14 August 2022


The traveller's mentality, finite time and paying attention

That morning, I woke up with my eyes aimed at a different part of the same ceiling. It was not only the textures that were different but also how the light was bouncing around the room. Things felt different, but the things had not changed at all. Eventually I realised that I had spent the night sleeping in the living room, a decision carried over from the night before.

Such a simple and seemingly shallow experience brought me to a place of feeling like I was partway through a new and unfamiliar adventure, as if I was travelling on foreign lands, even though I was physically in the same house. This sensation carried through the rest of the morning too.

The base actions were still the same — eating, sleeping, walking, talking and sitting — the recognisable routines of day-to-day living. But there was a persistent sense of novelty that came from the earlier experience of having to recalibrate oneself to a different view of a familiar environment.

It was a vivid simulation of what it feels like to travel to distant places, abroad or otherwise. During such journeys, sensations of novelty can come from doing the most mundane activities, like having breakfast or looking out across the horizon from a peak. Because they feel ‘new’, our senses become heightened to be in sync with things as they occur.

When we travel, it becomes easier to see more of the finer details within the world around us, the things that we usually ignore or gloss over when we are back at home where things are more predictable. We notice the scent in the breeze, taste the intricate flavours of the food we eat, appreciate how welcoming and kind strangers can be or feel the texture of bed linen — magical moments that are seemingly so dull to the locals who permanently live in the places that we visit.

To me, one of the beautiful things of travelling is that they are so explicitly time bound.

You might question this and ask, ‘Why? Wouldn’t you like to travel forever?

If not for its transitory nature, I suspect that travelling would lose its sense of novelty and become closer to the permanence of day-to-day living. As a traveller, one of the benefits of having the constraint of finite time at the front of mind is that every single day becomes valuable and that every single decision gets carefully considered.

How might I best spend the remaining time that I have got?’ leaves little room for waste or indifference.

As soon as we return back to our usual routines of life-as-we-know-it, it becomes ever so easy to lose sight of the fact that this time constraint does not actually disappear — it just becomes harder to identify once it gets buried under all the day-to-day minutiae of ‘busy’. Activities lose their novelty and time starts to move quicker as we pay less attention to the little things that were previously so gripping during our travels. Our perceived experience of exactly the same motions changes significantly.

If travelling can be said to be less about the physical activity and more about how we perceive them, then it seems to me that it would be possible to be a tourist in one’s hometown or the city that one lives in — regardless of how familiar the streets might be.

What it means to be a tourist might be closer towards paying homage to things as they happen, to being completely present in the moment because there is little else that is as important as spending one’s limited time consciously, wisely and thoughtfully.

Perhaps, this is a perspective that needs to be forced upon ourselves from time to time, such as the days we travel to be away from our familiar environments, or it could be as simple as sleeping in the living room instead of one’s own bed.

“Ever since I got sick, I’ve lived by the belief that my life is my own.

But let’s say I’ve got three years to live, and then a lot of people try to tell me how I should live those years. Do this, do that, don’t do this. Right now, I only do what I want to do, what I enjoy.

So although at the beginning it was really tough going against what others said, now that’s changed completely, and life is fun.”

- Hiroshi Hatano