Traveling To Escape

by - February 24, 2022

It’s quite common to see travel destinations marketed as an “escape.” With such enriching experiences, from culture and food to the enchanting places and adventures that await, it’s easy to understand this allure that contrasts the humdrum of our everyday, seemingly banal lives. I took my first solo trip in 2016. Although I had gone to Asia, Canada and the United States a few times prior to this trip to France, it was the first time I had ever travelled alone and for myself. To say the least, it changed my life. I was introduced to a world of indulgence, freedom, epicureanism and along the way, actual escapism.


It took me a while to realize and accept this. In my head, I just loved to travel. I was struck by wanderlust, understandably, so I prioritized travel, a healthy, harmless and expansive hobby. Until, in walked the pandemic. With all of the new adjustments and the anxieties that came with the wake of the virus, being forced to anchor myself to one place was the scariest part for me. I could’t ignore the overwhelming feeling of being stuck. I didn’t like it one bit and grieved that loss of independence in a real way. It was the first in a long time that I had to stay put which ironically made me feel rather unsettled. I felt like I had lost an outlet for “joy”. With more time on my hands to overthink, a little deep dive inward revealed that I was just triggered by not being able to run off. Much like Houdini without his disappearing act, I felt exposed and unspectacular. It became clear I was using travel as a distraction, in true escapist fashion. 


A point to note: there is nothing wrong with looking forward to traveling. There should also be no guilt in wanting to take a little break, somewhere else or somewhere new. However, in my case, I was making it the sole highlight of my life, as if there was nothing else more important or significant. I’d spent the last few years in a cycle of choosing a destination, planning(ish), counting down to the very second of departure and then obsessing over the memories until it was time to do it all over again, in another place. I had created a negative pattern of ”vacation” as every ounce of free time (and money) had to be spent “abroad”. I didn’t notice it then but my travel bug was hinged on escapism. I wasn’t just going away, I was actually running away every chance I got. My joy became dependent on my ability to board an aircraft. It provided a diversion from unpleasant feelings as I was making myself too busy to deal with them. It was this weird existential crisis type response that is best described in the statement: When you feel like your life is going nowhere, you just need to go somewhere, anywhere. 


I know I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to have this experience; Traveling to seem more interesting because otherwise, you’d have to talk about yourself or your real life where you feel like a foreigner. It’s easier to navigate places than feelings, there’s no app for that. It’s a space I often feel lost and the truth is I had no interest to explore because it’s not fun there. Regardless, as we’ve all come to realize at some point in our lives, you can run but you cannot hide, especially not from your emotions. And whether through voluntary surrender or being held hostage by way of a pandemic, you’ll have to deal. 

So what has staying home throughout the pandemic taught me? 

I’ve never actually felt grounded in my life. This is not an exaggeration. In 11th grade I had set my ring tone to Lenny Kravitz - Fly Away and it wasn’t only because of the epic guitar intro. Dramatic, I know but it’s almost always been this way for me. The truth is I crave stability. I want to feel secured in the many areas in my life. Yet, I do things that create the very opposite effect. I change my mind a lot. I’m always on to the next and so things don’t necessarily get the chance to take root. Apparently this behavior is very common and known as the “Hedonic Treadmill” or simply, the never ending pursuit of something else. The thing is, after the initial high, every change seemed to lead back to the same dissatisfaction. If you sit quietly and long enough it becomes very obvious that something else needs to shift, and it isn’t outside of you. I recently discovered how blockage in our 1st (/root) chakra can create this experience. Whether you believe in this stuff or not, the concept behind it is very enlightening. As a quick summary it talks about how fear and childhood trauma causes a disconnect with our sense of belonging. I’ve never felt at home anywhere. Not even in my own body. Now that I’m learning more about the root chakra and about “grounding”, I am slowly accessing the parts of myself that will allow me to make more meaningful connections to the things that matter. I know this will be a process. 

I no longer want to be the girl who’s always going places but actually can’t seem to find her way. I’m not sure if it was the quarter life crisis that sent me spiraling, but I knew with every year I edged closer to thirty (when “you’re supposed to have your shit together” LOL), that my anxiety peaked. I want to be successful so badly that I had scattered my attention in so many different places hoping that something would take shape. I havent been focused on any particular thing and so everything was just up in the air. I needed to find some grounds that would give true meaning to my life. To be honest, questions like “where do you see yourself in 5 years make me cringe and I even though I have opened my mind to having a vision for myself, I don’t believe it benefits my personality to think too far ahead. Instead, I’ve taken the approach of following breadcrumbs or common threads in my life that seem likely to direct me towards a promising path. This, in effect, is allowing for some sense of intentionality. It sounds pretty obvious if you’re one of those born knowing exactly what you want to be or do but some of us take a little time to connect to purpose. Last year has looked like life coaching, some therapy, a few TED talks, more consistent meditation, a self-help book here and there, and lots of mental work. I feel a bit more confident about my intended life journey now and though there still some uncertainty, I’m just happy to have a sense of direction! 
  
Sometimes we don’t actually need a change of location, instead we need to address our perspective. There is a famous quote taken from La Prisonnière’ by Marcel Proust which translates to, "The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." I think this best describes the transformation I’m welcoming. I do tend to look at life through rose colored glasses, which is fine, however I do need to hold more space for and accept that there will be days that I feel blue. I’ve had to sit still and pay more attention to my emotional signals. One thing in particular being allowing myself to cry. Sometimes a whole year will go by dry eyed, even when I’m really low. I’ve become quite repressed and have to rework the wiring in that department because I’m learning a big cry is the best solution at times. Though it’s taking some getting used to, I’m accepting that there is strength in vulnerability and that the real sign of weakness is in avoidance. I’ve also had to shift my hyper focus on all that is not going right and be more in-tune with my small wins and successes. So much of my anxieties came from worrying about screwing up instead of paying attention to where I show up as my best self. This was a crucial step in stabilizing my restlessness. 

It’s necessary to be in your feelings sometimes. As I said before, I’m still working through this one. In therapy I was given a feelings chart as a tool to name the emotions that were showing up for me. Until this point I probably used about 5 words to describe the many things I’ve felt and specifically anything unpleasant had been deduced to “I feel bad or sad”. Now, I try to be more pointed when I speak about what’s happening with me so I can acknowledge the full range of feelings and know how to deal with them appropriately. Popular culture glamorizes catching flights, not feelings and I really think it desensitizes a lot of people, including myself from showing health emotional responses. Now that I am being forced to speak up more about my feelings, I’m having to confront the fact that its impossible to be in a bubbly glittery fantastic mood all the time. I’ve spent so long being the “entertainer” at home and in friend groups that I just default to “the positive/ fun-loving” person even when no one asks me to. I’m very aware now that this isn’t serving me nor the people I care about. Admittedly, reconciling that I am lovable even when I’m unhappy has been a challenge as it’s difficult to let go of the obsession of always needing to feel good. I did recently come across a statement though that provided much needed redress and so I feel compelled to share it: “The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering.” (Taken from the Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson) 

Being free-spirited is not the same as being an escapist. While I was misusing travel, the fact that I love to do it will never change. What has, is the motivation behind my why. As an escapist I had allowed anxieties to hijack my peace. I had a thought while writing this that I was thankful they weigh our luggage and not our minds when we’re checking in for a flight. Mentally I was taking along so much baggage with me that I was jam-packed with stress and fragile. If I’m being honest with myself, I missed many opportunities and really wasn’t able to truly relish the wonderful experiences I had. Now I’m more focused on traveling light so I have the capacity to actually enjoy my trips. Whenever I book a flight here on out I’ll need to keep my why in check so that my intentions aren’t to escape but to expand my appreciation of the world. 


To echo the very brilliant Simon Simek, it's more important to focus on why you're doing something than what you're actually doing. It’s true that many of us don’t assess our why enough. For me, I think the most significant breakthrough came from a conversation I had in therapy where I learned that one of my biggest challenges is feeling inadequate. It’s what’s allowing me to actually discern this insatiable appetite for greener pastures. I’ve always felt the need to make myself “better”, cooler or more interesting because I’ve never felt as though I was enough. Traveling and shopping were some of the ways I was “making up” for what I believed I lacked. I was way too invested in what other people thought about me than my own opinion of myself. It’s one of those things that we’re all guilty of in some way, filling voids with all kinds of different vices instead of getting a handle on our mess. In one of my favorite reggae songs “Destiny” by Buju Banton he notes “Destruction of the soul is vanity” and follows with “I want to rule my destiny.” I think it perfectly sums up where I was, i.e. desperately trying to be liked and chasing societal standards of success, and where I want to be instead; connected to source and defining my own version of success. If you’re struggling through feeling lost, I’ve been there too and no matter which road you take to mask that reality, it will take toll. For you it might not be travel, but in your rumination I’m sure you can easily identify the toxic habit(s) that you’ve been using to run away from some important stuff. My desire for you is that you too will be able to arrive at a place of uncharted self love and healing that brings your back home to yourself. The caveat though is to be mindful that it is a process and shouldn’t be thought of as a destination. As cliche as it sounds, it is a life journey. While I wouldn’t say I’m even close to reformed, I am so much more self aware these days and even though I have a long way to go, I’m happy I’m on my way. 




until next time
Do Good, Dress Well

xTAR

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