Wanderlust

Wanderlust

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Sailing high above the Atlantic, the roar of twin jet engines pushes the sun farther and farther behind. Through the porthole the horizon bisects sheets of blue into air and water. Rorschach splotches of white clouds stretch into invisibility and refracted light causes me to squint faintly at nothing in particular. Headphones repeat the same old music. The songs that are true are the songs they don’t play:
I’m leaving on a jet plane; here I go again on my own; and so on.

They say that people who suffer from wanderlust are in a perpetual state of either looking for something that doesn’t exist, or running from something they can never get away from. My experience tells me it’s not a question of either/or but rather a statement of both and how much.

But what an obvious and patronizing statement. If it’s wisdom, it’s a pithy wisdom. We are always in a state of running away from something and running towards something else. Always.

This is true in almost anything or anyone in life. It’s just far more apparent in the life of someone who organizes their life by flight itineraries.

I’m no exception. Both are true, I’m running from something and looking for something else. And travel is my primary vehicle.

One way I know is because my trips home are always bittersweet. Coming home is bittersweet. Leaving again is bittersweet. The good ole’ US of A is predictable, both in its spiritual relief and the now all-too-familiar reverse culture shock:

Blankets of clothing draped around lumbering bodies. Faces imprinted with lines from a relentless strain of daily privileged existence. Efficiency and economy and dependable tip-top service for which so much the aforementioned health, both emotional and physical, is sacrificed.

The offensive personal intrusions in the name of “security.” The sense of entitlement always on display, including my own. The blood-fueled sports. The gloriously salted and sweetened food, synthetic yet disgustingly delicious.

The empty and meaningless statements which pass for “courtesy” and “hospitality.” The rude and cold statements which pass for “respect” and “friendship.”

The bad tattoos.

A population which is at once both surprisingly cool and rational, yet hopelessly addicted to the dramatic and inconsequential.

More locally: The gluttony of Tex-Mex and Texas BBQ in my hometown. The laugh and embraces of people who have known me for half my life, or in some cases my whole life.

The same old beer in the same old bars, now with just newer music. The hulking pick up trucks with all of the metal shit attached to the front (what the hell is that for anyway?)

The smiles of aging parents. The loud commercials and logic-defying claims that every store simultaneously has the lowest prices. The labored attempts at disproving who you once were, only to end up confirming it once more.

The traffic, the fucking traffic. And the sociological stupidity of whoever invented the idea of a suburb.

The surprising amount of homelessness for such a rich society. The self-defeating ostentation of people who spend all of their money on things which only isolate them further. The annual reminder of how much I don’t miss having a car.

Christopher Hitchens wrote that anyone who is able to should make a point each year to visit a country where people are less fortunate than themselves. “If it doesn’t prevent you from getting fat,” he said, “it will at least prevent you from getting soft.”

To me being soft is being complacent: the state of having nothing to look forward to and nothing to move on from. I fail to see how a lack of complacency is necessarily a bad state of being.

But there is a problem with wanderlust and this is it:

The more places you go the less any single one is likely to satisfy you. As with any purely external form of satisfaction, there’s a cruel diminishing returns to it. Yesterday’s exotic is today’s bore. Yesterday’s news is today’s history. It’s the core of any addictive behavior: you need more and more and more, until one day you need less. Or even worse, you die never having known enough.

The more you see and experience, the more you see the overlapping of personality across culture, you see the universality of daily human existence, the common denominator of nature, and you understand that joy and relationships too, are location-independent.

You (hopefully) begin to understand the reward for any journey must be the journey itself or nothing at all — the moments of airport tedium as well as the exaltation of the world’s highest monuments; the anxious anticipation of the unknown as well as the jaded boredom of routine; the vanity of indulging in prestige and class as well as the humility of the living among the most downtrodden and unfortunate. All are valid and necessary. All are their own steps upon the same path of your life.

Compulsive traveling is often criticized for being futile, i.e., like living life on a treadmill, always moving but never getting anywhere. I disagree. I would compare it more to a race where the farther you go, the farther away the finish line gets. On the one hand you never do reach the finish line, but no one can claim you didn’t get anywhere.

Traveling must be done with a certain attitude, a zest for the new, a silent pact to oneself to every day be better and make better than what came before, and to leverage the world for that noble endeavor. You can fit this in any suitcase and unpack it in any hotel. It’s available to you in any circumstance, independent of any judgment, clique or jurisdiction. It transcends the folds in space-time.

Which leads me to another obnoxious but pithy piece of wisdom: “Wherever you go, there you are.”

This one is also true and it is also patronizing. You can never escape yourself. But you can never find yourself either.

You just are.

You exist and I exist and so does the world. And whatever you choose to do with this miraculous state of affairs, do it with the opposite of complacence, do it with an existential lust. Run away and run toward, at all times. Run in such a way that it stokes the flame and fire of feeling and reminding, that you are alive.

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37 Comments

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  • Reply

    russ

    3 months ago

    shit yes, man. quite the wordsmith!

    I will be taking my first “hit” to get my fix for this Wanderlust to appease this travel “monkey-on-my-back” next month when I fly to Lima, Peru to backpack through S. America for the year. I am also from Texas (San Antonio) and am looking forward to seeing the way a society without the aforementioned gluttonous diet and ridiculously sized trucks works!

    thanks for another great post

  • Reply

    Taylor M.

    3 months ago

    This reminds me of a /bestof post that I saw on reddit recently. This is better writing.

    This is the exact reason I want to travel more. I’ve done brief stints of travel through grad school and I learn more about the people and myself in a different country than I do at the conferences. (You could argue I should focus more…) The more I read the more I understand and truly internalize that we are all the same. Sure, there are differences in education, culture, beliefs, socioeconomic status and all other manner of experience, but at the core, at our very fundament, we’re all the same. And because we’re the same, there’s nothing to fear. In my mind, every person I meet is a friend, the other person just forgot it.

    I have my own things I’m running from, but I have great things that I’m running towards. Consciously or not, I’ve done it my whole life. But now, with a new level of self-awareness and direction, I choose what I’m running to or from. I choose travel. And I will, just as soon as I can get done with grad school!

    Thanks for writing this, Mark.

  • Reply

    Ari

    3 months ago

    Great post as usual. As in the big movie going on, the journey is the goal. Universality and interdependence gives you the right frame of mind to interpret your daily experience. Perpetual expansion and inclusiveness are of the essence to attain a global view. Consciousness is a marvelous achievement of evolution and it should never be taken for granted. In fact all the people and situations you meet outside are always a form of you from various parts of your movie. You are all the actors, and the director. In the end you are also just the screen.

  • Reply

    Matt

    3 months ago

    Been a lurker since the entropy days, and had intended to stay that way, but I just had to comment and let you know how inspiring this post was. It’s more than just incredibly well-written. It reached out, seized me and shook me. Goosebumps.

    I’ve got a one-way flight to Thailand booked for a week today (my first time travelling alone) and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading this post many times before I leave, and after I arrive.

    Can’t wait for the upcoming book.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      Thanks. Good to hear from you and enjoy your trip.

  • Reply

    dan

    3 months ago

    Wonderful stuff man! Absolutely fell into it…

  • Reply

    Jennifer Joy

    3 months ago

    I really enjoy your writing style and life reflections. You inspire me!

  • Reply

    Tim

    3 months ago

    1. You don’t think being in a state of having nothing to look forward to is a bad thing? Seems very depressing. Always looking forward to something and never enjoying where you are would be a bad thing, but otherwise anticipation seems like it adds to your life. I mean, a common observance is that the waiting for something often outdoes the actual reality of experiencing it, don’t you agree?

    2. The fact that I enjoy airports and find them thrilling despite the fact that they should be the opposite seems to me to be proof of my own love for the journey; for the mere fact of choosing to leave something behind and to change. I’ve never found anything quite as exciting as the time just before and just after a flight, especially when it’s been a long time since I last traveled.

    3. I’m fascinated by the idea of the different types of change the constantly traveling vs those who settle in one place experience. The former experiences regular, sudden change, whereas the latter experiences infrequent, gradual change. At least externally that is. What kind of internal change do you think both these paths have?

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      1. I think you misread, because that’s basically what I said.

      2. I generally like airports and flying more than most people, but even I find them tedious or excessively stressful at times.

      3. This is going to vary so much from individual-to-individual, there’s not really any way to break it down.

  • Reply

    bubblegum

    3 months ago

    You’ve said in articles and whatnot that you have a fear of intimacy/commitment. Do you think it’s possible that the ‘yang’ part of your thirst to always be traveling/starting anew is that you avoid having to feel attached, both routinely and emotionally, to where you currently are and not suffer any potential consequences that might arise? I might just be making up nonsense, but I feel like this is something that I’d do and it kind of makes sense when I put that perspective onto people I already know who are like this.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      This is absolutely a factor, but not the whole story. A number of people (generally people who are bitter about my life choices) accuse my traveling of being nothing more than avoiding commitment. I find this to be an over-simplification, if not downright rude.

      If anything I think my traveling has helped my fear of commitment. But more on that in another post soon.

      • Reply

        Phazer

        3 months ago

        Yes but you don’t have any place to call your “home”.

        • Reply

          Mark Manson

          3 months ago

          It’s not as bad as it sounds.

          • Rocky

            3 months ago

            What is “home” exactly?

            You are on planet Earth aren’t you? :)

            Home is what makes you happy.

          • daniel

            16 weeks ago

            Cesare Pavese found a nice way to express it:

            “Viaggiare è una brutalità. Obbliga ad avere fiducia negli stranieri e a perdere di vista il comfort familiare della casa e degli amici. Ci si sente costantemente fuori equilibrio. Nulla è vostro, tranne le cose essenziali – l’aria, il sonno, i sogni, il mare, il cielo – tutte le cose tendono verso l’eterno o ciò che possiamo immaginare di esso”.

  • Reply

    Jarocho

    3 months ago

    Great stuff! I’m a subscriber to that bittersweet feeling you mention above. I’m just weeks away from moving from Ibague to Medellin (both Colombian cities) and part of me it’s excited yet another part knows that I will miss this place. Nothing but great memories yet I know I need to “push” myself to seek and enjoy as much as possible the next experience. Great timing!

  • Reply

    Paul

    3 months ago

    Nice job with the writing, Mark. Have you been adopting a new style or/and reading anything that is helping you with the new style? This is an excellent post.

  • Reply

    Nicholas

    3 months ago

    I hate flying now – airline flying anyway. I’ve been a pilot since the first day I achieved legal age to do so, and I still love to fly if I am doing the flying. “Seat – 32 – C” flying is administration and bureaucracy, not romance and travel. Airports are another thing. MIAmi is a real favorite, but not for the stuff in the terminals.

    I like what you say about wanderlust, too. For me, it’s like each new “foreign” experience is a magical mirror (talking mirror) that shows me parts of myself that were buried alive at some point. Better still, I have to work at it, immerse myself in the place to get the stuff. Stuff that was deemed unacceptable by someone with authority over my small existance. Sometimes a good book does a partial job of that, too.

    If you haven’t read it yet I strongly recommend “Justine” by Lawrence Durrell. There are three other books in “The Alexandria Quartet” but I’d start with Justine. In your writing in this post you seem to be searching for a similar voice and sensibility to that which Durrell did a great job with in 1957.

  • Reply

    J

    3 months ago

    On traveling: beyond the fields we know.

    Many people wish to travel to other planets, or travel back in time. Traveling over the world is the closest thing you can get to these wishes. But traveling over the world is not a substitute for impossible dreams. It’s the real world you’re traveling in. The one you heard about in school and get to see short flashes of on television. It’s your world, and the more you travel the more you’ll notice you are not as familiar with it as you might have thought.

    Whenever I set foot in a new country for the first time, I feel a twinkle of excitement, as if I have enriched my body and soul already just by standing on another country’s soil. It’s absurd, surely, but there is no harm in making something insignificant into something important. It makes for passionate living. And when I leave a country, I feel I have shared its soul for a brief moment, and taken it home with me, contained within me. A spot on the map that used to be without meaning has become something familiar and its future will be something I will care about.

    To get to know a country. It is a fantasy, I know it. How much can you truly get to know a place by staying a few days? Or get to know a country by visiting a few places? Yet a few glimpses can already give you that feeling. Visiting the same cafe a few times. Getting familiar with the road map of a city, or the names of its metro stations, as if you haved lived there for years. As if you are living a different life, even. The world is a mirror that twists your life and puts it in a global perspective.

    Hm, I’m getting philosophical here. Be a traveler-philosopher. Let places ask you questions. Traveling makes me wonder: what is happiness? Or being rich or poor? Or what is beauty? But traveling is also about having fun. You can do it on your own and get fully immersed and meet many people, or with friends and you’ll have people to share your experiences with. They will be a connection to your past later on.

    Is it a hobby? I think not. I can do many of my hobbies while traveling. It is rather another mode of being. Is it freedom? Yes, up to a point. It is freedom from that other mode of being which we call normal life. But stay in another place long enough and it will become normal as well. Perhaps only at that point can one make a fitting comparison between one place and the other. At that point your past may kick in, and the fields you know may not be so lacking after all.

  • Reply

    Arttu Manninen

    3 months ago

    Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen wrote an interesting book called Tyranny of the Moment. It takes a calm approach on the hectic societies we live in and gives out concepts like marginal value of experiences: the more you have different experiences, the lower marginal value of one experience becomes.

    If you have traveled the world around for a hundred times, visiting one exotic place has far less of value for you than that once-in-a-lifetime experience someone would have had 100 years ago of traveling. The more you experience, the less it means.

    Now I don’t have any supporting material but I believe marginal value gives a good explanation why everything felt so much more intense when being young (I am as old as 32 anyway) and now even death of someone feels less than walking across the hall with your crush 15 years ago did. Of course it might also have to do with teenager brain molding new connections like it did before when it was only two years old.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      I’ve thought about this a lot… I think it’s also why our perception of time is always speeding up as well.

  • Reply

    Daniel

    3 months ago

    Great post Mark!

    What you said about the journey itself being the reward resonates with me a lot! I’ve always understood that, but until recently I’ve done a pretty poor job at enjoying it. It’ll seem silly but quite often if I take a look out of my apartment window and into the sky and watch the clouds floating on by it just reminds me that ‘Hey this is a wonderful, beautiful thing’ – life that is. It further became strange to me because I could go from being in an awful mood to all of a sudden being full of joy and it would turn my day around.

    I could easily think that the clouds were the reason but it was how the clouds made me think. It’s all a mind-state and like you say ‘Wherever you go, there you are’ it’s the same for what we want out of our life or our day. We always think once we get to a particular place in our lives we will be happy. For as long as we’re not there – we aren’t. Yet we never quite get there because things change.

  • Reply

    James

    3 months ago

    Incredible thoughts here. But something in particular really struck me: Same old beer?!?! You do realize the States now boast the most diversity and quality when it comes to beer production. We may have the watered down Budweiser types (which are hugely popular in Europe), but we have a thriving beer culture unlike any in the world. Ever. Find a real bar with a real beer menu, and you will see. We now make better German beer than the Germans. That’s not my opinion but a common running joke among international beer critics (yes, they exist). Mark, when you’re abroad, people can knock our politics, our rampant consumerism, maybe even our precious NFL, but never stand down when it comes to protecting America’s beer. Thanks for representing. And again, great article.

    • Reply

      Mark Manson

      3 months ago

      This is how much I care about beer…. Yeah, about that much. I’m a whiskey man.

      And from the little I do know about beer, I definitely find it hard to believe. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone drinking a Bud Light outside of the US. And for every person drinking a fine high quality beer in the US, 100 people are drinking Bud Light.

      So there ya go.

  • Reply

    TA

    3 months ago

    New york city is an exception though!!!!!!!!

  • Reply

    Brian

    3 months ago

    This awesome piece of writing reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quotes about travel. “Traveling is a fool’s paradise…” and “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
    What you say about travel becoming less exotic is true. I studied abroad in Spain this past summer and was actually surprised at how normal I felt being there, it didn’t have the same novelty that going there the first time did. Maybe South America will be different.

  • Reply

    Dr. knight

    3 months ago

    Travelling the world scares me and entices me. It makes you realize how small this planet is.

  • Reply

    Jsuave

    3 months ago

    Really sweet post dude, although it’s a little bittersweet. Your writing has improved. Have the right people around you and your travels will always be satisfactory.

  • Reply

    Stu

    3 months ago

    Hi Mark,

    This is very beautifully written, so thank you. I’m currently travelling around Europe, living the mobile lifestyle and a lot of what you’ve said here rings true. I suppose one nice thing about travelling to run from something is that you find out exactly what it is you’re running from and maybe you can begin to come to terms with that thing. At least I’m finding that this is the case for me.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Reply

    ALejandro

    3 months ago

    Wow! That’s all I can say. I was thinking about this stuff lately after being around Europe for 3 months. I would like to know what do you think about being satisfied. For example, at times it felt like traveling was a routine. It was like… ok… next destination… Berlin… then Munich…whatever. I studied German for 3 years and always wanted go to Germany and finally made it there this summer, but the feeling wasn’t so special. I don’t know why. It was really cool and I had a lot of fun, but I didn’t experience those butterflies you feel when something really good is going to happen. Like Santa and the presents. Maybe it’s related to this marginal value thing some guy wrote about? Is important to remark that I was last summer in Europe too.
    Your article was really awesome! Greetings from Mexico

  • Reply

    Cassie

    3 months ago

    As someone who is about to set off into a new adventure, building our new “home” in Puerto Rico (La Isla de Encanto!) and traveling the world, I really liked your reflections. My husband and I now often try to see through the world of our hometown for what it is, both good and bad -for nothing is ever any one thing.

    But when you never think to leave, you never actually “see” it because there is nothing to compare it to. As we have started to venture out, I can start to understand that all of this is just beliefs and routine piled on over the years. To travel is to stay fresh and new again.

    As for happiness…the best definition I have found is that you need someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. If you have those, you will feel complete.
    Cassie -http://www.lifetransplanet.com

  • Reply

    Kristin Addis

    2 months ago

    Having just returned back to the US from a 10-month trip myself, I’d say you hit the nail on the head: It’s bittersweet. I would never be able to understand home in the context of where I just spent the better part of the year (in 3rd world countries, mostly), but it’s easy to pick which I prefer. I would rather be sleeping in a $2 bed in Cambodia spending $1 on fried rice than carrying around a designer purse and wondering why working 10-hour days was worth the leather on my arm. Consider me still afflicted with wanderlust.

  • Reply

    Shawno

    1 month ago

    Thank You! I have that Wanderlust you speak of……I am almost 65 now and my family still voices upset with my movement. YOU have stirred the Fire in my Soul….what’s more you have given me and understanding of myself. My Gratitude is yours!

  • Reply

    John Cooper

    30 weeks ago

    For me, when I travel and I come back home, I’m suddenly more peaceful. And I’m also grateful to be born in a rich country. When I’m back home, I appreciate the little things more often. It makes you kind of sane again. The downside of living in a rich country is the pressure to succeed in business. I’m against the majority, but sometimes I tend to forget my true core values. Then when I notice that, I have to change my mental thinking back to how I really want to live my life.

    When I travel, I like to know two things: 1. learn culture, 2. pickup women and see how they are different or similar.

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