We like it here. This place is cosy and secure, predictable and safe. We chalked out its borders long ago and filled the reassuringly finite, reliably small-scale space in the middle with routine.
We call this place our Comfort Zone.
Travel is always, to a greater or lesser extent, a transgression of those self-sketched boundaries, a venture into the unknown.
Will I find my way to the hotel? What will the bath towels be like? Will there be enough leg room on the minibus? Will the locals be friendly? What sort of food do they eat here? Will I still be able to get hold of dairy-free milk?
But as we scuff those chalk lines and step or sail or fly into the unfamiliar, we also relieve ourselves of the everyday burdens that come with living inside the parameters of those borders (those endless emails; the irritating colleague; that stressful project; the cooking; the cleaning). These are burdens we’ve been carrying for so long and so far that we almost forget how heavy they are until their weight is knocked off our seized-up shoulders and we can suddenly move unencumbered by the duty-load of daily life.
Our suitcase, in comparison, is featherlight (though we do begin to wonder, as we heave it on and off trains and buses and yank its unwieldy wheels along unforgiving cobbles, wishing we had perhaps gone to the gym a bit more, if packing those three hardbacks, that bottle of bubble bath, and the half-kilo tin of our favourite tea was really a good idea).
Travel, at the risk of sounding like a self-help book for jaded millennials, can be a one-way ticket to re-enchantment with the world and the wonders that populate it.
These wonders needn’t consist of spectacular natural phenomena or feats of architectural endeavour. They can be modest, ordinary. The beauty in the million glints of a setting sun on the ripples of a foreign canal; the cheeky squeals of a bunch of kids chattering in an accent our ear isn’t used to; the lovely symmetry in the arrangement of birches along that unexplored avenue; the infrequent luxury of a borrowed room that is ours for only a day or a week, where we might take a deep, unhurried soak in that bubble bath we had the foresight to pack.
Travel schools us in the art of paying attention. It teaches us to see things that we, caught up in the daily traffic of anxieties and duties, usually fail to notice.
Simply by presenting our senses with the unknown — by putting that canal and those kids and these birches in an unfamiliar setting — travel awakens our conscious mind to the overlooked pleasures which are to be had not only in far-flung places of splendour and spectacle, but which can also be found at home.
Stepping out of our Comfort Zone every so often might just help us to pay better attention to the things that are worth noticing when we’re safely inside it.
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