In Sara's second post for ESG, she flips it back on us: How can travel help us appreciate what we have at home? How can we experience the world in our own backyards? How can our travel memories empower us to be happier and present in the moment, wherever we find ourselves?
You know the feeling: a friend announces she booked a great flight deal to Colombia; you hear a song that you haven’t heard since that summer in Dublin; a colleague heads to a week-long conference in Montreal; you catch a whiff of grilled meat that puts you back in a Singapore market. Your heart beats faster, your stomach tightens, and you wish more than anything that you could be back there.
Once you’ve enjoyed life in another place – whether living there or just having a meaningful visit – it can be hard to move on from all those positive feelings. Especially when surrounded by a culture that is new to us, we feel everything more strongly. I will never ever forget the thrill of my first train ride in France, the joy of my first bike commute in Denmark, or my first real taste of street food in Thailand. The emotional power of these memories are enough to make us long for these places when life in our current locations seems bland in comparison.
The truth is, everyday life can be bland no matter where you live. It’s important to love where you are, be fully present in that place, and ignore the “grass is greener” myths. But it takes work to maintain this perspective, especially when you have a travel bug and a yearning for adventure. For those of us who can’t live as global nomads (which is most of us!), here are my methods for calming a travel-buzzed mind:
When you find yourself thinking...
They have better food! Oh boy, I get it. There are some places in the world that just do food right. But you can do something about your cravings. Seek out local markets and restaurants that specialize in that cuisine. If certain dishes aren’t on the menu, ask if they can still make them for you (this works all the time at Chinese restaurants!). Support local farmers that produce healthier, better-tasting food. And when you just can’t find someone else to make it, learn how to cook some of your favorite dishes the authentic way. You may have some trial and error, but it’s very worth it.
They have better public transportation! Be the change you wish to see in your community. Get on that bus. Dust of your bike. Take the subway or light rail, even if it will take you longer to get there. Vote for local leaders who want to prioritize mass transit and people-friendly streets. Nothing will improve if you don’t do something about it. All those great public transportation systems around the world didn’t appear out of nowhere! They are the result of governments and citizens putting tax dollars toward infrastructure that prioritizes human and environmental wellness.
I traveled so much more when I was there! Being in a new culture makes all excursions exciting. It can be hard to recognize the attractiveness of our own backyard, but it’s there, too. Just because you aren’t jetsetting to a new country every few weeks doesn’t mean you can’t find adventure. Taking road trips, day trips, and finding hidden gems in your own city can be just as rewarding. Seek out national parks, sleepy towns, and neighborhoods that you haven’t been to in a while; chances are, you just hadn’t noticed what they had to offer.
The culture was just more my style there! This is a tough one. Sometimes we just feel at home somewhere else. I feel this very strongly about both Copenhagen and Beijing (I know, doesn’t seem to make sense. But trust me on this one.) The best advice I have is to just keep the spirit of that place alive in your daily life. Cultivate relationships and routines that reflect your values, the values you so strongly connected with in that place. It’s hard work, but it really is all about the choices you make.
It’s more diverse there! Some cities are objectively more diverse: London, New York City, Paris, Sydney, San Francisco, Dubai…you just can’t help but feel like you live in a global city when you’re there. But in reality, communities everywhere are globalized and growing in diversity. You may just need to expand where you spend your time and who you meet. Volunteer for organizations that serve recently arrived immigrants. Make a conscious effort to get out of your routine and spend time in other neighborhoods. Vote for local leaders who recognize economic and racial segregation and who vow to do something about it.
Their government/health care/environmental policy/etc. is so much better! There are so many complaints we can all make about our own countries, and we tend to forget that people do that no matter where they live. Try to keep some perspective. You probably have lots to be grateful for where you are. And where it’s blatantly obvious that your country is failing at something (ahem, American parental leave), get active in your local political scene to make a change. Nothing good will happen without your action.
I miss all my friends back there! This is a big one, because it’s so hard to keep up close relationships when you’re far apart. Keep in touch on social media and chat apps, and make plans to visit each other. But don’t let those relationships dominate; it is crucial that you form your strongest bonds in the place where you live. If you always have people visiting you from out of town or sending you texts from afar all day and night, you will never fully be present or have time to establish local friendships. You will always be halfway out the door, potentially missing out on more amazing relationships right there at home.
I’m just bored here! It’s all relative. Someone else is sitting in your dream destination thinking the very same thing. So instead of dwelling on what you don’t have, actively recognize what you do have. Pursue the things that bring you joy. Don’t blame the place; you are an incredibly versatile, dynamic human who is capable of adapting and thriving. Step outside your comfort zone, shake up your routine, and discover something new.
Of course, it’s not easy to calm the travel itch or the desire to just pack up and move halfway around the world. It takes practice and regular reminders to myself that I have so much to be happy about exactly where I am. Here is what I repeat to myself when I get into a rut:
Someone else would love to take your place: Quite literally, there is someone out there who would be shocked at your complaints and offer to switch places. Don’t offend them with your grumpiness!
Change is the only constant: You, your community, and your network are always changing and growing. Never give up on a place’s ability for improvement.
Be the change you wish to see: Instead of complaining, do something to fix it. It’s much more useful to both your community and to your sanity.