in a rhythm; distracted from the moments rather than acknowledging them. When you’re having fun, time appears to pass quickly because you’re enjoying yourself too much to stop and take it all in.
This is why the bad, or stressful, times seem to drag on. The first day of a new job, an illness, awaiting test results, family troubles. Seconds tick like minutes, minutes like hours, because we’re uncomfortable. We’re constantly being challenged in every moment and can’t stop thinking about our current situation.
We’re focused, and acknowledge each of these uncomfortable moments and we dwell on them; often making them into more than they are. The memories of one distressing day can be staggering. Our minds are filled with these moments, giving the feeling that more time has passed.
Experiences in Travel
In travel, we’re constantly exposed to a plethora of experience; good and bad. But nearly every moment is stimulating, one can’t help take in everything. Even the mundane can be life-altering.
Sitting on a train for 16 hours sounds mind-numbing. Yet when that train is rolling through the desert plains of Rajasthan, the sensory overload of the Indian railroad changes everything.
While road-tripping through Romania, each curve of the highway, every mountain, every castle, every horse-drawn wagon etched itself into our minds. Everything was new, different, distinct. While we spent two months in the country; I feel as though I spent years.
Even grocery shopping it’s an ever-changing experience. The sights and smells and sprawling madness of the Tlacolula Market in Mexico. Or trying to decipher the Russian alphabet, just to read ingredients, while travelling through Moldova. With each new country, region, or city, little details often make this otherwise mundane act a memorable event.
You Don’t Have to Travel
The unique experiences encountered while we travel are what cause this curious effect. But it isn’t limited to travel. Adding novelty to your life in any way can have the same outcome. Change your rhythm, break up your routine a little. It doesn’t take much to combat the life-stealing repetition.
Skip the Starbucks and pop into a new cafe for your morning fix. Drive an alternate route to work or take your dog to a different park. Pick up a new hobby, read a different book, learn how to play an instrument or speak another language. Do anything to break the cycle of your day-to-day existence and those moments will stick in your mind.
You’ll form fresh memories while exposing yourself to unfamiliar situations. Memories that will ultimately give the illusion that you’ve lived a longer life. And while it might not change your physical lifespan in the literal sense, your existence will be abundant.
The more foreign a destination, the less familiar the surroundings, and the more new experiences you take in — the longer, and more full your life will become.