Off-centre Life & Style

The journey of standing still

How staying at home, thanks to the coronavirus, made me rethink the way I travel

I had travelled incessantly for months, and all over the globe — from Tokyo to Seattle, from Oslo to Cairo. I gained points for frequent flying, but lost the discernment of a thoughtful traveller. In every new city, the hotel room appeared to be an exact copy of the one I had left behind.

Slowly, the boundaries between the places began to blur. One night, I tumbled out of bed with hunger pangs and began hunting for a sushi joint on the streets of Cairo. That’s when I knew I needed a break. No, not another trip out, but a trip back home.

Just as this thought of staying home began to solidify in my head, the coronavirus outbreak hit the news. Soon, the first cases appeared in Sweden, where I live. Being home for weeks was no longer an option, it was a necessity.

I decided to take a complete break, which meant I would not go to office, not attend any calls or meetings. In fact, why not combine that with a digital detox, I wondered. So, I packed my phone away, depositing it with a friend with instructions not to open the door if I came knocking a few hours later.

I felt an odd calmness. I heard birds chirping on the trees as I sat down with my coffee in the balcony. I sipped slowly, consciously. I had lived in this apartment for more than three years, but realised I was unfamiliar with some parts of it. Like the balcony, where the wood on the floor was chipping off. Maybe it could do with a small gurgling fountain in a corner.

Forgotten books

By late morning, the signs of boredom set in. I became restless; was I missing out on emails or messages? Given that there was no TV or Netflix any more, I had to find solace elsewhere. Books, those long-forgotten friends, came to my rescue. A large pile collected dust on my table — books that I had picked up at various airports but never got around to reading. I examined them: they ranged from business to science to personal development, with some fiction thrown in. I picked up Llosa’s The Time of The Hero, in preparation for his talk in Copenhagen later in the year. I picked Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as well, a book that I had heard many things about. I needed engaging non-fiction, so I added Cal Newport’s Deep Work and some Harvard Business Essentials to the lot.

Meditation too

The days became easier. I got into a rhythm, neatly compartmentalising my days: I read non-fiction in the mornings and afternoons, and saved up fiction for the evenings. In between, when my eyes got tired, I meditated. In the evenings, after dinner, I went for a long walk away from crowded places.

There are several streams in Malmö, and I walked along a different one every day.

By the end of the week, I had read five books, more than I had read in the last six months. What stood out was Deep Work — about how we are increasingly distracted in this hyper-connected world, and our ability to do high-focused work is diminishing. Though I craved for my smartphone, the urge lessened in the course of the week. I felt more in control. I also noticed that I had slept better throughout the week, thanks to regular meditation, zero screen-time, and an unplanned, loose schedule peppered with good literature. When I first seriously started travelling in my early 20s, I wanted to drown myself in different cultures, understand the subtle differences that exist between cultures and appreciate them. Even with little money in my pocket, I had made journeys that taught me life lessons and established friendships that survive to this day.

Over time though, with more money to spare, I could fly to remote parts of the world; I had become a tourist. I realised I was now browsing through the places that I visited, rarely taking the time to dig deep, or establish any connection to the place or its people. The more I travelled, the more I sought familiarity. My travels had turned from collecting experiences to ticking boxes.

They say recognition is the first step to change. This travel curfew, imposed on me by the pandemic, got me thinking about rationing my travel, sprinkling it over the year; and when I do travel, I decided I would let myself be educated by the unfamiliar and the unknown.

Sometimes, standing still is the best journey of all.

The adrenaline rush-seeking travel writer lives in Malmö, Sweden.

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 8:24:49 AM |

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