A traveler in Ireland would be the Irish version of a gypsy or a nomad or a bohemian. Some 30,000 travelers, sometimes called tinkers, still roam the country. Of course I don’t mean that I’m that kind of traveler. I mean I’m the kind of traveler that we all are – we just differ by degrees.
I always loved Holly Golightly’s business card – instead of an address the card simply said, “traveling”. Of course that’s all well and good and romantic for one of my most favorite fictional heroines, but in real life, I think everyone needs a place to call home. I know I do.
In anticipation of leaving home next Wednesday for more traveling, I’ve been reading about the psychological aspects of travel and it seems to me that the more I read, the more I realize that it’s all stuff that I already kind of knew, along with stuff that’s just the opposite of what I have found to be true.
For example, I didn’t really need a study to tell me that people sleep better in their own beds. But it turns out that it is a scientific fact that the subconscious mind can tell the difference between the hotel pillow and the pillow on the bed at home. Armed with this knowledge you would think that I would pack my pillow, but it won’t fit into my suitcase. There are many pairs of shoes in my suitcase. And anyway, another article espouses the value of letting go of one’s possessions from home in order to be a truly fresh traveler. Now that’s just nuts. The things that we carry with us say something about who we are. To paraphrase Bono, we decide all that we can’t leave behind.
I find that many cliches about travel just don’t apply to me. Maxims like “It’s the journey and not the destination” and “He who travels alone travels farthest” are just too black and white in real life. I mean sometimes the journey stinks and the destination is just as fantastic as you thought it would be. And even though the freedom and flexibility of traveling alone can lead to all kinds of adventures, there is nothing like sharing a beautiful experience with someone that you love.
Whenever I tell people that I repeatedly travel to Dublin for months at a time, they always say something like, “You’re so brave!” or “Why do you keep going back?” I don’t feel brave; it’s just part of my personality to want to travel again and again to Ireland. It’s partly my genetic roots calling me back and it’s also nostalgia, and wanderlust, and possibility. I guess I’ll give myself some credit for emotional bravery. I mean I know someone who would rather take a twenty-three hour bus ride from Italy to Bulgaria rather than getting on a plane because of fear of flying. I cannot relate to that kind of traveling, so I guess I’m from the school of thought that even though I might feel the fear, I do it anyway.
All of the collective wisdom does however point to a few well-known advantages of traveling that I have found to be true. Geographic distance leads to improved problem solving. When we are away from home, we are more likely to discover new ways of dealing with our problems at home. Traveling makes us more self confident with a stronger sense of self. As humans we are more likely to try new things when we are traveling. My own personal list of things I’ve done in Ireland that I never would have done at home gets longer every time I return to Dublin.
It was two years ago this week that I walked across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. I still don’t know why or how I did it, but I did. Would I cross it again? No! (In fact, I don’t know that I could even if I wanted to. I saw an article that said that vandals have recently damaged the bridge and that it is currently under repair.) The rope bridge is in County Antrim in Northern Ireland and it links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede. It is sixty-six feet long and ninety-eight feet above the rocks below. Wikipedia, however, neglects to mention that it sways back and forth and bounces up and down, but it does! And it’s terrifying. When I asked the attendant if anyone had ever died crossing the bridge, he answered, “Not today.” Another guide told me that people have become so petrified once they’ve crossed that they refuse to come back and a very brave man has to fetch them and carry them back to safety piggyback style. I don’t even want to try to imagine that.
The photo that I have of myself after crossing the bridge is still my Facebook photo two years later. I hereby swear that I will replace that photo with something new from my next trip to Dublin. But I don’t think it will be something physically frightening. There are so many other ways to get out of one’s comfort zone that don’t involve possible bodily injury.
According to the research, there are three phases of travel: the before, the during, and the after. And all of the evidence says that the “before” stage leads to the biggest increase in personal happiness. Mentally preparing for one’s journey into the unknown turns out to be really good for one’s psychological well-being. And on this point, I second that emotion.