Jordan – 01/2013, a set on Flickr.
Amman and Petra with snow in between.
Little else in life gets me as excited as the unknown of an upcoming trip. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I’ll leave that for the shrinks to tackle. The feeling starts in the pit of my stomach. It is a mixture of excitement, an adventurous spirit, with a dash of anxiety mixed in, which, when combined, gives me that warm comforting feeling of the unknown.
Most people in life don’t like change. The old saying tells us that “We are creatures of habit”. But to be perfectly honestly, I like change. And in fact, I do well at change. With this in mind I started to wonder what was the psychology of travel. I admit that this curiosity stemmed from a selfish place, but nonetheless, I was interested for all our sakes. And here is what I found…
An industry text-book on Travel and Tourism tells us that the top reasons for traveling is to relieve stress, try to relax, forget about deadlines and schedules, and to spend time with family. If we are trying to relieve stress why is it that everyone (myself included at times) stresses during the planning process of traveling? It seems quite counter intuitive.
However, many of us do not see relaxation as the aim of our travel and actually view a week on the beach as boring. Instead some seek new culture and adventures in our travel destinations. The text-book also addresses this segment of the travel population, saying that, people seek the, “opportunity to see and do new things that seem different from the routines and boredom that can accompany daily life.” This is so, they say, because these changes from ordinary life, “make people feel more alive and energetic.” Is this really the case? Are we all completely bored with our everyday life that we have to seek out adventure and challenges in new places. Those new places only being able to exist outside of our current, daily lives?
My other favorite insight provided by this text is its classification of travelers into two distinct categories, venturers and dependables. “Venturers prefer unspoiled emerging destinations and hard adventure travel and are heavy users of air travel. Dependables like well-developed places with many of the amenities of home, often go to warm beach areas, and often travel by car.” Which one are you? To read a more for yourself, click here.
I then found a website by neuroscientist Dr. Jack Lewis gave insight into the psychology of travel after consulting for a study commissioned by Thomas Holidays. Interestingly he found that all personality types favored activities that one would perceive, as he describes it, as “the adventurous and slightly mind-expanding activities”. Examples include horse back riding or visiting a waterfall – activities that may once have seemed challenging, but with the rise of comfort tours and excessive planning, they are more on the mundane side of adventurous. Additionally, these are activities that we have been consistently exposed to by TV and film. Thus any uniqueness in riding a horse, bareback, along the white sand beaches of the Caribbean is dead and gone… I will admit to having done this myself, though I must warn you it really does only look good on-screen. It’s actually a bit uncomfortable in real life.
Dr. Lewis continues he explanation of the results and finds some very puzzling secondary results. He finds that “anxious extraverts” showed the most brain activity and were most engaged by chill-out vacation photos, think reading by the pool or watch TV. While those described as “laid-back introverts” were most engaged by seeing a performance of traditional dancers or watching a band perform. Possibly proving that we really don’t know what we want from our travel. Check out the full article from Dr. Lewis here.
And finally I came across the psychology PhD dissertation of Greta Elena Couper of Pepperdine University who examines the effects of travel, in this case study abroad, on personal growth and career choice. I won’t get into the regression analysis and so forth, I save that for my day job, but I will summarize her most relevant findings for you here. She argues that travel does not change us only because of the new information we acquire, but because of the paradigm shift that occurs to alter our perception of the outside world and ourselves. To support this here analysis finds that when compared to alumni who had not studied abroad those who did study aboard were more accepting of new challenges and environments; were more flexible with their time; and adjusted to different cultures more easily. You can download her full dissertation here.
Beyond the brief overview I have given of the work occurring on the psychology of traveling there is still more work being undertaken. But what does this mean for the everyday traveler? I take away that travel is tough; that travel is needed to escape from our everyday; that travel pushes our limits; that travel is not always what we expect and that we don’t always know what kind of travel we want; and that travel changes us. But mostly importantly, that travel is good for us.
So go forth and find that next plane flight, open road, beach resort or mountain climbing adventure that calls to you and go. Go now. Go often. And continue to go.
I had to give up my passport today. It was a horrible experience. Not horrible because it was confiscated, actually I willing gave it up because I need new pages, but horrible nonetheless. Horrible because I now feel stranded.
I tried to explain this feeling to my European partner to no avail. He doesn’t understand how important my passport is to me. For him he can travel anywhere in Europe and the UK with just he European ID card. Thus he doesn’t understand what it is not have your passport and be unable to travel.
So for me my passport is something different, special and essential to me…
My passport is my ruby slippers and with just three click and a “There’s no place like home,” I’m there.
My passport is my work, my play, my adventures, my romantic getaways, and my friends.
My passport is my one-stop-shop reminder of my travels, with beautiful stamps and visas.
My passport is my emergency exit.
My passport is my door opener, my story-teller, my picture-taker, my friend-maker, my barrier-breaker, and my dream-filler.
My passport is my wanderlust…
Stranded on a small island,
I can’t help but notice that my partner does not share the same gusto that I do for traveling. He does still continue to be excited about the prospect of travel, but he does not welcome it with open arms and allow it to consume his thoughts the way I do.
I’ll give our most recent encounter as an example, mind you that is all occurred via text message.
Me: I’m going to Jordan for work. Want to come? We can spend the weekend there. Remember Casablanca, and how we both regretted you not going? With that in mind, say yes.
Miguel: Ok. (NOTE: I left out all of the discussion of flights and so on.)
Me: Should I book you flight now? Or tonight? Also, check whether you need a visa – I do for work.
Miguel: I get a visa on entry of the country, but a friend was there and he says that apart from the Dead Sea there is nothing to see and Petra is far away (250km)… Plus I saw its position on the map and the security announcements of PT embassies and it doesn’t look good…
Me: What??? Are you kidding me?!? I have had multiple people tell me it is beautiful! You have ancient Roman cities, Petra (which you can do in a day), there is wadi rum and everything in Amman. And you know i am a firm believer that if you are bored then you are just boring. There is more history in jordan! the only warnings are to stay away from the boarder with Syria.
About 5 minutes later…
Me: Fine. If you don’t want to go I’ll go by myself.
Miguel: Have you gone to google maps and seen the distance to all the borders? Iraq, Syria, Israel… Petra would be very cool though.
Me: I’m just sad because its a place we talked about traveling to last year! Which you were excited about then :/
Miguel: I’m mostly worried because there’s war all around that country! Does that not concern you at all?
Me: You are my favorite travel buddy and I want to explore this new country, in a new region with you. Just like I want to discover the rest of the world with you so either way I respect your decision, I’m just sad that’s all.
Miguel: I tried calling the embassy but they are closed now. I got conflicting facts from different web pages regarding visas for PT there. But why not? We can go to Petra which is south and should be safer. let’s buy the tickets tonight.
Talk about some arm twisting. I wasn’t suggesting hiking in the mountains of Syria or sightseeing in Kabul. Nevertheless, while my first reaction to the opportunity of travel is a welcoming one, Miguel’s is a slightly more skeptical and reserved reaction. I started to wonder why this is the case, especially since our love for travel has been such an important element in our relationship since the beginning…
Low and behold, I found the answer in an EasyJet Traveller Magazine. An article inside the magazine interviewed a travel writer who said that he thinks his lack of travel in his youth is the reason for his enthusiasm later in life. Juxtaposition this with his own children, whom he has dragged all over the world, and are now less inclined to travel and almost weary of it.
So there you have it! While Miguel’s parents and grandparents took him from one European capital to the next, I was traveling from town to city in the state of Florida. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I left the US. My parents probably thought this was the best way to keep me close, instead, they actually aided in the creation of the current travel addict I have become.
As for Miguel and I, we have found a balance. While I am always pushing us towards adventure he is pulling us back to a more moderate, reality. He reminds me to be practical and frugal while I encourage him to be reckless and allow himself to fall in love with travel… Like I said, it works for us.
Here’s to being different beings,
NOTE: This is the continuation of a previous entry written over a year ago. Click here to read it.
It has taken me too long to finish this story. There is a reason. It is a difficult story to tell. It is still as fresh in my mind as the day it all occurred, nevertheless it is still a tough story to tell, but I will do my best…
We all climbed back into the car as Harun turns us down another impossibly narrow gravel path that the little car starts to slowly climb. I break the silence in the car with a question about his family, how did Harun’s wife manage? He says he cannot speak for his wife, but he knows it was difficult. His son, now almost 20, was just 4 months when the siege began. “There was no food for him, but he grew up to be beautiful,” he said, giving all the credit to his wife’s stamina and perseverance during those years. He said that they would solider for 24 hours than take 24 hours off, at which time they would return home. I did not have the chance to speak with his wife and I do not pretend to understand what it would be like to say goodbye to your husband, friend, lover, father of your child, every other day knowing it could be the last time you see him.
A flat patch of pavement appears on the side of the road and we pull into it. Harun turns the car off. “We walk from here,” he informs us. He warns us again, “Stay on the pavement of the road, there are still many mines.” As we start to walk he points out holes in the ground where mines had recently been detonated and burnt sections of the forest, a method used to find and explode mines.
As Harun points out these sites, I am lost in my own internal monologue. Finally, I ask the question, “Are you angry at NATO and the international community for not acting sooner?” He smiles and says how can he be angry. If NATO had not come the siege might have lasted 7 years or Sarajevo might not have lasted. “But I am angry. I am angry that it ever happened,” he says. Then Harun looks me straight in the eyes and said, “I no longer believe in God. After what I saw, I stopped believing. I know there is not a God.”
We spend the next 15 minutes walking along the road, noticing the tank tracks that disfigure the road and the view of Sarajevo. We stop unexpectedly and I almost fall off the side of the road. Harun is just standing there looking to his left down a steep slope and to his right at what are the remains of a Serbian stronghold. “It was here that he died,” is all he says. We stand in silence for I don’t know how long, but Harun finally breaks it by telling us his story. “He would always save the chocolate for his 5 year old little girl. Whenever we received the humanitarian meal pack, Marco would save the chocolate for her. I remember because he was killed that day after we ate our pack meal as we were climbing this hill. He had the chocolate in his pocket for her when they killed him.”
I feel my jaw tighten and my eyes start to well, this is getting to be too much. Harun looks up and he catches sight of my impeding emotional breakdown. He walks up to me and says to the group with the slightest of smiles, “Down we go.” So down we go.
My self-involvement is quickly cut short when, instead of heading back down to the city, we stop again. This is the last stop, Harun announces to us. “Stay close and go where I go,” are the instructions from Harun as we follow him on what barely looks like a trail.
After five minutes of walking we come to a clearing where two bullet-riddled, bombed-out buildings stand. It is the Bosnian Observatory, or what was once an observatory. Harun starts to tell the story of how he was part of the unit that took these building back from the Serbians. But only briefly because when the Serbian reinforcements arrived, all they could do was run. He tells us that he watched friends jump from the building to avoid the bullets and shells, down the side of the hill, only to land on mines. Twenty of his comrades died that night.
As we walk inside, he says he did not know how he survived. And I can see what he means. Whole sections of the wall are missing from the cylindrical building and what walls are left, are covered in bullet holes. The stairs leading up to where the telescopes would have been are destroyed. On top of these walls sits fresh graffiti. Some sayings in Serbian and even a Nazi swastika adorn the walls. After half an hour of carefully wandering we begin a slow march back to the car.
Back at the car Harun turns and asks if we have any more questions. This is it. I finally have the opportunity I am looking for to ask the question I wanted to ask ever since he invited me on this “tour.” “Why are you doing this?” I query. He pauses for a long moment and begins by saying that there is the monetary reason of course, but it actually springs out of an encounter with two Norwegian girls who stayed in the hostel just two weeks before. He says that the two girls arrived to the hostel after staying a few nights in a hostel in the Republika Srpska part of Bosnia. One evening he sat with them and at their urging started to discuss the war and his experiences. After hours of talking the girls said that they knew what he said was true, but that they knew there are still people who do not know. They told Harun that the night before they spent the evening chatting with the owner of their previous hostel and when he found out that they were traveling next to Sarajevo, he asked why. He told them there was nothing to see. He told them that nothing had happened there. And what did happen was actually perpetrated by the Sarajevans on themselves to attract sympathy from the international community. He told them that Republika Srpska, Serbia, and Serbians were the real victims.
I can hear the anger in his voice increasing. He says that he barely slept that night and in the morning was still distressed. His son then encouraged him to show people the truth, evidence that could not be denied. Because Harun had grown up on these hills and fought on them, he knew them better than the experts. He tells us that he is up there almost every day, looking for mines to mark, collecting remnants of the war and even picnicking with his wife. So his son figured if anyone could provide people with confirmation of what really happened, Harun would be the best to share that knowledge.
A few days later he started bringing up others and telling them his story. “It changes every time. I see something that reminds me and I speak about it. I say two hours, but today it is three. Tomorrow it may be four. I do not plan, I just speak my story.” We climb into the car and he looks at me in the review mirror like he did at the start of the trip, “You hear my voice shake. I am angry. Not at you, at those who lie about the truth.”
Back down the hills we go, racing away from the memories.
Upon returning to the hostel I have to rest. Just as I sit down, Harun enters, “We go for picnic in the hills now,” he says with a smile. The look I give him must be one of confusion because he looks at me with the softest eyes and says, “I learned to love every moment.” We should be dead he said, but we are not. “We know that it can all be gone, whether by bomb or sniper, and so we see beauty. My wife is beautiful, my son is beautiful. I love my neighbors. I love life.”
My heart suddenly starts to hurt. I feel like I am seeing what love is supposed to be like, all-encompassing and all-enveloping. So no apologies are needed. The only thing he asks is that I tell others. And so I am.
For this blog I have talked about train travel and plane travel, but never car travel. This is highly correlated with the fact that I have not owned a car since 2009, a fact that I am quite proud of. Having grown up in the US in a mid-sized city lacking most forms of public transport owning your own car was the only option to get around.
Additionally, in the US one is brought up on a steady diet of:
turn 15 -> pass written driving test -> spend many agonising hours driving with hour parents -> deal with parents criticising -> (finally) turn 16 -> pass your driving test -> beg and plead with parents for a car -> receive car from said parents -> obtain teenage equivalent of freedom.
It’s not necessarily a logical cycle, but it happens every day in the USA and has been for years and will continue for years. When Europeans talk about the “car culture” of the US, they really don’t even know the half of it. Except for cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and DC (see the full list of the top 25 here) where public transport is extensive, usable and (mostly) affordable, the rest are ill-equipped for moving mass amounts of people about. Now I am unsure of the direction of causality, did the likes of Henry Ford and the resulting love affair with cars cause public transport to fall into disrepair and be abandoned or was it the lack of public transportation that pushed Americans to car? Either way, living without a car in most American cities is unthinkable and impossible. So America has become the nation of cars, for better or worse.
And that is how Miguel and I ended up on a road trip through the southeastern United States. Wanting Miguel to see as much of the country as possible and meet some of my family along the way, I planned this marathon road trip. We covered 9 states, 4,729 kilometers in 11 days.
I for the most part was not worries, but my most interesting observation while planning this trip were the weary looks and cautious warnings I received from friends and acquaintances. They all wished us luck and said prayers for our relationship. I became a bit worried at this point, especially since I have never undertaken a road trip like this. And to top it off Europeans and Americans, i.e. Miguel and I, have different concepts of distance. For example, if you wanted to drive from the northern most tip of Portugal to the southern most tip, it would take you 6 hours, 58 minutes and cover 708 kilometers. Where grew up that wouldn’t have gotten you out of the state of Florida! And though driving 8, 9 or 10 hours in a day is not unheard of for American vacations, I was worried for Miguel’s endurance. And for the endurance of our relationship…
The outcome? Absolute success. Not only did our relationship endure, it actually thrived, even considering the fact that Miguel met my parents for the first time, attended a cousins wedding with me, met my brother and his family, and stayed at the house of my sister and her family. So how did we do this? Well it came pretty easy to us, but I don’t know if it would for everyone else so with that in mind here are my top ten road trip tips!
10. Be realistic when planning. Do not assume that you can cover 900 kilometers in a day with only one bathroom break. Take your time. This will also eliminate the need to speed and possibility of tickets or something worse.
9. Relax and don’t give yourself solid arrival times. I think Americans, myself included, are obsessed with “making good time”. Relax. The journey really is as important as the destination.
8. Play a game. Print out a blank map of the US (or Europe) and mark off all of the state license plates you see. My dad and I use to play this game during the winter time in Florida and I loved it. You definitely get a bit of a thrill from finding a new one and it gives you the opportunity to wonder what sort of crazy person drives an RV from Alaska to Florida!
7 Bring good music. This is very important as you may be driving through the South and not be able to find anything but country music stations. Nothing is a worse hell than that. And make sure to bring a selection that varies between early morning pump-up music to after-lunch sing-a-long oldies.
6. Bring reading materials. But don’t be selfish, bring something you can read out loud to each other. Miguel picked out a book called Microtrends for out trip- each chapter was short, interesting and packed full of information. The passenger would read out the chapter and then we would end up discussing it further. You can also do this with newspapers or a book of short stories. Audio books are also a fun option – check out Audible for audio books to download to all of your devices.
5. Bring healthly snacks and plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to headaches. Even worse, no snacks can lead to the dreaded ‘hangry’ state – this is when you are so hungry you become angry. Trust me, it isn’t pretty, so avoid this at all costs. And the healthier, the better. Salty gas station snacks will also dehydrate you and the sweet ones will leave you feeling sluggish after an initial high of energy. Think of dried fruits, nuts, and wholegrains.
4. Be fair, split the driving evenly. It makes a difference and allows you both the opportunity to rest and take in the scenery while on the road.
3. Make lunch an adventure. Whether its stopping at a park for a picnic, a Diner, a Cracker Barrel or Cafe Risque (an inside joke for those who have driven near Gainsville, Florida), forget the speed eating contest, enjoy yourself and make it a time to take in some local flavor
2. Be ok with silence. Silence is never a bad thing. Don’t feel like you have to fill the void, allow the silence to exist and be ok with it as there will be times when you just don’t have anything to talk about.
1. Laugh. Whether it’s at other drivers, funny signs on the side of the road or each other. Laugh and enjoy every minute of it.
Ps. Don’t forget to stop and sleep!
Pedal to the metal,