A Traveling State of Mind

A few weeks ago, I felt like dark clouds were settling in and that I was starting to get stuck in a serious rut. Life seems to be going nowhere, and unfortunately, I do not have any fight within me to beat it.

It got me thinking why I never felt that way when I was on the road. What is it about traveling that makes your serotonin shoot up through the ceiling and allow you to see the world as your playground, consequently throwing you into delirious happiness?

I have learned that the fastest way to get out of a jam is to summon my traveling state of mind and try to recreate it in my 'other' life.

What happens to us when we travel?

**This post is mainly me giving myself a pep talk

We find a lot of amazing things 
The feeling of being in a new place leaves us breathless. We listen closely and watch people intently. All our senses are heightened and we find ourselves in awe of the people, things, and culture that surrounds us.

Amazed by the golden Shwedagon Pagoda

"Familiarity breeds indifference", Aldous Huxley once wrote. When you know a place so much like an old lover, it loses its magic. Think about the people who grew up by the ocean - are they still amazed by the crashing waves and the view of the massive sky everyday? Remember that feeling of being at peace when you saw the Buddhist monks in Myanmar perform a solemn ritual? Do you experience the same feeling when you witness the rites performed here?  I don't. We can all agree that it's a matter of perspective.

How to do this today: Always find something amazing. The key is in paying attention to the little things - the ones we usually never bother to notice. Take the time to look at the trees on your way to work, or notice how clearer the skies are after raining. That view by your office window, that's neat right? You used to think that view was great until you saw it hundreds of times in the past 5 years and then it meant nothing. Try to look a little closer surely you'll find a new patch of green.

No one judges anyone
When traveling in a foreign land, no one knows you and you don't know them - at least at first. We postpone judging, just drop our thoughts, and let life happen. No stereotyping. Part of the excitement while traveling comes from meeting people on the road. Not everyone will end up as a long-term friend, some will be our companions and most likely be forgotten in a few days, but everyone we meet affects us in subtle, little ways.

Now back in the homebase. If you grew up in a society where people have created nice, little spots for everyone, it can be hard to break out. Once we are in our designated spot, it can be daunting to venture out and the thought of having to explain ourselves is twice as stressful.

How to do this today:  The golden rule does not apply, not judging won't stop others from forming an opinion about you. There really is no other way to put it. Quit judging and quit minding those who judge. 

We don't hesitate to share a part of ourselves

In a sea of travelers, each one stands out and becomes an ambassador of the place he came from. How many times does your country take the spot in conversations? When we believe in something, we passionately share stories about it. Talking about one's homeland or skills need no rehearsing, it all comes out spontaneously.

How to do this today: When things are all too familiar, our interests wade and relationships go stale. Make an effort to reach out and share your insights about that new project you are working on or about the group you've just joined. Build on your new interests and continuously make yourself a better person.

We have at least an idea where we'll be in the near future 
Also known as an itinerary. When traveling, it doesn't necessarily mean that we have to follow our plans down to the dot and kill spontaneity, but most of us do have a rough idea where we will possibly be in the next few days.

Libona, Bukidnon at 6AM

In a place of comfort, we usually do not find ourselves looking for something else. However, comfort can equate to stagnation too and that's the voice that just won't quit nagging. When was the last time you penciled in a goal for your career or personal life and you actually did something about it? And that time when you missed great chances because you were so focused on that one thing you thought you wanted? That doesn't happen with your traveling mind. What's good about traveling is we can make plans and scratch them. Draft plans but make nothing definite.

How to do this today: Make tentative plans and throw randomness in. Will you have a lot of free time over the weekend? Plan to create things with your hands, to pay a surprise visit to your friends and family (suprise is key here), to cook your favorite chicken dish. If something comes up and you need to go to some far-flung place for an overnight trip, drop your makeshift plans and go!

We're up for absolutely anything 
When on the road, we take every opportunity and rarely think twice about it. Jump off the cliff to the sea? Why not! Start being serious with surfing? Go hang out with the locals? Get inked by the monks? Trek to the Everest Base Camp? Hmm.

In our 'other' life, we tend to have more reservations. We're hounded by the intricate plans we made and the judging voices in our head. In the absence of worrying about judgments and of ditching plans, we open a window for endless possibilities. Chances are we will have a grand time with whatever we come up with and if turns out to be one of those what-was-I-thinking moment,  it will still be a great story to tell.

Mt. Ugo - After a 7-hr trek

How to do this today: Say 'yes' to anything that you have even the slightest inkling too.. within the bounds of reason of course! My mantra has always been to try everything at least once. If you're feeling lazy about an activity, think trekking, push yourself through the door and still do it. You will like yourself more once you're done with it.

Your mind is always open to learn

"The more that you learn, the more places you'll go", said Dr. Seuss. Learning is exciting and it keeps us on our toes. Being in a foreign place always brings out the curious cat in anyone. We find ourselves reading about the Vietnamese War and the French Revolution. Watch Les Miserables and follow it right up with a fun one, maybe like Amelie. Maybe learn a few Gaelic phrases. We'd go as far as finding out the best chicken tikka masala in town. It's the thrill of learning that keeps us wanting for more.

Back in the non-traveling life, it's easy to lose one's self in the daily routine. The commute sucks but it could also mean the time to read. The innate need to learn and to keep ourselves interested will propel us through the tough days.

How to do this today: Learn new things. Always thought about cooking your own meals? Google a quick recipe. Pickup a phrase book and utter 'I need to eat something' in Spanish. Take home a bit of new knowledge everyday.


I evoke my traveling state of mind every single day. So if suddenly I ditch my plans or I seem zoned out, please do understand that I'm trying to get by. 😉

Any thoughts on how travel affects you? Share! 

Favorite Workout: Walking Around George Town, Penang

The state of Penang may just be 5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by bus but the difference in how I felt roaming the streets of these two were worlds apart.

Here's a little history: Penang served as a trading port between the East and the West during the British Era. With the presence of the British culture, combined with Chinese, Indian, and Islamic elements, Penang has developed a distinct character evident in the city's architecture and culture. Compared with the modern, Times-Square-ish vibe of Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, Penang is laidback and feels like a haven for the arts.

George Town at dawn

We say that real beautiful women look their finest when they wake up in the morning sans the make up, au naturel. Penang therefore is a lovely lady aging gracefully.  At 4AM, while the world is yet to be disturbed in its sleep, George Town, the heart of this state, held us in its quiet beauty. 

Restoran Tho Yuen serves good dimsum, plus they open early too!
Starting at 4AM had its perks but by 5AM, we were all hungry. We found ourselves looking for some good food at an odd hour and luckily we spotted a Chinese restaurant along Campbell Street opening it doors. The place, with its tiled walls and floor, reminded me of Chinese eateries in the movies.

There was no itinerary for the day except that we go roaming in the streets because the inner city of George Town is best explored on foot.

Walking has a lot of perks. Aside from the calories burned, walking around George Town gave us the chance to read artsy street descriptions. Each street had a significant role in history. For example, Love Lane street was the sailors go-to place for brothels in the 19th century. It is also believed that the rich Chinese men from Muntri Street kept their mistresses on this street. Our hostel, Old Penang Guesthouse, is a refurbished heritage house located at this street. Who knows, it might have been more than a sleeping place that time. Love Lane now is a street where most hostels are found.

Walking is a treat!

Another good thing about walking is that you'll never know what you will end up seeing. We traversed a few blocks north of the hostel and we ended up facing the waters.

The view along Gurney Drive
Then we stumbled into a street of restored commercial buildings that looked like they were plucked straight from a Hollywood studio. Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) is the high-end district of Georgetown where upscale restaurants and shops are located. This time I could not stop gushing about how much I already love Penang. I have repeatedly said that I am a sucker for all things quaint, and Penang has hit all spots - quaint, artsy, relaxed.

I would never forget the street arts that subtly pop out of nowhere. It made me wish we had the same pleasant surprise in the streets of Manila. Several museums can also be found in the Inner City ranging from a state museum to places for hobbyist, like the camera and chocolate museums.

I like how the Inner City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been restored in a way that the area is intact, functional, and informative without making us feel like we stepped into a huge tourist trap at the same time.

At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry from all the walking.This is not a problem in Penang since this state is the food capital of Malaysia (and that's according to my taste buds!). Everyone deserves a good feast after a whole-day workout. Penang food deserves another lengthy post.

Share your Penang experiences too!

** The map below is useful when coming up with your own Penang Walking Tour.

Map from http://www.pulaupinang.com/2011/03/penang-georgetown-world-heritage-city-cultural-city-map/