How to enjoy your travels more (and come home less exhausted)


It’s a gorgeous Spring day here in Tokyo. Sunny, warm, light breeze. There’s a bird outside saying “‘Caw'” like it’s got scare quotes around it. “‘Caw.’ I’m a bird, it’s what I say. ‘Caw.'”

And here I am, inside, sitting on a floor mat, typing away on my laptop.

Am I out of my mind?

Don’t answer that

The bigger question is: Why am I sitting inside when I could be out is the vast mass of craziness that is central Tokyo? There’s so much to see, right? By all rights, I should be getting up at dawn, train pass in hand, trying to squeeze in as many sights, sounds, and tastes as possible.

(Uh oh, there’s that should word again.)

But anyway, I’ve done trips like that in the past. I suspect you have too, especially if you are an American. The crazy impulse to fill up every second with something.

Why do we do this? The quickest and easiest answer is because the trip is short and there’s not enough time to do everything you want. So, the reasoning goes, you should rush to fill it all up.

But we all know how this ends. After a whirlwind across a country (or, even worse, a continent), we arrive at home, collapse in a heap, and when we come to, look at our pictures to see if we had fun. And then, the next day at work, wish that we had a vacation after our vacation. It’s exhilarating, don’t get me wrong, but very exhausting.

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There are two reasons why I’m trying to move past this Mad Dash and toward a more tranquil, if less full, itinerary.

The most obvious reason is that by moving at a slower pace, I can enjoy the places I do see more. Instead of being distracted by when the next train leaves or when the next stop on the trip is, I can be more present, more aware. I find that I have a greater enjoyment of everything (people, places, food, etc.) when I’m actually in the moment enjoying it. When I concentrate on the situation at hand, when I keep my mind focused on what’s here.

The other reason to avoid the Mad Dash is slightly more subversive and a bit of a mental trick: By slowing down and not trying to take everything in, I’m saying in effect that there is an abundance of this type of experience in my life and therefore don’t need to scramble to fit it all in.

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Yes, I talk to the universe. Don’t you?

We live in a culture of perceived scarcity; it would be hard to disagree with this. Not enough money, not enough love, and certainly not enough vacation time. I’m biased because I’m an American, the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. Also, according to one study, the average amount of vacation days for Americans (excluding holidays) is thirteen. When you factor in a few days here and there to account for random things, we’re looking at two weeks as a maximum period for a trip. Often it is only a week.

And boy, the pressure on that one week, to fill it up as much as possible, lest you have to languish for another year waiting for that one week to come around again.

Also, especially with the more “aspirational” trips (the kind where you’ve saved up for years) there can be a sense that you are on a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. That with every step you take, This Is The Last Time You Will Be Doing This. I’m stressed just thinking about it.

I believe that we have greater agency over our surroundings than we think. And I choose to believe that I have as much time as I need. I basically am training my brain to feel abundance, that I have enough of whatever it is that I’m seeking. I’m not saying that through this mental jiujitsu that I’ll be able to magically invent new vacation time, but neither am I saying that I won’t either; I don’t know. But by making a conscious choice to feel that kind of abundance, not only can I relax in the situation that I find myself in, but also I am conferring with the universe to continue this abundance.

Seem too woo-woo for you? Perhaps. But here’s the thing, even if you don’t believe that it’s possible that you can “ask the universe” for things, why not try anyway? What’s the harm? Worst case is that nothing happens. But at least in that case, you’ll have still have had a relaxing travel experience. You may not have seen and done absolutely everything you may have originally wanted to, but you will have fully been present for what you did.

And so I’m practicing this by sitting inside here in my room, excited for the next part of my trip, but feeling no rush to be there right now. There will be other days. There will be other trips. There will be other experiences. I reject that I can’t travel as much as I want. There will be no once-in-a-lifetime anything, unless I choose it to be that way. Relax. Enjoy.

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But enough about me. Do you feel the need to do too much on your travels?

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