How to Remove Ourselves as an Obstacle to Travel

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Removing Ourselves as an Obstacle to Travel and Pursuing Travel Dreams

The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself.
— The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Travelling is without doubt an endeavour that trumps most others. It's an incredible life-changing experience characterised by wonder and sublimity. Somehow, those of us who want to travel know this even before we go. It's part of the reason we're so excited about it! Nevertheless, the decision to travel remains a hard call. 

After all, it’s a big thing. To step into any trip, especially for the first time, requires bravery and a certain tolerance of risk and uncertainty. There are perceived obstacles (such as the costs and dangers involved) to reflect on and overcome, practical considerations to mull over and personal battles to confront.

It’s understandable and important to think carefully about the decision to travel. However, it’s also possible to dwell too much on the decision- on any decision for that matter. We think and think and over-think, ponder, question and reflect some more. Over time and without action, aspirations of travel that once burned so brightly begin to dwindle and eventually get sidelined.

Decision making is never easy. Sometimes, when it's a tricky one, we end up holding ourselves back. We become the biggest obstacle to our travels. 

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It’s a strange paradox that we often choose to postpone indefinitely that which we know will provide us joy and happiness.

It’s one of life’s bizarre ironies that we (I’m so guilty of it as well!) often sacrifice long term future states of happiness or positivity for protective reasons in the present.  

  • We choose not to speak to the person of our dreams stood at the bar.
  • We decide not to offer an opinion in class, or speak up in a work meeting.
  • We stay inside on a glorious sunny day.
  • We remain in a job that’s oppressive and dull.
  • We continue in a relationship that’s abusive and damaging...

Whatever the scenario, the potential rewards of a positive decision stare us in the face, but we leave them there on the table. We actively want what’s on offer, but for some reason we feel unable to go for it. For me, the internal conflict in these moments of decision is tangible- it feels like an actual physical tussle going on inside my mind and body.

But why is it so? How come we allow ourselves to let opportunities come and go like this?

I think it’s to do with the alternative.

I'll explain.

In each instance there’s a decision to make: to act or not to act. Where the action often involves some level of risk, the alternative- not to do anything- offers the immediate reward of protecting us from it.

Whether it’s the risk of rejection, or of being perceived as stupid, naive or ignorant, or of letting someone down, we imagine the possible negative ramifications of a decision to act and choose the alternative instead.

What’s interesting, and unfortunate, is that the decision not to do anything, which seems to be the most comfortable option in our heads, can also be detrimental in its own right: whether it’s shame at not being brave enough to act, or wistfulness at what could have been, the safe option can end up backfiring.

Ultimately, we humans have a great capacity to turn down happiness.

We’re our own worst enemy. We spend our days determined to cultivate happiness in our lives, going to extreme lengths to do so, and then deny ourselves the possibility of it happening! Funny, eh? Let’s try and understand what’s happening though.

It’s important not to beat ourselves up. Very simply, our decisions to protect ourselves in the moment and not to embrace the ‘happiness option’ are manifestations of a brain simply doing its job.

 http://ablebrains.typepad.com/ablebrains/2013/04/appealing-to-man-beast-neuromarketing-strategies.html

http://ablebrains.typepad.com/ablebrains/2013/04/appealing-to-man-beast-neuromarketing-strategies.html

After all, at a very basic level we’re just animals with a deep-rooted, fundamental will to survive. Our old reptilian brains (the ancient part right at the very centre that controls emotional reactions and the flight/flight response) are there to help in this endeavour.

Remember the internal battle I physically feel when it comes to the aforementioned scenarios?

It’s probably just a symptom of the mental to-ing and fro-ing between my reptilian brain and my prefrontal cortex (the rational, thinking, decision making part). Simply, the reptile brain shouts survival tactics while the prefrontal cortex tries to talk reason.

As a result, I go back and forth about what to do and get in a tizz. And, when such conflict exists, the easiest option is to do nothing at all. It’s functional and protective...It just stops me getting to where I ultimately want to be in the process.  

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For an aspiring traveller, the decision is the same: to act (to travel) or not to act (not to travel). There are risks here too: physical, emotional and spiritual risks are common place for a traveller. And, in travel there’s also a contravention of societal norms (the linear trajectory along a familiar route from school, to uni, to career, to family etc...) that can also be dissuasive- going against the grain can feel hard and lonely.

Furthermore, beyond these internal factors that I’ve talked about it's likely that personal and practical issues feature as well. Altogether, the decision to forgo travel (and happiness- it's been your dream forever!) becomes all too understandable. 

Thus, despite a sincere desire to go on an adventure, we can easily talk ourselves out of it. It’s far simpler, and safer (says the reptilian brain), to follow the well trodden path and forgo those travel dreams.

And for all of those reasons, lots of people do.

 There's only one way to discover if travel is as incredible as everyone says!

There's only one way to discover if travel is as incredible as everyone says!

Here’s another quote from the Alchemist that sums this sorry situation up:

The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza. “When he was a child, that man wanted to travel, too. But he decided first to buy his bakery and put some money aside. When he’s an old man, he’s going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
— The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

Soon after being told about the baker’s suppressed desire to travel, the boy (from the first quote) asks the old man, 

Why are you telling me all this?

To which the old man replies,

Because you are trying to realize your destiny. And you are at the point where you’re about to give it all up.

If you’re on the verge of giving up your dream (your ‘destiny’) of travelling, consider the words of the old man and the reasons behind your choice. Is it just your reptile brain getting in the way? Project yourself into the future and imagine what your life could look like.

Pay attention to the last line of the first quote: "He never realized that people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of."

Will you be the baker, or the boy?  

If you truly feel the desire to travel- feel the need to step outside of what you know of the world and to venture beyond the claustrophobic four walls of home, to see and explore that which exists over the horizon; to test your beliefs and see for yourself whether travel really is as great as everyone says, then you owe it to yourself to make it happen.

Don’t allow your dreams to be stifled and suppressed by fears, uncertainties, internal or external pressure, or any other of the plethora of obstacles that can come between a person and their aspirations. If travel is one of your dreams, decide to do it and don’t look back.

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The Latin meaning of the word ‘decision’ is literally “to cut off”.

Thus, when you actually decide, in the true definition of the word you cut off all other options. You’re empowered and liberated and able to move forwards in line with the decision. Suddenly there are no other options to create that internal conflict that persuades you to play safe- no other issues matter.

You are absolutely capable of travelling- and doing anything, actually.

Make the decision to live your dream and you’re half way towards achieving it.


N.B. Some motivational videos that I have personally found helpful for decision making and life choices:

Simon Sinek on “Start[ing] With Why”

Gary Vaynerchuk on taking responsibility

Seth Godin on finding your calling

Tony Robbins on staying hungry