Long Gone but Close to the Bone

by Keith Savage · 29 comments

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It was the early summer of 2006.

…I descended the stairs of our B&B in Portree on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. It could have been my own home the way the light from upstairs illuminated the darkened family room downstairs. There was a downpour outside, and I was fathoms deep in a whisky buzz as I fingerprinted a feeling with a simplistic poem…

…Sarah and I huddled in front of a computer inside a messy internet cafe in Sevilla, Spain. The door hung open and fans blew sun-baked air above our heads. I shifted my feet on the gritty linoleum and looked onto the street where people and dogs drifted through the mid-morning heat, trying to lock a feeling into a prison of words…

…somewhere between Madrid and Barcelona, the AVE train rocketed through the Spanish countryside like a stream of fiber-optic data. I stared out the window at yellow and orange hues consciously aware of a feeling of displacement. I was outside myself looking in and seeing what, after six weeks on the road, I still carried with me…

I recall these short scenes as distinct memories from the six week trip Sarah and I took in 2006. After a two-week shot around western Europe in 2004, we slavered after more and orchestrated a pseudo-leave of absence from work. Though we ratcheted the idea back from three months to eight weeks to six weeks and jettisoned the idea of writing a guidebook (which I’ve mentioned in previous posts), the trip was still magical. But not for the reasons you might guess.

Despite visiting Scotland and Spain for three long weeks each and soaking in one historical site after another, I learned the most about myself on that trip. At the time, six weeks was an unfathomably long vacation. As the trip wore on I could almost feel the worries and fears and mundane things taking up mental space flaking off like old dried paint. In their sudden absence I felt acutely aware of my values. Time and distance had given me perspective. After all those weeks on the road, I wasn’t looking forward to playing Halo or watching 24 or going to the gym (who would?) or any of the simple things we do just to spend time when we returned.

I only thought about my friends and family. I realized how valuable the bonds of family and friendship I had back home were to me, and I only wanted to make them stronger. Perhaps, on the flipside, I had been taking them for granted.

Travel offers a rare crack at a kind of spiritual molting. I’m so bad at focusing on the present; when I take a two week trip I’m already thinking about the return to work after a few days. I need to have the time to comfortably “forget” life back home before I’m able to have these simple but striking realizations. Unfortunately, everyday routines help our minds to operate on autopilot, a kind of half-wakeful state that is blind to these insights. I find it pleasantly ironic that being in distant, exotic lands leads me to new and crucial observations about my life back home.

As I prepare for my upcoming trips around the world without job, spouse, or expectations, I know that what I learned during that trip in 2006 will only be reinforced. To be gone so long but get ever closer to the bone is a miracle. And it’s one of the reasons I love to travel.

Have you found that the longer you’re away from “normal life” the more you learn about yourself? For seasoned travelers, are you still learning things?

EricaNo Gravatar September 22, 2010 at 3:20 AM

Learning about yourself is one of the main reasons I travel. There is nothing more enriching that pushing boundaries and seeing how you react to certain situations. Shaun and I always come home changed people… and we love it. I wouldn’t trade it for any education in the world.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 22, 2010 at 10:56 AM

Seconded. šŸ™‚

AliNo Gravatar September 17, 2010 at 6:57 PM

I usually feel like a totally different (better) person when I travel, and it’s pretty easy for me to block out all thoughts of work when I’m on the road. The longest trip I’ve done so far, besides my 6 week college study abroad, was a 3 week trip last year. I totally get what you’re saying about your priorities changing after traveling. I have totally reprioritized my spending habits so that I can travel more because those experiences are so much better than a new outfit or a 500 channel cable package.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 17, 2010 at 11:44 PM

Hey Ali, I’m right there with you. When the travel bug gets in your bloodstream you start to view money in terms of where it can take you and for how long. Personally, I think it’s great; the exchange of money for travel experiences is much richer than other possessions.

PoiNo Gravatar September 16, 2010 at 9:15 AM

I seem to find it hard to think about the now, I’m eithet thinking about things that happened before this trip or what might happen afterwards. Don’t get me wrong I’m having an amazing time but sometimes I have to stop and remind myself to forget everything and just think about the now!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 16, 2010 at 11:14 AM

Hey Poi – how’s China? The hardest part is realizing that you aren’t thinking about the now, and you’ve already realized that. I recognize where you’re at mentally – sounds a lot like me.

EarlNo Gravatar September 15, 2010 at 11:17 AM

When we put ourselves in situations where many of the things we see, hear, taste, smell or participate in are unfamiliar to us in some way (as travel does), we have no choice but to confront our typical view of how our life should work. The result is an education about ourselves that is hard to come by if we don’t take that step out of our comfort zone.

After traveling for a long time, I find that I must work a little harder sometimes to get out of my comfort zone, as what was once unfamiliar and a cause for much inner reflection, has now become my “normal life” in many cases. With that said, the more one travels the more confidence they gain in pushing their boundaries and they soon discover that there really is no limit on opportunities to keep on learning about themselves.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 16, 2010 at 11:23 AM

Travel is enforced adaptation. You need to be able to react to your surroundings and find a way to manage. Generally, this isn’t too taxing. On the other hand, some times challenge what seems like your very existence. Either way, you come out the other side feeling charged and capable of doing just about anything. And you can.

AudreyNo Gravatar September 15, 2010 at 3:44 AM

There is something to taking longer trip (i.e., more than 2 weeks) that allows one to disconnect and change perspectives. When Dan and I backpacked around Europe for months after we got married in 2000, this laid the foundation to move to Europe (Prague) without jobs the next year. Then, a 3-week trip to Thailand in 2004 laid the foundation for the current trip we’re on now. Travel has a way of getting into your head where “no, not possible” changes to “yes, why not?”

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 16, 2010 at 11:13 AM

Hi Audrey, I really like how you’ve summarized the switch in can-do attitude afforded by travel. I think it’s really true. Someone recently said that travel makes them feel invincible. I think it’s the expression of finding that personal limits aren’t actually limitations at all.

Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 1:36 PM

I’m a living testament to that sentiment. All my choices are plain, stark and daily life can’t mute them. Also, my niggly habits just don’t work in the travel environment. I’m learning something new about myself everyday. And I don’t always like it. Thus, is truth or delusion better? I’m not sure yet. šŸ™‚

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 4:44 PM

I say truth. Then at least you know. You can purposefully delude yourself later.

Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 4:58 PM

How did I know you were going to say that? šŸ™‚

CamNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 12:52 PM

I remember the first time I went overseas. SE Asia for a couple months back in 2004. It was such a HUGE deal for me at that junction in my life. Everything felt so foreign and alive. I returned with a new sense of self, confidence that I could do anything that I wanted (little did I know it was the lingering effects of being biten by the travel bug!). Then we planned the big 1 year RTW adventure. It too seemed too big for words, “what are we doing?” and more importantly, “why are we doing this?”
Now, having returned from that trip also, my biggest takeaway is that life moves fast…too fast. An important lesson that every child learns from their parents, but too often gets overlooked or replaced by our busy lives.
Travel brings it home for me, makes it a reality that I now fully believe and advocate. Life moves fast, so don’t listen to your daily excuses and go after what you want!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 4:38 PM

Hey Cam – very inspiring and cool to see how travel has changed you. Time does move incredibly fast, even when you’re in the long slog through the weeds to your goals. It’s painful, but it goes quickly. I realized this, too, and it’s why I’ve decided to stop compromising.

AndiNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Every trip teaches me more and more about myself and I definitely feel like traveling is my religion–it is such a spiritual experience for me.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 4:01 PM

Hey Andi – traveling as religion–or maybe spirituality–I like that! The similarities between the two are apparent.

SarahNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 7:29 AM

I love what travel can teach you about your own capabilities. At home we rarely challenge our comfort zones, but out in the world we are constantly in new and sometimes terrifying situations. It gives you a chance to find out where your limits are. And sometimes you can be surprised by your own ability to talk to new people, deal with nasty bugs/nasty toilets/nasty people, problem solve or just to try a completely new experience.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 4:07 PM

A big impetus for the Traveling Savage plan is the need to stretch and test myself. Working a corporate office job for so many years has left me wondering what I could do if I tried. It would be a travesty to leave that question unanswered when I have the power to answer it. After all, the worst kind of slavery is self-imposed slavery.

Thanks for the thoughts, Sarah.

KenNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 7:09 AM

I, too, agree with Ayngelina. Much of who and what we think wwe are remain unexamined in the course of day to day life. Great post! You’re a poet.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 3:59 PM

I agree with you – do you think that means we’re letting our environment define us?

Christy - Ordinary TravelerNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Wow! I took a six-week trip through Europe in 2006 and visited Sevilla for a week of that trip! Too funny.

Regarding your question, I feel like lately even when I take a weekend trip that I’m able to clear all the unnecessary clutter and forget about “normal life”. It’s bizarre to me because I don’t even consciously do it. I come home feeling like I’ve been gone for months.

I love what Ayngelina says about how there is so much at home that pre-defines you. I think she hit the nail on the head. Maybe that is why so many people love to travel.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 4:00 PM

Consider me jealous of your ability to leave home at home. Do you have any tips or tactics for how you do it?

Christy - Ordinary TravelerNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 5:19 PM

Hmm… I’ll have to think about that and get back to you. šŸ™‚ I think meditation, surfing and yoga play a big part of keeping my mind in the present.

Globetrooper ToddNo Gravatar September 13, 2010 at 11:54 PM

I’ve forgotten what ‘normal life’ is already. šŸ™‚ But a new chapter is just around the corner; off to Latin America this week.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 14, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Hey Todd – how long will you guys be down there and where are you going? By the sound of it, you two are enjoying your new lifestyle. šŸ™‚

ayngelinaNo Gravatar September 13, 2010 at 10:19 PM

I’m almost at six months and the longer I’m away the more I learn about myself. When you’re at home there’s so much that already pre-defines you. Once you are stripped of the people who have known you for years and the places that are familiar you get a new glimpse at how you are – or most importantly, who you want to be.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 13, 2010 at 11:08 PM

Love the way you put it and I totally agree it with your description of the process. We humans love shortcuts. When we find something that works we naturally return to it rather than “reinvent the wheel” to use an annoyingly ubiquitous corporate phrase. I think people need a little more reinventing the wheel, the wheel, in this case, being ourselves.

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