Travel Tip #1: Leave Yourself at Home
Updated: Jan 25, 2018
I’m leaving for Japan in four days and, far from being excited, I’m actually spending most of my time worrying. What am I going to do? How can I have a meaningful experience? What cameras am I going to take? What film am I going to pack? Should I take film at all or go all digital?
But out of all the things that might ruin this trip, there’s one thing in particular that I’m pretty sure is going to make me miserable during my stay in Japan: me.
Some of the other things I'll be bringing on my trip...
In the book, The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes about a trip he took to Barbados. Though he looks forward to the tropical beaches (and the tropical beach drinks!), in his pre-travel fantasies, he always imagines the self that journeys to that wonderful paradise of “sumptuous tropical gardens and attractive wooden beach huts” (25) in sort of an idealized way, relaxed and appreciative of the experience.
But instead, he finds himself in a continually bad mood, with his focus not on the island wildlife and beauty, but on, “a sore throat…, worry that I had not informed a colleague that I would be away, a pressure across both temples and a rising need to visit the bathroom.” It was then that he had a realization, “A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making itself apparent: I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.” (19)
The places we travel to are in many ways but a mere change of setting on the stage that is our lives, but the stage itself and the main actor stay the same. De Botton writes, “Our capacity to draw happiness from aesthetic objects or material goods in fact seems critically dependent on our first satisfying a more important range of emotional or psychological needs, among them the need for understanding, for love, expression and respect.” (25)
So, according to de Botton, in order to not ruin our travels, we need to be happy with ourselves first. We need to feel loved, understood, and respected. So basically, I’M FUCKED.
I don’t feel any of those things. I’m just traveling to escape my misery. I’m very open about it! And it’s worked pretty well so far. I’ve been writing more and getting lost in my traveling plans. I’ve felt better this past two weeks than I have in the past two years.
It’s not joy that I’m feeling though, or happiness- it’s anticipation. And that anticipation is something that de Botton calls, “the finest aspect of travel.” I am, as he says, “drawn away from the present by an anxious future,” (26) but once I get to Japan, that anxious future will quickly become the present again, and then what?
Does my sadness and loneliness come rushing back to me? Does the feeling of being unloved and alienated fall over the stage of my life like a musty theater curtain?
Maybe unhappiness is inevitable, whether here, at home, or abroad. But does that mean we shouldn’t travel abroad? If we’re going to be miserable abroad anyways, shouldn’t we just be miserable here and save our time and money?
Eff that, haha!
Look, happiness is important to be sure (I certainly have fond memories of the sensation) but I don’t think it should be a limiting emotion for an experience. There’s other feelings out there that all have a different and unique taste, which the cultured mind can learn to enjoy: there’s learning, misery, uncomfortability, awkwardness, peculiarity, exhilaration, solemnity, contentedness, and every other name for a range of emotion that a human being can feel.
When I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up, instead of telling me what job they want to do, they often say, “I want to happy.” I see this on social media and dating sites too. People say, “I want a life filled with happiness!” Happiness all the time! Everything happy! Shoved down your throat happy! Suffocating in happy!
But in my experience, people who make the pursuit of happiness the sole priority of their lives will seldom feel it in earnest, and they certainly won’t make good art (which ironically, makes me happy).
So I guess, since I’m bringing my miserable self along with me anyways, the thing to do is to stuff myself in my carry-on bag, next to my cameras and my notepad, and not worry so much about it. Miserable or not, I’m going to see something new and I’m going to make as many cool pictures as I can while I’m doing it.
And even if I’m sad, and lonely, and forlorn out there, I’ll be happy enough having a new story to tell.