This week we have a very special guest post from one of the most amazing people I’ve had the please to meet in my travels: Elise Wach. One of those rare individuals who not only travels the world, but makes it a better place as she does so, Elise works with the Institute of Development Studies and focuses on change processes at the policy, organizational, and individual levels. Enjoy some of her thoughts on traveling!
How my life is different when I travel…and why it shouldn’t be
I travel a lot. I got the travel bug when I was 18 and I haven’t stopped. I’ve worked professionally in more than 15 countries, and I don’t even know how many I’ve visited for fun.
I was recently in Ethiopia and found myself thinking, ‘I really like this place, I could definitely see myself happily living here.’ The people are friendly, it’s safe, the sun shines, the food is amazing and the coffee is some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
But actually, I’ve realized that I can be happy in most places.
I’ve started reflecting on the differences in my lifestyle and attitudes when traveling as compared to when I’m settled somewhere. I’ve recognized the following differences:
- I don’t take things for granted: when I’m in a place for a limited amount of time, I really make the most out of each day. A lot of things are new – food, people, culture, ways of living. I really taste what I’m eating, look at what’s around me…I am more aware, more present, and I absorb and appreciate things. I go and see things – museums, parks, monuments – that most locals never take the time to visit. I take time to taste my food. I also allow myself to just ‘be:’ when I travel, I’m okay with sitting in a café for hours without having to ‘do’ anything.
- I am flexible and welcome discomfort: I understand that my normal way of life, my routines, the things I normally eat are not all going to work in this place, and that I’ll have to be a bit flexible. I accept and even relish in this flexibility. Being pushed out of my comfort zone is something that naturally happens in my travels and I accept and welcome this.
- I am open to people: I almost always travel alone. I have found that this means I’m really much more open, honest, and free with my heart. I talk to people on the street, I sit with strangers in restaurants, and I open up to people of different ages, professions and cultures. In the short time I spend in each place, the relationships that I form are often more in quantity, wider in variety and sometimes even deeper than the ones I form at ‘home.’
- I look out for myself: While being open and flexible, I also really look out for myself because I know that I have few other people to count on, and let me tell you from experience, it isn’t fun getting typhoid or burning out from work when you’re by yourself. So I tend to live a healthier and balanced life, with a mixture of work, fun, relaxation, and, depending on where I am, a healthy diet and exercise.
- I live with less ‘stuff’: Living simply with the few things that fit into a small suitcase is one of my favorite aspects of traveling. I realize how little I actually need, and I appreciate what I do have without being attached to it.
- I spend time alone: While I meet a lot of new people, I also spend a lot of time alone, and am often disconnected from people back home due to lack of internet or prohibitive phone costs. I learn how to be comfortable being with just ‘me’: eating a meal in a restaurant by myself or spending an evening alone. I embrace the time I spend alone rather than searching for distractions or ways to change it.
So, looking at this list, I wonder to myself why I don’t incorporate these approaches into my ‘normal’ non-nomadic life? Why is it that I need to go somewhere new in order to live in a way that I should live every day? Is my time infinite? Yes. Is there beauty and interesting things and people all around me back at home? Yes. Is it good to be flexible and push myself out of my comfort zone? Again, yes. Take care of myself and live a balanced life? Obviously. Live with less ‘stuff’? Yes!
Perhaps as I fly back to England, instead of reminiscing about how wonderful my trip to Ethiopia was and thinking of ways to make it back there soon (which admittedly is not an uncommon line of thought for me), I think I may just try to notice the extent to which I can apply the same approaches to life in Brighton as I do when I’m on the road.