Written From

National Geographic Traveler Has It All Wrong. And I Blame Them for Creating This Mess.

National Geographic Traveler Has It All Wrong. And I Blame Them for Creating This Mess.

 

Written From… A coffeeshop no more than a mile and a half from my apartment, USA

 

There’s a common misconception of travel that I’d like to address. I’ve noticed that, at some point in the past, the notion developed that travel was the ultimate means of exploring the unknown, that only by going outside of our comfort zones can we truly experience something new. This idea holds incredible, far-off places as the ideal location to discover ourselves. In living my daily routine, I think I, too, became a part of that collective belief, a belief which is only further enhanced by the countless Facebook and Instagram posts from acquaintances everywhere claiming that their recent trip to South America changed their lives for the better. I fell into the line of thinking that true living was only accomplished only by stepping outside of my day-to-day life. I admit that I believed that adventure and culture was “somewhere out there”.

I don’t mean to diminish the importance of travelling at all; I’ve personally advocated for spontaneous adventures and am always on the hunt for new experiences (or maybe I’m just jealous because I’m not in South America right now and I’m just bitter that I’m stuck at my apartment finishing up my undergraduate degree while pinching pennies for my backpacking trip before I have to go back for my graduate studies).



This may seem like I’m leading this article to tell you to pocket your hard-earned money and instead to binge-watch Netflix until your eyes hurt, but before every travel junky gets their pitchforks ready, let me explain. I believe that travel is a wonderful means of breaking down our comfort zones and getting us outside our daily routines. But let me ask: how well do you know those comfort zones? How well do you know your daily routine? Your own home? How often have you sat in your regular coffeeshop/restaurant/etc. and taken a break between sips of your cinnamon chai almond milk latte only to look up at the ceiling and notice something you never knew was there? Just today I sat at my regular coffeeshop (like I do every weekend) and looked up and saw a small pink orchid displayed in a tiny wicker vase sitting up on the scaffolding. I must have spent hours in this shop sitting in that very same chair. The baristas all know me by name, ask me my weekly reading list, and have my regular drink ready before I’ve opened the door, yet somehow, I’ve never noticed this orchid sitting right over my head.

My point is this: how well can we possibly know our comfort zones if we still haven’t fully explored the things hanging right above us?

I was recently reading a collection of essays by the photographer Luigi Ghirri (in this very coffeeshop, no less). One of the main ideas that runs through his papers circles around the idea of the gaze, which he defines as a sort of anesthetizing that happens when one becomes too accustomed to their comfort zones, when they sink in and submit to their routines. Now, I don’t believe Ghirri puts forth the routine as something to be avoided or even something to be ashamed of. Rather, I think he celebrates the idea of comfort zones, but that the inevitable gaze should be recognized and cast aside. However, this is no easy task. How am I supposed to break away or even recognize, for that matter, something that surrounds me and becomes a part of my daily life (akin to a fish recognizing they are in water)?

 

What if, occasionally, we could consciously choose to be aware? We could choose to let our eyes search left, right, up, down, scanning and absorbing everything around us in our comfort zone, everything that was right there beside us all along.

 

I think travel junkies are on to something, though. The answer may lie somewhere in the values that we employ when exploring across borders. When abroad, we are constantly aware, searching for something new. Our eyes are darting left, right, up, down, scanning and absorbing everything around us. Our senses are fine-tuned to the culture and people. Yet, somehow, this superpower gets turned off when we come home. And for good reason. It would be exhausting to be this aware 24/7 and it would be asinine of me to put this forth as the solution to subverting the gaze. In that case, what we’re looking for may lie in simply recognizing the existence of such a gaze and, in doing so, gain some amount of agency over its influence in our lives.

What if we could do this every now and then? What if, occasionally, we could consciously choose to be aware? We could choose to let our eyes search left, right, up, down, scanning and absorbing everything around us in our comfort zone, everything that was right there beside us all along. We could fine-tune our senses to the culture and the people that surround us every day. The adventure we crave every day may be found in our regular stops at our favorite restaurant. The stories we look for may be found in a conversation with a stranger we often pass at work. The cuisine, indicative of a rich culture, may be just a little further down on the menu than our “usual”. We could celebrate the routine by choosing to “mix it up” and by actively deciding to break the repetition from time to time and noticing the world around us.

This is no easy task, but it can be done. By trying to reignite that sense of imagination that we had as a kid, where we would pretend chairs were castles and toilet paper tubes were swords, we would shift our views of the world. We could get around gaze by actively choosing a new way of seeing. A new way of being. Create a perspective built on imagination and exploration in the simplest of ways. Heaven knows that’s cheaper than a flight to Tokyo. The adjustment could begin with something simple as sleeping on the other side of the bed. Or walking a funny walk. Or maybe the answer is looking up and seeing the orchids right over your head.

Feature image: Tyler Leung






Tyler Leung

Tyler Leung is a traveler, writer, and photographer from Rocklin, California.  With a background in English Literature, Tyler is heavily involved in the literary and linguistic academic worlds.  His love of travel developed from his interests in languages and cultures.  When he’s not traveling, Tyler enjoys dancing, reading, and drinking more than the daily recommended amount of coffee.

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. I personally am a travel junky and whilst I do travel around the area where I live quite a lot during the times when I am home, I do love those far away long trips that take me out of my comfort zone. Or maybe take me into my comfort zone? As that’s when I feel that I actually belong, when I am hiking a volcano in Chile, or I am just being lazy on a beach from a remote island in Belize, or when I am indulging the street food from a night market in Beijing. I think that comfort zone indeed is different for everyone and some people might not know its borders, but what I know for sure is that routine is part of it. And if you don’t break the routine and do something, you will always be stuck. Just my thought.

    1. Tyler Leung

      I do believe traveling is an important aspect of discovering boundaries; this article makes a note to defend that idea and, in addition, puts forth another means to achieving that same end. But I am a little bit confused by your response; it seems to say (if I’m not misunderstanding) that routine is naturally a part of comfort zones and that routines need to be broken (which the article completely agrees with), but then says that, for you, traveling is your comfort zone. By that reasoning, shouldn’t something that takes you out of your comfort zone, takes you out of your sense of belonging (temporarily, of course), be the best means to achieve a new perspective and break the routine?

  2. I don’t know… I found that I can see things back home much clearer, when I have left. There’s no perspective if you never leave, you don’t notice your own baseline. It just fades in the background. It’s very hard to inspire people to look at what they have. But you take them away – not for a getaway, but for a considerable period so that the exhilaration of novelty wears off and they grow to see another place as it is – and then they suddenly see home a different way.

    1. Tyler Leung

      I agree with the sentiment that to create a new sense of understanding, to avoid becoming “stuck”, or to truly see our place in the world, we have to create a sense of parallax, a new perspective separate from the one in which we currently reside and through which we are used to seeing the world. This can be done by removing ourselves from our immediate environment in order to look back and judge the true scope of our lives (i.e. traveling), but I don’t believe that that is the only way. I put the idea in this article forth, not as a replacement for travel, but as an alternative to gaining parallax and subverting the gaze, the “baseline”, to which we have become accustomed.

  3. Really impressed by that line “We could get around gaze by actively choosing a new way of seeing. A new way of being. Create a perspective built on imagination and exploration in the simplest of ways. Heaven knows that’s cheaper than a flight to Tokyo.”

    1. Tyler Leung

      Thank you very much!

  4. Very interesting point of view, I’d thought something similar before, but not to that extreme. I agree that you don’t need to spend 1000s of $/£ to travel and discover new things, you can do it locally, but I’m not quite sure if I agree that you can call travel to realising of a small pink orchid on the ceiling. I’d just say that is this new culture we are living on of rush and new technology that makes us blind in many aspects.
    Really nice to read something from a new point of view!! Thanks for sharing

  5. Tyler Leung

    Haha that orchid anecdote was mainly meant to be symbolic for adjusting our ways of seeing the immediate, local world around us. In a sense, shifting the awareness we have while traveling over to our daily lives. Sometimes I get carried away with my rhetorical imagery!

    I 100% agree that this anesthetizing is due, largely, to the rush of new technology. I think phones have created a habit of looking down at our hands instead of “up at the orchids”. I’m looking to eventually create a related article on this very topic! Thank you for the input!

  6. You have a great point of view. Personally, I explore my own country more than any other place, but yes, I did realise that we all in common ignored our hometowns and state and attracted more to the unseen and the places tucked far away.

    1. Tyler Leung

      I’m the very same way. I’m always looking forward to my next destination and the thoughts of traveling are never-ending. I think it’s easy to get lost in that line of thinking, but I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with that! I think the train of thought that became this essay was fueled by the larger implications behind those “wow-I-never-noticed-that-was-there” moments that I think we’re all too familiar with. I guess the main idea behind this would be a different form of exploration.
      Maybe an alternative title would be “Thoughts on The Possibilities of Exploration When Perspectives are Refocused”, but I think the sarcasm of my writing would be discordant with such a cheery title haha!

  7. I really enjoyed this piece, sometimes people maximise the experience of travelling and sometimes we forget about the things we have at home. I think I sort of lived a reverse experience, when I travelled for so long that I started to normalise it and see it as a part of my routine. I guess it really depends on your perspective.

    1. Tyler Leung

      I hadn’t really considered the reversal, but I guess it’s all the same (I guess in a funny way, you could say your comment gave me a new perspective). Regardless of what is normalized in your life, be it staying at home or traveling, altering the way we look at our “routine” gives us unexplored opportunities (by which I refer to both physically and mentally unexplored). There’s nothing to lose by problematizing our routine, even if it’s just as a mental exercise.
      Thank you for the input!

  8. I guess it’s just the fact that we think the things around us and in our comfort zones back home will always be there. This makes us feel that we need not appreciate these things since they will still be there “another time”. When overseas, though, we will treasure the limited time we have there and want to explore as much as possible, since we’re not sure when we’ll be there in the future. Just my two cents! 🙂

    1. Tyler Leung

      I couldn’t agree more. We become so used to the world around us and, in doing so, begin to take it for granted. But by bringing back home this awareness and appreciation that we have while abroad, we can expand the horizons in our very own backyard, making the world bigger than it appears even when looking at an atlas.

  9. Great point of view. However, then again, everybody has different reasons why they travel. It’s great to read different perspectives and stories based on this.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Tyler Leung

      Absolutely true. You’re right, this article doesn’t really address the countless other reasons that people travel. Rather, I chose to narrow in on the outcome of travel as it relates to perspective. I’m glad you enjoyed the read!

  10. It’s nice when we are in our comfort zone, but it can become monotony. Stepping out of it and doing something new and unusual is what excites us and makes the things more interesting. This is a great post that made me think about my daily routine, thank you for sharing.

    1. Tyler Leung

      I agree! Comfort zones aren’t something to necessarily be ashamed of, but rather embraced, provided you have that awareness while embracing them.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I like hearing people’s take on this idea.

  11. let your inner child free… get out of your comfort zone…. but if you are in your comfort zone then be mindful & show gratitude.
    Have an epic day
    http://my10kday.org

    1. Tyler Leung

      I couldn’t have said it better myself! I like your idea of “mindfulness”, that sense of being present in life even when the gaze makes it easy to be “somewhere else”.

  12. Yes, yes, yes! I have been thinking about this approach a lot lately and have even started regularly writing snippets about the “roam at home”, which is intentionally wandering my own city making a point to notice things never before seen by me. Many of my observations are things up above me, perhaps because I am short. Whoever the reason it’s exciting to awaken to my surroundings and fight the routine that blunts my awareness and sense of wonder in the world around me.

    1. Tyler Leung

      Awesome! I’m glad this resonated with you! “Blunts my awareness” is a wonderful way of putting it. I think by opening ourselves up to a new form of exploration in the form of awareness, instead of saving it only for travel, opens up a lot of opportunities for us to grow.

  13. I loved this! I am a firm believer in exploring your own city as well as far away places. We truly take the places we live for granted and then once we move away we think crap I should’ve done this, I should’ve gone there. I’ve just got to Perth, Australia and will be here for a little while – I’m excited to find my favorite places to eat and explore!

    1. Tyler Leung

      Awesome! I’m glad to hear it! It’s entirely about cultivating that attitude that we have while we’re abroad and applying it to our lives while we’re at home. That sense of exploration and curiosity doesn’t have to be turned off the moment we get back to our own beds. To be able to turn it off and on is the goal and it takes conscious, intentional practice and awareness to cultivate that mindset.

  14. I kinda agree with “how well can we possibly know our comfort zones if we still haven’t fully explored the things hanging right above us?” which is why my motto is try something new – not get out of your comfort zone.

    1. Tyler Leung

      Exactly! There’s so much to explore outside of our comfort zones. But how do we make the most of our comfort zone while we’re in it? A conscious and intentional shift in perspective can make sure that we don’t neglect our sense of self and surrounding while we’re living our day-to-day life between trips abroad.

  15. cannot say more than agree. I had some moments like that too. When i was able to see my own city with the entire new eyes, like i have never seen it before. We get used to things which we have and dont appreciate it as much. thanks for reminding this simple truth

    1. Tyler Leung

      Those moments are precisely the kind I think we need to capitalize on! The ability to see our routine and everything in it with “new eyes” is something tricky. How do we get to a point mentally where we can choose to look with new eyes? This article suggests a few “exercises” (for lack of a better word) to gain the ability to have “new eyes”, such as choosing to walk a funny walk, choosing to sleep on the other side of the bed, or choosing to look somewhere else. Gaining “new eyes” is no different than gaining any sort of other muscle, be it body or mind — it takes deliberate and consistent practice.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I’d love to hear your thoughts on achieving “new eyes” in relation to the routine; I’m still figuring it out myself.

  16. Great Post! I totally think you can have fun and experience great things without the need to get out of your comfort zone! Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Tyler Leung

      Thank you! I think traveling and getting out of your comfort zone is definitely a necessity, but we can’t forget to foster a similar mindset while in our comfort zones lest we leave major aspects of our lives unexplored. Why leave and gain a fresh perspective only to come home and slowly numb ourselves as we engage in our routines? Celebrate the routine by fostering a new perspective at home and away.

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