Written By: Dani Smith
You know that moment in a conversation when the subject of traveling gets brought up? Suddenly the person who was once an active member in the conversation sits back with a wistful look in her or his eye as a tale is recounted about that tiny little accidentally-discovered town in Switzerland, a camel-back ride across the Moroccan desert, the view from that last peak in Patagonia, or the color of that foreign sea that was unlike any other? Whether you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of that look, there’s something magical about touching other lands in memory.
Before I was old enough to really have traveled myself, I used to sit at the feet of well-traveled acquaintances with a gleam in my eye and ask to hear about the canals of Venice just one more time. I’d go home and dream on the lingering images of these stories of seemingly fantastic places. Through this reverie, I was drawn to people and opportunities that led me toward my own adventures, all of which yielded grounding and a truer perspective on what makes a life rich. In times of confusion or stress, there is a great deal of comfort in reminiscing on my travels and the subsequent wisdom gained.
Clearly, escapism is not a solution to real problems, but, for those minds and hearts bent toward fleeing the scene and finding solace elsewhere, travel can be a healthy way to find safe harbor in something outside yourself that will stay with you in a positive way long after the experience is finished. Traveling and daydreaming inevitably go hand in hand. Whether you’re thinking on how in the world you’re going to get from the hotel to the peak of that mountain you’ve been dying to climb, or remembering the warm and weathered look on the face of that old woman that served you coffee your first morning on a new continent, the mind’s occupation is reoriented, which can be rather beneficial. According to neurologist Marcus Raichle of Washington University in St. Louis, “daydreaming is the mind’s default mode”. If you’re prone to getting lost in thought, you know that the brain is far from idle during these bouts. It is even seen as exercise for the mind. Another benefit of daydreaming is that it helps us create our self-image, and while we can be thinking of foreign lands and distant places, we are also a player in this game of virtual reality. Just by imagining ourselves in these different scenarios, we can learn things about our inner person that foster personal development and exploration of lesser-known parts of oneself. Even if I never travel another day in my life that part of me will still live on in my memories, which is a gift that will never run out of currency.
The psychological concept of mental time travel, called chronesthesia, is the concept that our minds have “ [the] ability or capacity, acquired by humans through evolution, that allows [us] to be constantly aware of the past and the future.” In her article for the American Psychological Association, Bridgette Murray explains Endel Tulving, PhD’s theory that he says allows us to vividly access our past to help guide our future. According to Tulving, chronesthesia has evolved in our minds stemming from concepts such as planting a seed, educating youth, and preparing for an afterlife; all of which Tulving claims are projections of the past onto the future. So, if we have the ability to mentally recall certain experiences and knowledge so clearly that we can manifest them in the future, the types of experiences and learning that happen abroad will aid in perpetuating the self you are while traveling and inspire and inform the future, more cultured self. This could be especially helpful in seasons of feeling disjointed and far from the self you desire to be. Having positive concrete memories that are set apart allows you to access dormant attributes brought about by unique circumstances and sketch them into the blueprints of the days to come.
The truth is, we all have gray days, illness suffered, seasons of losing heart, moments of loneliness. Travel, in my experience, is the best way to gather reserves for the rainy days. Memories of adventures can keep you grounded in reality while reminiscing on strength or ingenuity or spontaneity you never knew you had until you were faced with it. If you feel weak in your personal life, stuck in your professional world, or lack-luster in your social circle, remember your travels and who you were and wished to be there, and let that fuel you to combat complacency in all areas of your life. Inspire growth, strive toward bravery, and always say yes to gelato. Go see the world, and yourself.
Dani Marie Smith
F4A Blogger & Adventure Guide