Nomad Living

Rodney Ewing, Half-Immigrant, silkscreen and dry pigment on paper, 2017

We tend to think of our goals in life as a place, a set destination. Calendar dates become oases, the sensations of completing a major project take on an almost physical definition. We follow “roadmaps” to promotion and advancement. These are the reference points many of us use to define our lives.

When the word travel is entered into a search bar, the computer screen will explode with a full listing travel booking sites, jubilant images of happy little globes, the Eiffel Tower and other wonders, articles that promise the best travel hacks, and hours of highlight-reel videos. Entire libraries exist based solely around travel. There are entire networks and programming blocks dedicated to the notion of travel.

Overwhelmingly, when browsing the topic of travel, the search results are goal-oriented. There is often very little discussion of the actual work that goes into travel, before, during, and after the fact. Hashtag-laden travel blogs and Instagram feeds are almost exclusively a neverending parade of humblebrags, those glorious finish lines of beaches, mountain vistas and skyscrapers. These gorgeous photographs light up our pleasure centers like a pinball machine, but like any drug, it quickly leaves us cold and staring back into our screens.

It’s this addiction to a sense of place, this wish fulfillment, that detracts from what travel actually is. Travel is not a destination. Travel is not the white sand beaches or rugged red cliff faces. It’s the cramped and smelly bus, it’s sitting on the runway for an hour, it’s driving miles and miles in the wrong direction. Travel is a process. Travel is hard work. Rather than focus on this process, we fixate on the destination.

Hours spent in transit are the filthy business of reality, far removed from the glamour of retouched photos, and we’re eager to cast them aside. Like true addicts, we stampede our way through life, rushing to catch and collect places and accomplishments. We ignore the fact that when preserved like a specimen under glass, they wither and diminish almost immediately. We ignore the fact that every second we have between these goals is a precious opportunity.

This mindset can lead one to discount their own accomplishments through falsely quantifying the journey without qualifying. A journey, whether it leads to the top of the corporate food chain or to the local beach for some relaxation, is made up of countless tiny steps. After the first breathless gaze upon your own personal paradise, the gaze slowly shifts downwards to the navel. We seek out new destinations, be they geographic or metaphoric, to defy the gravity of self-contemplation.

The hours spent in planes, trains and automobiles become a tunnel-vision drag to the finish. A professional odyssey becomes a series of blips on a radar screen. The dynamic nature of travel is reduced to a linear transit from point to point. On average, workers in the United States spend 25 minutes commuting to work. That’s the kind of travel you’d rarely write home about, but it happens every day. That daily slog adds up to over 200 hours a year.

Travel is more than a photograph or plaque hanging on the wall. It’s the countless steps that delivered those symbols. As far as you climb, as wide as you roam, you’ll never be any further from your self. Crafting journeys as beautiful as your destinations is the best baggage you can ever have as a travel companion. There are certain realities to the process of travel, granted, but these can be mitigated by planting potential and investing in yourself. Accept the realities of your journey and use them to build into your goal.

A trip down a highway is just that, unless you take time to stop at a vista or seven. Accruing years of experience is a grind, but there’s no reason why you can’t take night classes or develop a healthy relationship with your local library to help pass the time. Time is a resource, and it’s waiting in the margins and between the lines of resumes and accomplishments.

Those who waste time by ignoring the present and looking to the glowing future invite the exhortation of Jedi Master Yoda: “You are reckless!”

The Protestant work ethic is part of the cultural bedrock of the United States, so it’s little surprise that as a nation, we tend to fetishize stress, workload and the notion of being “busy.” Free time is a void, a negative space to be filled. Hobbies are increasingly monetized, rather than revered for their healing effects. The economy, as experts crow, is now increasingly “gig-based”, a euphemism for the continuing concentration of wealth in the upper 2% of the population.

Workers of other developed nations have historically kept shorter hours than the average American work day, but the ROI on the average American’s workday continues to diminish even as “gigs” are added. Many Americans already work well over 40 hours a week, but as benefits are increasingly a thing of the past, more money never hurts. Perfect for a gig economy, not so perfect for the people hoping for a work-life balance. It certainly leaves less opportunities to stop and smell the roses.

According to a survey by Paychex in 2017, over 70% of Americans experience a great deal of stress at their job. 79% of those surveyed also would rather save for large vacations than go out to for a night to blow off some steam. Even when vacations finally do happen, they’re often a fraction of the allotted vacation time- the average vacation is around 4 days, a big step down from the 16 days most Americans can count on for vacation. Thus, a cycle of delayed gratification begins again. Hopefully, there’s less rain next year. In the meantime, it’s back to work, which over a third of Americans view as just a job to get by.

Faced with this bleak picture, it’s little wonder that wanderlust is presented as a panacea. But pictures of island paradises are empty calories, and actually making it to your own private beach is a just temporary fix. In this interconnected era, we’re faced with the paradox of choice on a daily basis. Where does one start when they follow their bliss? The bottom of a frosty tiki mug is a good guess, but what about brain freeze? What about hangovers? What about sunburn? If you rushed to the finish line without some presence of mind, you may experience all of the above.

What’s more, in the rush to a destination, the potentials of the journey itself have been ignored. A cross-country trip sounds like a wonderful idea to many, but there are a lot of miles between the coasts. Highways are a fast and efficient mode of travel, but they often bypass so much of the natural beauty that covers the land. Airports may not be the best place to seek enlightenment in the pages of a book, but it’s a port on the stormy seas of a fast-paced life.

Work is a reality of life for almost everyone on this planet, and most everyone on this planet has dreams and goals. Satisfaction and fulfillment are fleeting things for even the most enlightened among us. The hours of a day tend to drain away, leaving precious little spare time for the lofty goal of investing time in your self. But between the lines, inside the margins of a given day, we’re traveling. There’s time to be stolen here and there on our journey.

Whether it’s making it to the next weekend or making it to work on time, there’s an active process occurring. Every job has a ladder waiting to be scaled, every road has forks. Potential slips right by those who remain fixed on goals and destinations, but for those that are mindful, those formerly linear and simple paths can start to blossom. Every minute can be a seed planted.

Every novel is a collection of pages, chapters, and words, all placed slowly, one after other. While our lives may not always allow for time to take pause and smell the flowers, we can make sure the air smells sweet as we speed by. By focusing on what the journey can do for us, our travel destinations become all the more lush and rewarding, and the story of our journey is one worth reading.

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