Yesterday, I drove home to Portland from Los Angeles. There’s nothing like driving 1,000 down a freeway to show you just how inconsistent people can be.
You can easily tell who is and isn’t using their cruise control and, every so often, you’ll find yourself next to another car that keeps speeding past you, then falling behind. Speeding past. Falling behind. Rinse, repeat.
An hour later, you look over and notice you both got to the same place at the same time. The only difference? You were calm and relaxed the whole ride, and they’re agitated and stressed out.
This got me thinking about life and travel in general. This phenomenon doesn’t apply only on road trips. It applies to how people—particularly Americans—often travel, and even spend their lives. One second, they’re sprinting off to somewhere for short vacation. The next, they’re sitting around bore, fantasizing about the next big trip.
Is this the best way to experience the world? I don’t think so. Here’s what I think is better.
Why We Go From Burn Out To Boredom
Why do so many people spend their lives transitioning between complete overwhelm and utter boredom? Why do they rush through weekend vacations and come home more stressed than they left? Spending money left and right to make their trip more high energy and exciting or more upscale and comfortable?
The answer? The world around them tells them to, and they follow the orders. A century of psychological research has taught us clearly: humans respond very predictably to their environments.
Driving a car full of kids who just won their little league tournament? You’ll probably be a lead foot for the ride home. That is, until the kids wear themselves out and fall asleep. Then you’ll move over to right lane, slow down, and fight off sleep yourself.
Get two weeks of vacation each year and all your co-workers cram as many tourist attractions as possible into them? You’ll probably do the same. Or, do they stay home, bored, because it’s not enough time off to “do it right”? You’re likely to stay home bored, too.
If only there were a better way…
How To Travel And Actually Stay Happy
Without a guiding principle, you just chase whatever you see—like the car ahead of you on the freeway. Doesn’t matter how fast it’s going. If you’re not looking at your own speedometer, you want to pass it. Once you’re past, you relax, ease off the gas and—soon enough—it’s passing you again!
This is how many people travel, too. It leads to expensive vacations that leave you exhausted, then bored, then dissatisfied once you’re home.
You’re extremely susceptible to the people and things around you. But you know what isn’t? Cruise control.
When you set your car on cruise control, it doesn’t care how fast everyone around you are going or if there’s a little league team having a pizza party in the back seat. It does what it’s programmed to do. And, as a result, you get to your destination at the same time as everyone else, and you actually have energy to enjoy it when you’re there.
The same applies to setting a travel schedule for yourself based on your own philosophy.
I’ve traveled extensively for about 5 years now, and the strategy I use to make every trip satisfying is a lot like how I set the cruise control on my car when I’m on the freeway.
I don’t try to cram ton of stuff into a short schedule because I know it will only burn me out and lead to boredom once I crash. But I also don’t travel somewhere to just sit around because I know I’ll get bored and become hyperactive later on.
Instead, I follow a schedule based on my own personal philosophy for why I travel. I want to see and understand the world. I want to experience unusual (to me) things. So, I set aside a few weeks every year to get away from home.
I never worry about not having enough time to see everything. That only leads to not appreciating what I do see. But I also don’t stay home if the travel schedule—usually 4-5 weeks/year isn’t full. I find somewhere to go and something to do. I don’t want to sit around collecting dust.
As a result, I end up getting away just long enough to recharge, and I spend that time doing what’s important to me. If I miss something, I can always go back. In a way, I put my travel on cruise control—I make it consistent.
As a famous dead guy once said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” You don’t have as much time as nature, but I think it’s a good philosophy to live by.
How much more satisfying would your vacations be if travel was a regular part of your life and not something precious that you micromanage the happiness out of? What if vacation could be something abundant and not scarce… simply by changing the way you think about it? What if you put fewer expectations on your trips and just enjoyed the experiences that fit?
I think every day—traveling or not—would be a little more enjoyable.