Some days, while rotting in the office, my mind wanders. Today, I thought back to our trip to Istanbul. At the end of the second night, as my wife and I were enjoying a cocktail, I looked at her and said, “It feels like we have been here a week,” she laughed and agreed. Remembering this conversation, I wanted to know exactly why this always seems to happen. Although time might fly while you are having fun, my vacations feel a lot longer when I look back at the days, and then into my daily grind. It seems at the end of every work month the last 30 days flew by (although the days felt like an eternity). Doing a little research, I discovered the holiday paradox seems to explain this phenomena.
The Holiday Paradox is an interesting theory of how our brain works. Basically, what the theory states is the same reason why life seems to fly by when we are older. It is related to the experience of “novelty.” When learning, experiencing, visiting, and tasting, new things your brain becomes engaged, and days can feel fuller. Just as child that is five years old is constantly discovering and seeing things for the first time; the days can appear to be incredibly long (the learning of good and bad: food good, fork in outlet bad). As we go through adulthood very few things are new to us in the same childlike way. When you go through the motions of your same routine, you aren’t adding too many significant/ new teaching moments to your mental roladex. We tend to draw comfort from patterns and consistency where every day is the same and time is turned into one gigantic blur. It can even get to the point where we are scared and resistant to new things.
I don’t know about you, I don’t want my time to fly by with very few new memories or experiences. How do we achieve this goal of thinking back to a long, fulfilled life? You need to live a life of discovery again. This is where travel comes in; in a world that seems to embrace the monotonous, traveling breaks the every day mold of sheer tedium..
Breaking the Daily Grind
It feels to me that everything is on a never-ending loop. Before I get the taste of New Years’ Champagne out of my mouth, I see Valentine’s day cards. Every year it is the same (or similar) commercials for whatever holiday season we are entering. The same variation of products or some rehashed fast food item. Football seasons come and go in a flash and I hear the same stories retold. There is also a countless supply of “new” meaningless TV shows and movies with the same worn out plots and hype.
What happens in most offices is even worse, as they are designed for repetition. The same work day in and day out. The same ride to work daily. Similar problems, and the same meetings. Cake served once a month, some team building once a quarter (If you are lucky enough to leave your office.) After not too long, every day just blends together. Starting with Monday where everyone is in a bad mood and ending with Friday where the same people say the same predictable lines. I can literally guess the words that come out of people’s mouths every Friday (they typically start with happy..) The days drag on with boredom, but the time is getting away from you.
Once home after work people are either too tired to do anything or we do the same thing we always do for entertainment. I read most Americans go to the same two restaurants almost every time they go out. That means even in their hometown people choose routine over novelty. If nothing new happens from one day to the next, everything we remember from the past year feels like it is shoved into one short timeframe.
So how can we stop this? How can we live a more fulfilling life when living a normal life? One quick fix is to travel, travel often and travel right.
Why Travelling the Right way Helps
When I travel, especially to a location I have never been before, I see things through a different lens. Every sound, sight, and smell is different to me. I am learning and thinking the entire trip. I am that 5-year-old kid again (but I can drink!). Being in a new location breaks you free of the monotony. Think back to the first day visiting a new city. Now think back to 3 weeks ago at your job. Which sticks with you more?
All five senses contribute to this. I remember the first bite into Gelato in Rome or eating Commanders Palace bread pudding soufflé like it was yesterday. Most days I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch by the time I got home.
Traveling mimics the age when you were experiencing life for the first time. You will undoubtably discover new things, exploring, and learning; hell, if you go someplace foreign enough you’re even learning (or at least hearing) a new language. All this adds up to looking back and thinking each day felt like a month. Sometimes you may feel drained when you get back. Even though you’re tired, it probably means you made a lot of new memories, and your time was extended and realized as priceless.
How to Get the Most from Travel and Enhance the Holiday Paradox
When you travel, in order to truly make new memories, you need to shake up your routine A lot of us squander our limited vacation by going to the same place year in and year out. Many times, even staying at the same hotel. Below is my advice to getting out of your traveling rut.
- Get out of your comfort Zone: If you been going to the same location for so long the manager of the hotel remembers your name, you are due for a change. Trips should never blend into one another. Each one should be remembered distinctly. One guy I know only goes to Disneyland every year. Nothing against Disney, but what are the new memories being created? It is bad enough our society thrusts us into monotony, no need to perpetuate this on vacation.
- Don’t just sit on the Beach: I get it, you go away to relax. Your days at work are stressful and all you want to do is sit with a pink drink and let that stress melt away. (Fuck, I want to do that right now.) If you only do that, you’re missing out on building meaningful memories. I am not saying never sit by the pool, I am saying combine that with something you never done or seen before.
- Explore: This to me is the most important thing. I love just walking the streets of a new city. Understandably safety can be a concern in a foreign place, but if you use common sense you’ll be fine. I feel I find the most exciting things just wandering. You need to get away from the tour guy and the dude trying to pull you into the restaurant and get a sense of how the locals live. Immerse yourself into someplace new.
- Do, See, Try, and Taste, Everything: Once again mix it up. There is no reason an American should be sitting at a T.G.I.F in Prague. You should be trying every weird thing you see. Not just the bullet points in any tour book. It is understandable that there are must sees in all areas. I am not going to miss the Coliseum in Rome. I also want to see the hard to find Museo Criminologico (which I just this very second found out is permanently closed!). When I go someplace new I want to explore every nook and cranny.
- See a familiar city for the first time: As mentioned people gravitate to what is comfortable. When you visit a city for the fifth time you will find yourself in the same places, even a slight change to this pattern can greatly enhance your trip. Maybe go to a different neighborhood and try a different restaurant. Most likely no matter how many times you have been to a city you haven’t seen it all. This can also be done in your hometown; whenever possible, be a tourist where you live. If you can’t travel at least you can explore where you are: a new museum, art gallery, small theater presentation, wine tasting…
I write this blog, because I know travel can greatly enhance one’s life in countless ways. I know that it might seem as though I’m asking for the moon and assuming the stars with: work, house payments, children, holidays. My reminder is simple, do not become so complacent and embroiled in your day to day obligations, that you forget to make every day an opportunity and live OUT LOUD (make that imaginary trip you pine for on your screensaver happen)..
The next time you wake up in October and can’t believe they are playing Christmas music, it might be time to plan a trip. Life is meant to be more than an endless blur of weeks and years. Use the Holiday Paradox to your advantage and extend your life.