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Shubhanjana Das

A literature lover and a fashion enthusiast, I dabble in fashion to merge my two loves. I get lost at grocery stores and find myself in shoe stores. When I'm not scrolling through Instagram, I like to live life out of a backpack and travel the country..

Is Travelling Really The Answer To Your Quest For Happiness?

An endless exploration, that’s what it is to travel.

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Photo Credits : Gray Mailin

Sometime around 1924, this particular Roman philosopher dude called Seneca wrote a few letters to this other Roman dude, a satirist named Lucilius. In one of those is a letter which, after publication, was called ‘Moral Letters to Lucilius’ in which he talks about ‘travel as a cure for discontent’. Okay, but why are we telling you about random ancient Roman dudes?

It is uncanny how often the past comes back to face us bang in the middle of our present. What Seneca questioned in his letter to Lucilius is highly pertinent in the contemporary age when backpacks are always kept packed and everyone is always looking at travel discounts. Are we saying travelling is a negative experience or has an adverse impact on our personal evolution? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s just the contrary. But, we’ll come to that in a bit. For now, we’ll go over what Seneca had to say:

“Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil remarks,

Lands and cities are left astern,

your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.”

Now that’s interesting, isn’t it? We thought a trip to New York will surely be the answer to our restlessness after leaving a job, or that our relationship issues will all fall right into place and align itself in a line after that backpacking trip through Europe. Have we not read enough times how people quit their job and chose the road-life forever, one that is filled with freedom and free of worldly ties? But, we think there might be a catch there. The reason why we travel is peculiar to every individual- some seek signification, some seek anonymity, some even seek spiritual upliftment. The rather superfluous expectation that buying a one-way ticket to Tokyo or the Bahamas or Israel is going to liberate you from your present discontent or a state where you’re experiencing unpleasant pangs of emotion puts a considerable amount of burden on not only your emotional vulnerability but also the experience of the place that belies you.

The ascent to Everest or dive into the Great Coral Reef can hardly be responsible for a thorough transition of our state of being. The experience does, however, transcend us to a state of enhanced awareness, a consciousness that the daily patterns of life restrict us from. To put yourself on the way of an understanding of a sense of flow, you don’t leave any part of you behind but rather, familiarize yourself with the state of your being in order to be able to breathe in and soak in every passing moment. This process is more of a self-transcendence than self-transformation.

Keeping in mind our constant urge to follow every travel blogger’s life and labelling it as ‘perfect’, ‘ideal’, and ‘dreamy’, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate whether long-term travel is all roses and rainbows, after all.  Instead of removing a person from reality, the ugly truths of their lives as a social being, or the harsh realities about themselves, it makes them confront every ground reality of life on a graphic level due to that same sense of enhanced consciousness and awareness that travel has gifted them. You may have read about a bomb blast or an earthquake, but they probably have witnessed those in person, present at the middle of every calamity that could strike humankind, or them as individuals. In that sense, long-term travelling isn’t an escape. It is an intentional dive into the ground realities of what it is to live in the world, by yourself, one-on-one with every difficulty hurled your way. Their unfamiliarity with knowingness grounds them in the present and in a state of openness. They, instead of leaving behind their insecurities, fears, and vulnerabilities, confront it with a sense of contemplative introspection, again a gift of the experiences that travel has allowed them.

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Excited to share that on World Tourism Day today, I’ll be taking over the @wwf Instagram account to talk about sustainable tourism and the impact of our travel choices 👣 . . The idea of travelling responsibly often sounds boring, like a sacrifice. But over the past 5 years, as I’ve travelled without a home, in search of meaningful experiences, I’ve realised that making more mindful choices has led me to some of my best adventures yet! . . In India, this has included discovering the remote mountain villages of Uttarakhand with @greenpeopleind ; indulging in eco-friendly and close to nature luxury with @evolvebackresorts ; getting a sneak peek at the fascinating old traditions and art of Kerala with @the.blue.yonder ; and interacting respectfully with the intriguing tribes of Arunachal Pradesh with @kipepeoindia 🌎 . . After all, travelling is not just about pretty photos. It is also about an opportunity to broaden our perspectives and learn about other ways of life. It’s also about taking a journey within ourselves. . . And you, how do you ensure your travels are more meaningful and mindful? . . #theshootingstar #worldtourismday #sustainabletourism #zanzibar #digitalnomad

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Short-term travel, like weekend getaways, holidays, or vacations tend to work paradoxically to an extent for some people. So you’re stressed from all the work, the swinging from one axes of the graph to the other, bound in pie charts and to meeting rooms. Or, you have had a terrible fight with your partner and feel so saturated that you can’t think straight. You buy a ticket to Bali or Switzerland, convinced that you will come back with a ‘fresh mind’ and solve everything out like an absolute pro. Now, you’re there, in that dream destination which shoulders the burden of putting an end to every unsolved situated you have left back home. You plan your itinerary, make an exhaustive to-do list, and intend to be everywhere at the right time, witness every single corner of the place that is worth seeing. If you’re one of those anxious travel-planners, then what you’re effectively doing is not liberating your mind from the confines of the mundane but cramming it with the anxiety of doing everything, seeing everything, running from one spot to the other. Why? Because much like Bunny from YJHD, you must finish seeing everything to make the most of your holiday, as if those experiences will walk in and replace the realities you’ve left behind. To put it simply, you try and cram happiness, serenity, and relaxation in those few days of vacation and end up draining your mind of every possible space to actually accommodate some much-needed calm. From this aspect, your holiday or vacation only de-tangles your brain for a few days or a couple weeks only to roll you right back into the daily routine and known pattern of things, which, practically speaking, does anything but help us start afresh. You are eventually thrown back into the routine of dreaming about being ‘somewhere but here’, of breaking away from the mundane every days for mental space and a sense of ecstasy.

There’s a very interesting term the philosopher Jason Silva has termed- ‘hermenaut’. Hermeneutics (the search of meaning) and astronaut come together to form ‘hermenaut’, someone who travels not to turn their backs from but confront every ‘ordinary’ thing, the everyday phenomenon that, when decontextualized, inspires awe, curiosity, and wonder.

Even though we have been using the terms ‘long-term travel’ and ‘short-term travel’, the time span proves to be insignificant when compared with the outlandish experience that the unfamiliarity of the place offers. Abhinav Chandel, a full-time traveller, writer and photographer shared his opinion on the subject with us, saying,

“The length of the journey doesn’t define your experience, it’s your awareness and receptivity to the surroundings. If you take out the time part, and concentrate on where you are, and try to learn from your surroundings, and interact with people or immerse yourself in nature or learn about the historical value of a place, then even short-term travels can be really fulfilling.”

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8 years ago I was standing roadside, watching JW Marriott being built in Pune, while having a vada pav. Perpetually broke during those days, I searched for extra 5 rupees in my pockets, so I could have one more vada pav and skip the next meal, plus stare at the building for some more time, and daydream about if I'd ever be able to hangout in such spaces. And then I smiled, dropped the thought of having the extra vada pav, and instead saved money for a bus ride back to Kothrud, where I had recently found a dingy room for 800 Rs a month, for I couldn't pay anymore. Those were the days I had dropped out of my college, didn't tell at home, didn't know what to do in life, and would just loiter around. Without any money, or any plans in life but just a hope that things would turn out fine, and intentions of making all the efforts. And there were times when you'd find me standing outside plush stores, staring at people buying stuff, and I wanted to have that kind of money, while wearing a torn jeans that I didn't have money to replace. And so I lived like that, at times painfully, at times hopefully that something will come out of those days, and I'll see better times. . . . And then today, while sitting for breakfast at one of the Oberoi properties in Shimla, I just thought of those days, with a cup of coffee in my hand, great Himalayas in front of me, with friends and my sister chilling with me. It was a moment I hadn't even imagined I'd live, but somewhere during those days of past, I did feel that beautiful things can happen to me, which I couldn't comprehend back then. And as they now happen to me, I do think how important it is to let the struggle happen, without struggling against them too much, how to instead invest in developing the habit of finding happiness in small things until the happiness could sprout from inside you at every moment, and beautiful days would always arrive if you're patient enough. So while they arrive, it's always wonderful to dream, and to work towards those dreams, even if you couldn't see beyond a certain point of uncertainty. Keep going. . . . P.S. I did end up chilling on the rooftop of the same JW Marriot, few years later.

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Given that he emphasizes the receptivity of the surroundings and the experience of a journey over time, it is safe to say that we align with his opinion in that it prioritizes the journey within ourselves more than the places visited, borders crossed, or mountains traversed. Be it long-term or short-term, travel can be the answer to your quest for signification which, in our opinion, is a prequel to happiness, and how can a quest for signification be fulfilled if you don’t take yourself along, isn’t it? On that note, let us quote Alain de Botton and leave you to your contemplation before you plan your next trip:

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”

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