5 ways travel can help overcome a negative mindset

| August 29, 2013
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Routine can be such a double-edged sword. We need it to make our world go ’round. To take the strain off rethinking everything every time. This frees up brain space for more complicated thoughts, like researching cost-effective energy sources or designing your wee one’s Halloween costume. Advantage: Us.

But regimen can also feel relentless and numbing. It’s often the culprit when we get stuck as a Deflated Doer. That’s when we lose sight of why we got involved in the first place, so our passion and motivation plummet. And when that happens, negative thinking has a tendency to take over.

• I went to grad school for this?
• My life is one, long dirty diaper.
• How did I end up working for her?
• My dreams are dead in the water.
• Might as well keep smoking/drinking/you-name-it.

That’s roughly the state of mind Dylan Thuras found himself in a few years ago, though you wouldn’t know it from the outside looking in. Happily married and successfully freelancing as a video editor, Dylan, by all counts, was making it in New York, NY. Yet, “it was a real concern and worry for me that this routine I had fallen into was going to be my life, and it actually wasn’t what I wanted for my life,” he says. “I was stuck in this money-making grind but had no real sense of personal agency. Despite everything, I felt like I was just failing in some existential way.”

His wife, Michelle, felt similarly. So together, they pulled the emergency lever and moved to Budapest for a year: “It was the best thing we ever did.”

More than a day at the beach
Get your blueprint for change — Unstuck Life CoursesIf you’ve ever taken a trip, you know it can be like an instant refresh. We leave our day-to-day worries behind, and return with a more optimistic outlook. Sometimes the optimism lasts. But sometimes it’s lost after the first hour back on the job. And that’s a problem if you’re trying to get your mojo back.

The answer: Travel thoughtfully. Approach your trip with a mission to discover yourself as much as you discover your destination. It’s not about where you go — a different continent or two-hour train trip. It’s about paying attention to the messages and sensations you experience. How do they fit with life at home? Do you feel priorities shifting? What really excites you? Does a belief need adjusting? 

To make this process more tangible, Dylan shared with us his personal journey through Budapest and beyond. His insights offer a kind of blueprint for using travel as a tool to get unstuck.

Don’t try to control the entire experience. When in a foreign place, it’s a natural tendency to look for the familiar. Fight that. “We have to unshackle,” says Dylan, “because we’ve become too accustomed and clingy to schedules and logic. If you see something, and it looks interesting and your first thought is ‘We should go check that out,’ then check it out! It allows you to discover the freedom you really still have.”

You’re more curious in a different environment. There’s no autopilot in new places, and we want to take advantage of that. Be observant and let passion and curiosity lead. For instance: “We were in Bologna, and we were running around trying to see all this cool stuff we’d read about,” recalls Dylan. “We went to the church of Saint Catherine of Bologna to see the saint relic. You couldn’t really get close, you only see it through a little grate from a distance. So we walk out, but then we saw a little door with a doorbell next to it. It seemed so out of place, so we were curious and rang it. Nothing happened, and we were about to leave when the door slides open. It was like an adventure movie moment! We go in and it’s just us and this 500-year-old saint mummy sitting on her golden throne in front of us.”

You’re the only obstacle in your way. You know those reasons why you can’t or won’t or shouldn’t — they fade away on the road. “The experience opened my eyes to the possibility that you can actually do what you want in life. All of our previous concerns seemed so trivial and irrelevant,” says Dylan. “It’s hard to see that when you’re in a comfort zone.”

Anxiety comes out of hiding. It’s hard to tackle a serious worry when you’ve got hundreds of minor concerns and distractions to handle. But when you wander alone somewhere new for a few hours, those distractions diminish (especially if you unplug from your mobile device). “Letting yourself not have a predetermined route can provide the new perspective you need when you’re reflecting on things,” says Dylan. “You’ll start asking yourself things like, ‘Why am I so worried?’ ‘What am I trying to control?’ Being alone while traveling is a good place to get to the root of anxiety and what you want for yourself.”

You live in the moment. There’s no fretting about yesterday or planning for tomorrow in a new place. You need to figure out the now — like where to eat and sleep. How to get somewhere. How to communicate. Dylan found this gratifyingly fulfilling: “It helped me be more appreciative of life, and that allowed me to reflect on what I actually cared about.” He later realized that “a lot of the long-term bigger life questions and goals start to resolve themselves in the background, especially when you put your focus and concerns in the moment.”

These days, Dylan dedicates much of his time to AtlasObscura.com, a travel site he co-founded with Joshua Foer.  “While I was in Budapest, I realized that I want to be truly self-employed. And I realized how much I value exploration. I wanted to share this with people, which is why we started Atlas Obscura.” But that doesn’t mean he’s grounded himself. “Whenever we’re feeling frustrated or stuck, we just leave,” Dylan says. “Sometimes it’s for a day, sometimes a weekend, a week, or even a month.” 

Bon voyage!

Next Week: 6 ways to relocate your creative muscles
Last Week: How a bad boss made me a better person

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