The standard 9 -5 lifestyle can be soul crushing.
Wake up. Get ready for work. Work, work, work. Come home. Have dinner. Watch TV. Go to sleep. Repeat.
Hundreds of millions of people across the globe repeat this process every day like programmed robots, like ants marching in line.
There is little room in this routine for creativity, for self-expression or for introspection. Each minute is allotted its task and each task rolls onto another. The routine of home life can crush who we are into simply the things that we do each day.
Here’s an example. When you meet someone new, you’ll often hear the question “So what do you do?” You might even be the one asking it yourself. How often is the answer the job that person is employed to do? In my personal experience it is almost 100%.
We’ve learned to define ourselves by our work, by our jobs, by our routine. But there is so much more to each unique person than how they make money. The opinions, the perspective, the experiences and wealth of knowledge contained in each person is the real value to the world. Not their production capacity.
If we truly believe that we have value beyond our work capabilities, and want to explore those real aspects of who we are, then it becomes imperative to break the routine and find an environment that lets our creativity, our uniqueness and self-development flourish.
For me, I’ve found this through travel. Simply breaking the routine, being away from my peers and outside of my comfort zone expands my thinking immensely. And it happens every time I travel. The first time I traveled abroad it was an absolutely mind blowing and mind-expanding experience for me. And every subsequent trip has met or exceeded the eye-opening experience of my first trip.
The more I travel and the more unique places I experience, the more I find myself. It’s the space of being outside of the office, unable to easily turn on the TV to my favorite show, and having no commitments other than those to myself that give me room to find and fill myself up. Here are my theories on why this happens.
If you’re on vacation while traveling, it’s clear that you should have more time. Your commitments to work are on pause (or mostly so). The requirement to get ready for work, to commute, to pack your lunch, to spend 8 hours at your desk or workstation – those are all gone for the immediate future. This gives you an extra 8-10 hours a day to fill. If you’ve ever done a silent meditation retreat in Myanmar, you’ll know that even one hour alone with yourself can feel like an eternity.
Most vacationers use this time to lose themselves though. They’re so wound up from the day to day that vacation is a chance to unwind and introspection takes a back seat. They fill their time with sightseeing, with books, with drinks. Don’t get me wrong, blowing off steam is huge part of mental health and vacation should absolutely be a time to recharge and unwind.
If you’re not on vacation and you’re working while traveling you likely still have more time than at home. Your errands and your friend and family meetups are also on pause. If you have a busy social schedule this can mean a ton of extra time that you have with yourself. Spend that time on you.
With so much more time, spending some time to meditate, to do yoga or to engineer a deep conversation with your partner should be more manageable than it is when you’re stuck in your routine. Now that you have that time, take advantage.
Have you ever heard that a “cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind?” I believe “the same space leads to the same thoughts.” My office and my routine are setup to help me excel at the tasks and jobs that I’ve outlined for myself. They’re efficient and streamlined workspaces. This is great when I’m plugged into work and need to complete as many tasks as possible in the time allotted.
I’m sure most corporate offices are setup with the same goal in mind. To keep employees as efficient as possible, to keep them on task, to get the job done.
Outside of the office, familiarity can be confining as well. Going to the same gym, the same grocery store, coming home to the same house or apartment. At home I use the same burner on the stove every day. I use the same two spatulas. I have my spot on the couch. I have my side of the bed.
At home or at the office, the space is so familiar that my brain just acts on instinct. There is no conscious thought. And this ties my sense of self to my routine.
But when traveling EVERYTHING is new and every action become a real decision. When you’re traveling you have to think. That thinking sparks more thinking. And that thinking isn’t a result of your everyday routine.
My most creative and innovative thoughts always happen when I’m traveling. Without the walls of efficiency and familiarity crushing down on me, my mind opens up to new and exciting thoughts and with the added bonus of time I get a chance to recognize these ideas and bring them back with me after travel.
Let’s go back a bit.
“When you meet someone new, you’ll often hear the question ‘So what do you do?’”
When I meet people where I live this is almost always question number 2 or 3. But when I travel, I either never gets this question or it comes so much later in the conversation. How about this one?
“How was your day?” or “How was work today?”
This is the first question I hear 99% of time from people I already know, especially if I’m at home in my normal routine.
These questions, and the conversations that follow them, reinforce the belief that we are what we do and we are our routines.
But when I travel, these are the questions I hear.
“Where are you from?” “What brings you hear?” “What do you think so far?”
These are questions I can take somewhere. Questions that I can take into a real conversation on past experiences or desires to travel. You don’t have to, but the door is open. And just hearing a different question means your brain won’t have a default answer.
But it’s not just the questions. Getting outside of the box through travel means you’ll encounter new perspectives. People with different experiences and different beliefs than you. If you’re willing to learn and engage in those conversations that new knowledge and understanding will challenge your beliefs. That process will help you build a new and better examined version of yourself.
If we’re not careful we can lose ourselves in our routines. I am lucky enough to work remotely while traveling as a digital nomad, giving myself the maximum amount of opportunities to travel. Through these travels I’ve engineered enough time, space and perspectives to really dig deeper and find out who I am and I strongly believe that travel can have the same influence on you.