I don’t go on vacation to rest. Here is why.
Sometimes people confuse travel with the odd privilege of doing nothing.
As I see it, there are two types of trips: those planned to rest, which generally involves going to places that I know for a few days; and those planned to grow, which demand me to be a hundred percent for a decent period of time to make the most of the trip. The latter are exhausting. And also my favorites.
I can’t think about wasting all the summer to be sprawled in a place that I know. I’d end up waking up late and spending those days living in slow motion, waiting for the next moment to eat an ice cream or crawl under a beach umbrella. And as lazy as I can be, I know that the last day I’ll be whining because I didn’t use my spare time carefully.
For me, traveling is usually an intense exercise since the day I choose the destination until the moment I set my foot back at home. Over the years I’ve read a lot of studies on the subject and it’s astonishing how much understanding we have now about the influence of mixing ourselves in the unexplored.
I’m lucky enough to have a mother who taught me the importance of being a traveler from a very young age –in fact, she was a flight attendant during the 70’s and 80's–. And yet it amazes me and also makes me laugh every time I listen to my father and some other people’s comments: “Did you just arrive back from holidays and you’re already tired? That’s mental!” For them, traveling is simple: forget routine for a few days, relax and stop thinking about the tedious (I guess it doesn’t sound that bad now).
The only times I clearly perceive comprehension is when I say I’m tired of taking airplanes. I can see pity and compassion in their eyes, trying to figure out how do I get to squeeze my 1.83m self into an economy class seat (you don’t want to see me sleeping there). But the tiredness comes from afar, and most of the time it’s already there before leaving home dragging my suitcase.
Things that I learned in the process of traveling.
My mother always told me about the amazing benefits and learnings of traveling. Like realizing that I always wear the same four neutral tee shirts because those are the ones I want to shove in my 55x40x20 suitcase, that I’m too tall to travel this world in airplanes, buses, trains and the subway in Japan, or that I always end up using every Compeed product I have. I also keep my eyes on the universal objects, codes or gestures that work for everyone. And how to be “set up” within a society makes you find different solutions to common problems. These little things fascinate me the most.
For instance, on my last trip to Japan, I discovered that they don’t have clothes hangers, but they usually have hooks with hangers on the wall so that everyone can hang their jackets.
Another thing that surprised me was the umbrella parking. There are so much people living in Tokyo that they had to create a whole system to leave their umbrellas locked in the entrance. Super clever!
Something I already knew before going but turned out to be super useful was the plastic food. Not just because I couldn’t read any kanji, but because I could understand the size and texture that I was going to wolf down.
Over the years, I found that the best way to immerse myself in a new country is the native language, which is the cornerstone in a society. To talk with people in their mother language help me understand better how they work as a group. Whenever I travel to a new country, I always try to learn the basics: from apologies to ask for the toilet or a chocolate cake (if you are like me, you’re going to need all of that at some point). But I also like to know how to ask for (mostly) stupid things just to be able to interact a bit in a controlled environment.
On a side note, it’s funny how important it is for me the issue of language. When I’m back at home and I know I have to pick up the phone or talk to some random stranger, a cold sweat runs trough my back (hands up introverts of the world!).
Knowing English and with all the translation apps that are available today, it seems like the language barrier is becoming more and more diffuse in basic conversations. Because, of course, it’s a barrier when you’re a westerner trying to read kanjis on a menu; but there’s a lot of free knowledge on the internet where you can learn almost everything you want, with a little bit of effort. Several friends told me why should I bother to learn a complex language if I wasn’t going to understand five percent of what I was going to hear (those f______): “pointing and thanking will get you everywhere”. Ok, that’s also true, but it was well worth the effort to learn a little just to satisfy my curiosity watching people (a.k.a stalkerism).
Oh, and there are even more!
After coming home from being away, I always arrive with a sense of relief. The comfortably known.
Although not premeditated, when I travel abroad, I constantly compare the references I have in my country (and others I know) to the destination. I instantly start filling my wishlist: “Awesome things for my awesome country”. It’s a fun exercise, especially if you love to make lists like me; but also helps me reflect on the things that I assume about my own country. Like the importance of blinds or having good bread for breakfast.
On a day to day, I have the feeling of being constantly bombarded by dramatic news, so one of the things I love about traveling is the feeling of making peace with mankind when I come back.
“Traveling increase what’s called generalized trust, or general faith in humanity.”
I know the quote is almost the same that I wrote above, but it’s from Adam Galinsky. He’s the author of numerous studies about the matter, so he knows what he’s talking about. Hence the highlighted quote.
No society is perfect, but visiting a country so private and yet so grateful to us for “taking the time” to get to know their culture and their country was touching. I had never been surrounded by people so honest, respectful, friendly and grateful (sometimes even too much).
Over the years I have noticed how travel has helped me to know myself better and to strengthen my pillars as a human being. Leaving my comfort zone and meeting people with another way of thinking helped me to reinforce some of my values and challenge others.
I‘m not the first one to realize how travel will change the way you think. And I’m not talking about ideas, but also connections in the brain themselves.
“Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: new sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations and sights spark different synapses in the brain.”
It’s known that the greatest benefits are obtained when you immerse yourself in another culture for a while. However, it's not worth to move to another country and live in a bubble. To get the most of the experience, you have to integrate yourself into your community and live as they do.
Although it doesn’t have the same effect as moving to another country, merging into a culture for a few weeks has the same effects on a different scale. The more cultures you know, the more perspectives you get; and with each one, you can find different ways to solve problems and to question your own answers.
A lot of designers are aware of it, and that’s why being a nomad is becoming a trend over the past few years. And so, companies are increasingly aware of it, and a lot of them are offering the possibility to work remotely or even offer an unlimited vacation policy (sadly, not my case).
After lots of traveling, I came to the conclusion that my main goal in my work life is to get to find the right balance between working and traveling. I love the feeling of renewal after a few days out of the studio: I’m more aware, more positive, more creative and more decisive. I feel like I’m the better self I’ve ever been (I kick ass!).
Traveling like this is a great effort and requires a huge commitment (basically to yourself), but it’s one of those very few things where spending all your money always pays off.
Article 01. I’m writing a series of articles every two weeks about my point of view on life, love and design (mainly to practice my English skills). I’m writing this down just in case I forget, because I tend to leave projects halfw