I like buffets. Boxes of mixed chocolates. Appetizer platters. Miniature bottles of alcohol. Packs of tiny, packaged cheeses.
I like variety. I like sampling, and trying new things (sometimes off plates not my own, much to the chagrin of my company). And yeah, sometimes you just want the old favourite, the comfort of the familiar. . . but you’d never have found that favourite to begin with if you hadn’t, at some point, initially tried it. And tastes change – I’m guessing you weren’t a fan of that rich, smokey scotch you now adore so much back when you started drinking. On the flip side, that sugary crap you downed so enthusiastically back in uni might well turn your stomach nowadays.
Maybe you’re someone with a limited palette. Maybe, even at age 35, you’re still more than content with microwaved hot dogs and instant mac-and-cheese for supper 3 nights a week. And that’s cool. . . as long as it’s making you happy. And, just to be clear, if your diet isn’t supplying you with the nutrients you need to maintain energy throughout the day, or is causing you to become so obese that just getting up the stairs to your apartment is a dreaded struggle for you each and every day. . .that’s not making you happy.
It is, as always, about making choices that positively serve you. And it’s difficult to decide what is good for you if you never step out of your comfort zone to sample the other options that are out there. If you ever find yourself buying the same groceries week after week, or that waitress or bartender that knows you by name stops bothering to even ask what you’re ordering before bringing out the plate. . .it’s probably time to switch things up a bit.
Traveling allows you to do that in a way that is, at the very least, easier than when you’re static. Actually, it all but demands you change. Groceries you’ve become accustomed to buying can suddenly become unaffordable, or even unattainable, once you’ve switched geographic location. At the same time, things you’d never have thought to put in your basket back home, whether due to cost or quality, can suddenly become very accessible in a new environment.
And this extends far beyond the culinary. When you leave the familiar behind, you suddenly find yourself awash in a sea of alternatives for everything from fashion to activities for social interaction to political philosophy. Options abound (or are stripped away) and habits must often change to suit the opportunities a new location affords (or denies) you. Being a stranger in a strange land allows to you to ‘taste’ of these possibilities with less friction or judgement than you might receive back home, where you are constantly surrounded by the opinions and expectations of others, however well intentioned.
Simply put, reason number 2 is this: Travel, particularly long-term travel, allows you to life sample.
It allows you to switch up not only your diet, but also your hobbies, your social circles, even your career. And frequently switching things up not only keeps life fresh and interesting, but can create a deeper and more conscious awareness of what you are doing and what is occurring around you. It breeds a sort of appreciation that can make your life seem fuller and longer, in the most rewarding possible way.
Now you don’t need travel to switch things up. You can make some very critical change in your life simply by stepping out of your comfort zone within your own community. It just tends to be easier when traveling. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, as already mentioned, there are no expectations of your character on the road (unless you are on the road with others from home). You’re free to be as public or private as you wish about who you have been and from where you have come. With no expectations to meet or defend, you’re free to experiment with the very perception of who you are. You can, if you choose to, be a fucking personality chameleon. Which is not to say you should act dishonestly, or try and be something you’re not. Rather, I’m saying that travel can give you an opportunity to, as author Rolf Potts once put it, “break old habits, face latent fears, and test out repressed facets of your personality.”
Put another way, taking up your physical baggage can allow you to, at least temporarily, drop your emotional baggage.
And once you begin to fiddle with the dials of your now mutable personality’s equalizer, you can find yourself in the company of crowds quite different than the circles in which you ran back home. With new cliques come new standards – leaving behind the party scene may allow you to discover you really like formal dinner parties and board games. Stepping away from the online gaming community might kindle a love of kayaking. Travel allows us to find out what we really love and who we really are, in the present day, once the weight of habit and other people’s expectations has been stripped from us.
Another way in which travel makes it easier to life sample is the expectations there are of you as a traveler. People expect you to be open and up for experimentation. Although it’s entirely possible to make a trip of doing something you regularly do back home, there’s a general assumption that, when you take time off, it’s to do things you can’t (or just don’t) back home. Like go white water rafting. Visit museums. Spend your nights trading stories over a campfire. Hitting the road, you’ll feel almost pressured to fill your days doing things you otherwise wouldn’t. Though that can also become a negative motivator real fast – The pressure to come back from your travels with STORIES. But not every great day looks shiny on paper (or uploaded to social media sites), and shaping our travels entirely around how impressively they display on Facebook is a surefire way to rob ourselves of rewarding real life experiences.
The last set of expectations that change are your own. It’s easy, when caught up in the trials and trivialities of daily life, to forget the opportunity for variation is even there. But, when you’re on the travel circuit, your eyes are constantly open. Suddenly you’ve nothing but time, and opportunities for filling it with something new abound. There are hostel listings and tour groups and side-street touts with flyers. You’ll meet people who already have plans and joining in with them will be easy.
Lastly, travel makes life sampling easier by offering opportunities that you simply didn’t have access to back home. After 18 years of life in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, I had never tried sushi, simply because it just wasn’t possible to find any there at the time. I’d also never been able to attend a big music festival. I sure as shit never had the option of riding a camel into the desert.
Every place comes with its own perks and limitations. Living on a Kansas farm means you’re not getting invited to art openings in San Francisco. Working in New Delhi means a jog in the fresh air of the countryside is a long drive away. Living your entire life in Alexandria means you’ve never been snowboarding. Switching up location means switching up your options.
Sampling is often fun, and almost always educational, but what you can get out of the process of doing it can be life-changing. Because the real beauty of life sampling is in finding something new to love; trying something out, really getting something out of it, and deciding you want more of it once the sampling’s done. Deciding you want to integrate it into your habits, and make it a part of your life long-term.
I’ve sampled a lot the last 5 years. I’ve tended bees on a farm-stay in Norway, learned to surf (more or less) off the coast of Morocco, hiked for 5 days in Romania’s Fagaras mountains and rafted down the Ganges in India. I’ve stayed on a hippie commune in the very South-Eastern tip of Spain and lived out of a tent while hitching along the Southern coast of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. I’ve gone dumpster diving for delicious bread in Denmark and have eaten two steaks which cost over $40 a piece in Toronto and Bermuda, and found both to be worth the price. I’ve done brewery tours in Ireland, gone caving in Crimea and stayed overnight in a desert oasis on the Libyan border. And that’s just a short list of the things I haven’t (yet) incorporated into my life long-term.
And the people. Hoo, buddy. I’ve stayed or chatted or lived or lain with squatters, blue collar workers and privileged, wealthy college kids, single moms, massive Irish families and folks all on their own against the world, sports fiends and sex fiends, activists and the apathetic, artists, tradesmen, businessmen, circus entertainers, stock market brokers and a collective of people building a junk rig boat from scratch on a self sufficient farm in the far North. People just bursting with positivity, being crushed by their own pessimism or, most often, existing somewhere in between. All with lives with a distinctive flavour, feel and touch. Lives that, if you move with care and respect, you may be privileged enough to share in for a while.
Sampling of these lives, others and our own, allows us to learn so much more about ourselves and what feeds us. What moves us? What brings us lasting happiness? What brings us up, but then inevitably drives us down? What just doesn’t feel right from the start? What feels like it makes us a more complete human being? What makes us feel stronger? Weaker? Healthier? Happier?
And, once we’re done with all of our experimentation and sampling, what do we want to hold onto, learn more about, and incorporate into our own short existence to make it just that much more enriching?
*Krys is currently sampling yet another new activity, this time in Melbourne, Australia. She will be writing about it later this week.