Why Travel Makes it Easier to Be Present

Folks, I have a confession.   I was in a panic for weeks about how to pack for my upcoming, endless travel stint.

Travel Expert Gets Schooled

Okay — panic is a big word.   And probably offensive to the type of person who has so much anxiety that they legitimately cannot breathe, leave the house, function, etc.   If the latter issues are a 10 on the panic scale, I’ve never been higher than a 4.   But this past week was a solid 3.5.

Never have I ever… been offered a brown-paper-bag to deal with my “panic.” photo: pixabay

Maybe you’re thinking, “Wait.   A woman who has been traveling internationally for more than 15 years and who has set off for the unknown dozens of time, is in a panic over preparing to set off for the unknown?”

I know.   Ridiculous, right?

Or maybe you’re thinking, “Wait.   I thought you were a nomad.   I thought you’ve been on an endless travel stint for the last seven years.   Have you been tricking me?”

Geeeeeeet your snake oil, folks! Right this way! Boy do I have a “travel” blogger for you! photo: wikimedia

Totes not tricking you.   It’s 100% true that my life is a location-independent rollercoaster of certainty and uncertainty 1as are all lives, but when settled, one doesn’t often have to confront that fact, which involves many moments of bliss and terror over the last several years.

But when people think of my perma-travel, they often imagine me doing full-time what they do on a two week vacation to Italy.

Oh hell naw.

That travel speed is unsustainable and crazy-making after longer than a few weeks.   Also, it sucks after longer than a month.   So my perma-travel includes spending a few months a year in one spot to avoid going nuts. 23 to 5 months is my sweet spot — e.g. about how long it usually takes for my wanderlust to uproot me.   This year, my few-months-in-one-spot ended up happening when I unexpectedly went to Arizona to help my family.   Thanks to being “settled” for longer than I’m used to, I rediscovered the psychological issues that come with “settled” life.   Including getting so used to that lifestyle that wrapping your brain around any other way of existing induces anxiety and panic.

The Illusive Present

I think the basic “problem” of settled modern life is how easy it is not to live in the present.   In fact, not being present is almost a requirement of the average 8-to-5 life.   Much of our time is spent engaged in activities that are investments for later.   Eg:

  • When you wake up in the morning, you aren’t doing so because you’ve had enough rest, generally. You’re waking up at a specific time so that you can go to work”¦ later.
  • When you hop in the shower, usually it’s not because you suddenly feel unclean. It’s that good hygiene is an unstated requisite of most jobs, and you can’t shower at your desk or in the field when you suddenly *do* feel unclean”¦ later.
  • When you buy groceries at the store, you try and anticipate what you’re going to want to eat in a few days, what you might have time to make”¦ later. Very few of us buy groceries daily for the meal we’re making right after we buy the food.
  • When you stock up on bulk items — three bottles of Costco-size shampoo, a century’s worth of crushed garlic, a thousand paper plates — you’re imaging those future showers, meals, and parties that will happen sometime”¦ later.
  • When you invest money in a seasonal item out-of-season, e.g. buying a grill or a summer clothes in the middle of winter, you’re focused on those future moments. You’re spending time and energy and attention now to boost your quality of life”¦ later.

I’m not arguing that living for later is bad.   In fact, it can be smart.   It’s how you don’t run out of garbage bags or toilet paper.   It’s how you maximize your hard-earned dollars.

However, constantly anticipating less-than-pleasant things that might happen — e.g. running out of supplies, paying full-price for things that could easily be bought more cheaply out of season — requires putting one’s attention on the future.

Joy & Pain of Resource Abundance

The reward for putting your attention on the future is a sense of security.   You’ve prevented possible bad things from happening!   You’re going to have the resources you might need if life plays out like you expect!

I am soooo glad I held on to this magnifying glass that was in the bottom of that random box of stuff I bought at that garage sale when my sister visited five years ago.  photo: gratisography

The punishment for putting your attention on the future is two-fold.   One: an inevitable decrease in attention on what is actually happening right now.   Two: the immense pressure of potential yet-to-be-lived lives.   Examples:

  • that treadmill you bought that you thought you’d use every day that now just looms in your living room.
  • the pool table where you were going to hang out with your buddies all the time that has only seen action on three occasions since the day you let it take over half your basement .
  • that tractor — cheap because it just needs a little work – that you’ve been meaning to fix up for three years now but is still keeping you from parking your car in the garage
  • that adult coloring book you bought because it seemed like a fun, new, zen thing to do but you’ve only colored two pages.
  • that gear you collected last year to start homebrewing or making kombucha that now needs an hour worth of cleaning before you can even use it.

Constantly making guesses about what the future-you is going to want, have time for, and like is a gamble that weighs down your life.   How?  We don’t like to be wrong.   To avoid the embarrassment of admitting that we guessed wrong about our future selves or future time available, we instead choose to believe that we will be that person and have that time “someday.”

Instead of getting rid of the treadmill, the pool table, the tractor, the coloring book, or the fermenting gear, we avoid facing the pain of being wrong.   In the process, we sacrifice huge amounts of mental energy.   Every time you see that item, you think – even if just briefly – about the thing that you should do to avoid being wrong: find time to use the treadmill, play pool, fix the tractor, color, or start a batch of brew.

But… I love my old cassette tapes. Okay, maybe I haven’t listened to them since Clinton was president. But that’s because I keep forgetting to buy batteries at the store. Plus, these things are classic. Well, at least the ones that aren’t so stretched out they’re inaudible are classics. Err… you know what. I love them. And that’s all that matters.  I’m not ready to give up the dream of listening to them someday.  photo: gratisography

The problem is”¦ being distracted by your “someday” dreams takes attention from your “now” goals.   Change is hard.   Maybe you’re trying to lose weight.   Or meditate every day.   Or start a new workout routine. Or eat better.   Or write a book.   Or look for a new job.   Or plan a move.   Or quit your job to travel the world.

To be successful at change requires a large slice of your attention.   Most of us have very little quality-attention to spare anyway, between getting up, getting ready for work, going to work, working, coming home, and feeding and bathing our bodies.   Throw children in the mix, and your extra attention ceases to exist.

So the joy of resource abundance is a sense of security coupled with legitimate resource wins.   The pain of resource abundance is the massive amount of time and attention it robs from your life.

Case in Point

I’ve been slowly collecting settled habits and possessions for over a year.   3Starting in 2016, I was living in Vermont going to circus school.   And then my indefinite travel plans became somewhat definite when I dropped my travel intentions to help my family.

The joys of resource abundance were small.   Eg:

  • How lovely that I don’t have to scan this paperwork now. If I were on the move, it would be scan or carry everywhere.   How nice I can just stick it in this pile of stuff to do later.
  • Wow — another issue of TIME is here already? I haven’t even finished the last one.   If I were on the move, I’d have to finish last week’s quickly or toss it.   But I can just let them pile up and read them when I have time later.   How lovely!
  • Hmmm”¦ I probably don’t need this owner’s manual. I can’t remember ever looking at one in my life.   But I’ll just set it here in this drawer, because it sure would be nice to have if I end up needing it later.
  • Well, my ankle is better. So I probably don’t need the braces or ace wrap.   But wouldn’t it suck if I re-injured it and actually did need them?   I’ll keep them just in case I have problems later.
  • Holy moly! I forgot I had so many earrings!   Gosh”¦ if I never wear them, I should probably just get rid of them.   But who knows what kind of opportunities this settled life will bring.   I might become the kind of person who wears different earrings every day.   Maybe I’ll keep them just in case.   I do love [the idea of] earrings.

The pain of resource abundance, however, when it came time to transition back to my dominant lifestyle”¦ was surprisingly intense.

The panic came from trying to figure out an impossible conundrum after having a sobering realization.

Sobering realization:
I have so much shit and am so dependent on it to function the way I currently do.

how the @$%& am I going to take this life of mine back on the road?

When I remembered the answer, I was flooded with relief.

Oh yeah.

You aren’t.

Once I sat down and actually looked at my #1-on-Google  perma-travel packing list 4search RTW packing list, I remembered how materially simple life on the road is.  I remembered the joy of having nothing, of living in the present, of not worrying about the future until it actually arrives.  And then I couldn’t wait to shed all the weight of “later” and “someday” I’d been unwittingly collecting.

Good riddance, yo.

Happy Travels!  ♣


1 as are all lives, but when settled, one doesn’t often have to confront that fact
2 3 to 5 months is my sweet spot — e.g. about how long it usually takes for my wanderlust to uproot me.
3 Starting in 2016, I was living in Vermont going to circus school.   And then my indefinite travel plans became somewhat definite when I dropped my travel intentions to help my family.
4 search RTW packing list


  • April 12, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Decluttered! What a relief! I can hear the “Oefffttt”! You go girl.

  • April 12, 2017 at 11:55 am

    As always, you rock it!

  • April 12, 2017 at 10:33 am

    ”’Tis was a well written article and I really enjoyed reading it! I agree when you live in a 9-5 life that it’s hard to live in the present, but then again it’s nice to be stable sometimes :).

    • April 12, 2017 at 11:13 am

      Indeed – a perfect life would be to have both at one time, no? We can dream, right? 🙂

1 ping

Make A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.