Travelling makes me a better person.
Over the last decade or so, there have been few times where I’ve been without some form of electronic device, be it a phone, a laptop, a console or a TV. My attention span for entertainment has declined significantly, to the point that during a 45 minute TV episode, I’ll still be checking mail, seeing who an actor is on IMDB or randomly browsing the web at the same time. The ability to multi-task is useful, but comes at the cost of losing focus. Programming remains one of the few things that I can truly get lost in for hours and days at a time.
The reason I value hard problems so much is that they give me something that I have to concentrate on. In fact, it is fair to say I get obsessive about them. I’d be a perfect employee for a startup. During such times, I’ll shut out the world and work on a problem to the exclusion of everything else. I’ll probably forget to eat, I won’t chat to friends and I’ll sleep at irregular hours and even then not enough. The challenge is everything. As an only child who had no siblings to entertain or be entertained by, I’ve always been comfortable being on my own, but at these times I sometimes wonder if it borders on mania.
It is said that travel broadens the mind, but for me it also stabilises. It is obvious that being on holiday is better than working, but this isn’t simply about being idle. Being settled without work would be worse than the status quo, reinforcing my negative tendencies, without building up any of the positives.
Travelling, on the other hand, evens me out. It gives me something to look forward to each day, new places to explore and new people to meet. It makes the mundane interesting and the interesting sublime. When settled in a place, 20 minutes in a traffic jam is frustrating, but when travelling I can happily sit on a stationary train for hours just watching the world go by. Or just sit and think. Hold a thought in my head and analyse it, evaluate it.
Periods of downtime afford me the opportunity to reflect on recent events and write, creatively and non-creatively, for pleasure. Each time I travel, I remember that I love writing, even if the quality of my output is variable. Even when I travel with a laptop, I take a notebook and pen. I’m more expressive. I write poetry and throw it away. Or keep it. I edit photographs. I may publish things nowadays to the web, but that isn’t a pre-requisite. My primary desire for a network connection is merely to save what I’ve created, as a sop to my pack-rat instinct.
When settled and at work, I strive for perfection, which can be stressful, especially when I don’t achieve it. I convince myself that I thrive on that stress and secretly revel in it. Martyr myself and grumble good-naturedly about it. Quietly, but loud enough to be heard. Travelling, I am somehow able to recognise and accept that things won’t always be perfect, and because of that I actually finish the things I start. Objectively it is clear to me: no-one thrives on stress.
With limited connectivity, I value communication with friends more and am more engaged in conversations, instead of flicking in and out while reading the news.
Without TV, I remember that I love to read – how can I forget that I love reading? My vocabulary improves. I make more connections between ideas and themes and dream of a grand tapestry. I consider language and its rich and varied forms.
When settled, with few exceptions, I seem to constantly return to indoor pursuits: video games, television and the Internet. I really enjoy outdoor activities like climbing and football, but only seem to take them up for a few months at a time before regressing indoors. Travelling makes me an outdoors person. The thought of sitting in a room while the world awaits outside is anathema. I wake earlier, I do more activities, I say yes more and I enjoy more.
I participate in life, rather than hiding away from it.
Settling in some location is inevitable, with financial constraints and at least half an eye on the future. The first few months there will be exciting, but I hope I can find a way to harness this energy and vitality for longer than that. Settling implies comfort, and I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable in any place for an extended period of time until I can do that.