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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

On the move: if in doubt, just take the trip

Breaking out of your comfort zone is essential if travel is to be beneficial

Sidi Bou Said, Tunis / Rosemary Behan
Sidi Bou Said, Tunis / Rosemary Behan

“How do you not become jaded?” a colleague asked me last week. “With all the places that you’ve been to, is it hard to motivate yourself to go somewhere new?”

The truth is that sometimes it is. Sometimes if you've been to one country before, or a similar place to the one you're considering, you do wonder if they'll be too much the same, if there will be anything new to learn. Readers of this column will also know that sometimes there is nothing more luxurious than the comfort of your own bed, the satisfaction of a daily routine that doesn’t involve jetlag, living out of a suitcase, trying to do yoga in a cramped hotel room or rushing for the next flight. It’s nice to have things how, when and where you want them.

But practicing letting go of the false sense of control that we have over our environments is important. This is how we discover not what is new but what is new to us. I’ve discovered alternative ways of doing things, and better ways of seeing, from the process of travel and the countless interactions I’ve had with people all over the world. And many of the most valuable lessons come from those who have nothing. Invariably, these people have their priorities straight.

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Read more:

On the move: thanks for not sharing

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Three unusual travel experiences around the world

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I do find it ironic that it’s usually the people who can afford to travel who are the ones who need it most. This is usually because in order to accumulate the wealth that separates themselves from the world, they adopt lifestyles which add to this imbalance. In the West this is often compounded with a dangerous sense of superiority that in the case of Britain and some other European countries is a hangover from colonialism.

This is why it’s important to interact when you travel, to immerse yourself in the local culture and connect with the landscape. Not just look at things from behind a tour bus window or your mobile phone screen. How to travel seems to be as important as whether or not you travel at all. You have to let go of your prejudices, or these will tie you down.

The fact is that every place and situation is different and constantly changing, so it's always worth further investigation. There is always more to learn and sometimes repeated trips to the same place yield the most value. Ten years ago this summer I spent two months in Tunisia attending Arabic classes from 8am until 4pm every weekday for 2 months. I remember this time much more vividly than any of the time I spent at home before or after. Over the course of two years I made five trips to the country, as there was such a huge variety of things to see there.

Moreover, the world gives me energy. There is nothing more exhilarating or stimulating than arriving in an unfamiliar place and moving through its landscapes, meeting its people and seeing its customs. This is when I feel in balance with the real world, the wider world beyond one’s limited and, let’s face it, arbitrary set of friends, family and colleagues. I can’t really understand why so many people choose to live most or all of their lives in one place.

If I am feeling jaded, I do the trip anyway. And I can guarantee that by the time I land, the tiredness has fallen away and the thrill of the new is like a surge of adrenaline. It’s staying in the same place that leaves you jaded, tired and hopeless. The only trips I’ve ever regretted are the ones I haven’t taken.