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Inward Travel

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  • Inward Travel

    I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a traveler during a period in which travel is not just ill-advised, but also less possible.

    To be clear: travel is a very bad idea during a pandemic if you can avoid it. Not only is it risky for you, it’s risky for everyone you come into contact with. And even if you feel fine, and are willing to take the associated risks, yourself, there’s a chance that you’re asymptomatic but still contagious, or that you’re carrying contagious bits of material on your clothes, in your luggage, and so on.

    You’re not just protecting yourself by not traveling, then: you’re protecting everyone around you.

    As such, I’ve been hunkering down with family in Missouri, and plan to continue doing so until these travel-related risks have significantly diminished.

    There will be a time to get back out into the world and embrace the delights and frictions of travel once more—and to bring much-needed funds to locals living in places that now lack their usual and necessary inflow of revenue from elsewhere—but now is not that time.

    Instead, I’ve been trying to focus on the first-principles benefits of travel, and how I can achieve similar outcomes through other behaviors and activities.

    It’s not possible to get the full experience of travel without actually traveling, but it is possible to expand one’s horizons, learn and grow and expose oneself to novelty, and to consistently challenge oneself in a positive, growth-oriented way.

    I’ve focused on this same ambition before, and during those previous geographically static periods I’ve tried to think of my day-to-day as a journey inward: travel within myself.

    The last time I changed my focus in this way, I learned to read music and play the piano, started up a podcast, wrote a couple of books, got back into running, learned to cook and bake bread (before it was quarantine-cool!), recalibrated my self-employed business model, and doubled-down on giving talks professionally (leading to a year-long speaking tour I undertook, soon after).

    I also met a lot of interesting people, online and offline, resulting in some fulfilling new friendships, read a bazillion (or so) books, played (and enjoyed) some mainstream video games for the first time in a decade, adjusted my eating habits (for the better), intentionally took some time away from dating to focus on myself (a valuable investment), and watched a bunch of critically acclaimed films I’d never seen but had been meaning to watch for years.

    None of these undertakings are directly comparable to travel. But they are, all of them, adventures of a kind. They’re all difficult and sometimes stressful or scary in different ways, and all have the potential to increase the three-dimensionality and range of one’s perspective.

    We’ve all got different lifestyles, different responsibilities, different limitations and advantages; different wants and hopes and needs.

    When we travel, then—if we choose to travel in the first place—we’ll have distinct approaches, goals, and outcomes.

    The same is true if we choose to journey inward: to challenge ourselves and seek valuable frictions, regardless of what shape they might take.

    If you enjoyed this essay, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee.