traveling is overrated

I think most people don’t know how to travel. They think they do. They book their tickets, they get on their planes, they enjoy themselves. They look around. And they come home, and they think “I understood this place, I got to know this place.”

But is that really travel?

Honestly, I personally don’t like traveling. So who am I to even write this? I don’t like the entire process. I hate getting into the cab, or the Uber. I hate getting to the airport, I hate going through customs. I hate arriving. I hate jet lag. I hate being tired in a new place. I hate adjusting to a new place. I hate all of that. But I have lived in new places. And that’s what I do love, the “being there” of it all.

And what I think I do know how to do is to sink into a place at least the few places that I’ve been to. And it’s that sinking in, which has given me a new appreciation for traveling to a new place that I crave and that I wish upon everyone.

Nowadays, coming into into any new city, I find the process of getting to know that city is always regulated with a sense of humility. Truth is I cannot know any place completely. After all, do I even know the place that I live in? I may have a sense of a thread of it. But living in a city as large as Los Angeles, how much of it can I really get? 

I got recently into a debate with a few friends about how hard it can be to stay up to date on trends, themes, and the general zeitgeist. And what’s happening next. They argued that it is possible to have a sense of things, an intuition about what’s hot, by following social media, news, and other conversations. But I also wonder sometimes if does the historian have a different kind of edge on what’s happening today? 

There’s something to be said for the difference between the person that immerses in everything that is happening now versus the person that immerses themselves in the history of how we got to where we are.  Because the former people are going to know the exact emergent trends, the players that made them possible, and the stories that currently ignite the minds of the world. They are in the conversation. But then, there’s the longer arc of conversation that humanity has been having with itself for millennia, so the current trends sit against a backdrop of human nature, innovation, and narratives. Sometimes knowing the long arc of how we got here gives you a better view on what is happening now. 

This thought made me think, what would I prefer? All in on the now, or all in on the past that got us to now? After all, the present can be a blinder, or a frog in the well. And thus, from that dialectic, I think about how can I really know Los Angeles? I know that I barely know the neighborhood I live in. I don’t know my neighborhoods history, and I certainly don’t know the histories of all the neighborhoods that amount to Los Angeles, and I must trust the words of others to arrive at understanding what is the vibe or thematics of LA. I mean, every time I talk to someone who has been in LA has a different take on what LA is (to them) and what is important to know about the city. No one has the same take. It’s even more stark when I have friends visiting from out of town. One person says LA people are so nice and friendly, another person says they’re aggressive. Does the city have schizophrenia?

I think if someone is intellectually honest, then they have to grant that their perspective on even the city that they live in is hardly a complete picture or an authoritative picture. If it is that hard to understand a city that one lives in, it is even harder for a place we visit for a week, two weeks, three weeks, months, or even years. And with even less geographical exposure than your home city!

If the intellect will fail me, as far as understanding a city is concerned, it comes back to feelings and emotions. When I travel to a city, I am struck by the the feeling of being in that city. I’m struck by the vibe, so to speak of that city, as opposed to the vibes of a different city. But do I take that next step and let that vibe seep into me? Do I let my travels change my perspective? Do I let my city change my perspective?

This all begs the question, what is the approach that one should take for a given city, right? How should one look upon a new city? And get the most out of it? If I grant that, whatever place I’m going to, I’m only going to get a sliver of it, I’m only going to get a very small piece of it, then how do I approach that travel experience? 

I think this can become a profound question. If one ends up going to a place, let’s say for two weeks, what does that even mean? What am I going to get out of two weeks, coming to a place, I’m going to enjoy some food, I’m going to get a very small sliver of a sense of what that country is like, but I’m gonna go home to my bubble. Will that place change me? Will that change my perspective on where I currently live? Or will I easily sink into perspectives on what that place is?

I think that’s really the crux of what I think should actually happen, I think people should be allowing their city to change them. Their travel should change them too. Because I think that’s the spice of life. I think that’s what ideally leads to a more holistic approach to life in an ideal sense. Now, I don’t know if that’s possible. For the average person, I barely think it’s possible for me, but I think it’s something worth striving for. And I think it only starts with recognizing you’ll never know a place, let alone, your own.

Thanks for reading!

Obligatory AI image generated from: “travel in your own city”.

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