When was the last time you travelled, whether it was to a nearby province, or to a country right on the edge of the world? How did it feel as you strolled through the streets and just observed the people, humming, buzzing around you going about their everyday life? For me, that’s one of the wondrous things about traveling. All the literally butt-hurting bus rides, and anxiety-inducing trip-planning pay off once I get to observe people from other places in their very natural habitat, doing their thing, going to their usual places.
People often cite the ability to see another culture, other ways of life, or the beauty of surrounding nature as the main benefits they enjoy from travelling, and that’s true. I’ve had the fortune to travel to many different cities last year and though there were some big differences, most of the things were still the same compared to my own city.
People were still people. Dogs still barked. The air was still hot or biting. And there were still flowers of all kinds along the pavement.
For the people of those countries, life was probably dull until their next visit to some other places, maybe to my very own city. It used to surprise me how amazed foreigners could be with my dear old Phnom Penh. They would stop, stand still and admire an old rusty pagoda gate for ten minutes straight. The old porridge-selling lady at the corner of the street whom I’ve barely spoken 100 words with during the five years of my knowing her is a person of infinite interestingness to a foreigner.
I get it, grass is greener on the other side. However, apart from the external green grass, I think when we travel, we also switch persona on the inside. It’s as if once we put our foot on the plane, we embody this big-eared, huge-eyed, large-tonged person hungry for experience, for observation, for fun. We put our personal troubles, the complication at work, the unanswered texts from exes aside and be a sponge for a few days. In another word, #holidaymoodON.
The sad fact of life is for most of us, travelling a long distance a few times a month cannot be a reality. You might not have enough budget, or time to spare, and well, sometimes, you just want to live out of your closet instead of a backpack, you know. BUT the happy fact of life is you can always try to tweak your perception. Of course, you might not be able to physically travel into a new place, but that’s only half of the equation. You cannot change the outside, but you can damn well try to change the inside, to induce the feeling of being a traveler even when you’re not travelling to anywhere new.
Here’s what I’ve been doing for a few years now and have reinforced during the last few months: pretend to be a tourist in your own city. Mark off a day from your calendar as a trip day. Before the big day, search your city up on the internet and find interesting bits of information and spots to visit. Well, at least that’s what I do, anyway. Pack up your bag and go about the city as if you were seeing it for the very first time. Notice the people around you- how they behave, how they talk, how they live. Give attention to the small kids playing along the pavement, or the lack thereof. Take notes of observations of the places you visit. Breathe in the fresh air in a park (or the foul air of a really small alley). Really taste the food you order for your mid-day break as if you might never come back to that restaurant again after your trip. Take the time to listen to your tuk-tuk rider’s story. Take pictures, loads and loads of pictures. Sketch a place or two. Go clubbing with strangers. Do whatever you normally do when you’re on a holiday in a strange land.
The cons of this is that you might have to spend say, $15, and not able to hang out or work for a day. But the upside? Well, the upside is that you can slow down, and really witness the great lumbering beast of a city you’ve taken for granted for too long and maybe come up with one or two fresh new observations of the people you call your neighbors, the culture you call yours, and the place you call your own.
(Featured image credit: Parinha Seyhak)
Complimentary reading on why you shouldn’t be too eager to travel out of your city)