Fed up? What’s up?
‘Junk values don’t meet your psychological needs just like junk food doesn’t meet your physical needs,’ states Johann Hari in his 2019 TED talk. ‘This could be why you’re depressed or anxious.’ As soon as I heard this, I instantly felt an internal ‘yes’. This just makes so much sense.
Not very long ago, I wrote a post about travelling and escaping ‘non-culture’. This was exactly what I meant – junk values. Junk values would be an obsession with buying things such as, well, ‘things’ – stuff – ‘crap you don’t need’ as Hari puts it. It isn’t just what we buy that’s the issue but our obsession with showing things on Instagram or Facebook. We are captivated by the need for approval, looking good and vacuous showiness.
Don’t get me wrong here. I like junk food and I like a bit of junk culture too, but too much of it is probably bad for the soul and one’s health. Hari goes on to say that living a life with meaning and not focusing on money and how we look is something we all know about. It’s so obvious, it’s cliché. But we don’t do what we know is good for us. Funny isn’t it?
As Hari says in this short but poignant TED talk, ‘why don’t we see it?’ Apparently, according to Professor of Psychology, Tim Kasser of Knox College Illinois, the answer is simple. ‘We live in a machine that is designed to get us to neglect what is important about life.’
We neglect what is important about life. I turned off the talk at this point. I wanted to ponder the point. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you a long explanation of what I think is important about life. But I will say, loosely, my extensive reading and personal experience says what is important tends to revolve around 1. connection and 2. doing something meaningful with your life (whatever that means to you).
Travel feeds the soul – places and connections
One of my favourite things about travel is that I get to visit places where I am not caught up in the non-culture of the place. In a foreign speaking country, I can’t understand the adverts and I don’t know what anyone’s saying. It’s the quickest and easiest way of escaping consumerism and non-culture. Not only this, I tend to choose places that I think will be devoid of this sort of stuff, mainly because I want to experience real authentic living there.
Today I wanted to go beyond the idea of the places we visit when travelling feeding our soul and instead talk to you about how we might be able to feed our souls with travel connections. There’s no doubt, if we like to travel – experiencing new things, seeing natural wonders and finding new adventures – these can all be very enriching. This ticks point 2 of ‘doing what is important’. But I am suggesting we can get such a lot in terms of feeling connected to others if we choose the right vacation or travel trip too. We can also find connection on a travel trip.
We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep
Most of us travel because we want to bring greater expansion, joy and happiness into our lives. Sure, this makes sense. So we choose a place that appeals to us. But what about also thinking about where we might also find people we can connect to as well.
Introvert or extrovert: we need connection
If you’re an introvert, like me, you probably spend a lot of time avoiding group situations. They can be draining and hard work in excess, but if we isolate ourselves entirely, this can be just as detrimental. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, next time you’re planning a trip to bring some joy to your life, consider that novelty and interest may only be one side of the coin in terms of bringing you true meaning.
Westerners nowadays are lonelier than ever. We live in a society that creates separateness and competition. Consider this when you’re booking a trip. Even though it can leave us cringing at the very thought of it, a trip that makes you connect to others and work as a group may just be the soul tonic you have been looking for.
Enter the bus tour
I chose a bus tour and I would do it over and over again. You could choose an activity holiday such as learning a skill or going on a cruise. What I’m suggesting here is that you choose something where you will be with other people.
I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen
The first tour I went on was ‘The Grand East’ motor-coach tour with ATI. I booked it with American Sky. The tour started off in New York City and went up, through New England, into Canada. The tour then went back through to the US, into Pennsylvania and down through Tennessee. We ended up in New Orleans and then went down into Florida. It took eighteen days. It was, without doubt, one of the best – if not the best – experience of my life. I wasn’t expecting it.
Connection, connection, connection.
Most people I talked to on my return to the UK swooned at the account of the tour. It took in so many places, they would say. I can’t deny, in terms of a whistle stop tour, it was second to none. If you want to see America quickly or take in as much American culture as possible in a short blast, this is the holiday or trip sensation for you.
It really is amazing what you can see on this type of bus tour. I’ve been on two now. They are so well organised and both the guides I had were quite remarkable. The value, the ease, the excitement and the pace was incredible. Every day left me feeling inspired and tired but it was never too much (well almost never).
In reality, whilst what I experienced on the trips was golden, it didn’t really compare to the connections I made. My first tour guide was perhaps one of the most important connections I’ve ever had with another human being. This person taught me such a lot in a subtle but significant way. I cannot remember laughing so hard with the other passengers or sharing such wonderful times. I was excited to spend time with them and had a sense of warmth, security and happiness I’ve never felt as an adult.
In this book I talk about connection a lot:
Please be aware that the above book link contains an affiliate link.
I went on ‘The Grand East’ tour with my best friend. We are both self-confessed introverts. We hardly even talk to each other, never mind to other people. So to find myself actively connecting with the other passengers after only a couple of days was quite a surprise. The truth was, it became as obvious as the nose on my face – I was benefiting from being within a group. Finally, I was part of ‘the tribe’ that so many people talk about.
I had regularly tried to join or create a tribe. I am terrible at it. Perhaps there are reasons. Maybe it’s just been the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe I’m not meant to have a tribe. Who knows? What I do know is that I absolutely loved it. I had a tribe as a teenager and I loved it then too. What did it actually entail? Many, many people have asked me how the tour worked. Quite a lot of people recoil in apparent horror at the idea of having to be part of a ‘tour group’. How terrible. The stigma seems to be rife amongst many I know. I don’t get it personally, but it’s definitely there. Anyway, because of this, there seems to be a fair amount of intrigue around it.
Make friends on your trip – you won’t regret it
My days looked like this: leave the hotel room and say hello to other passengers on the corridor or in the lobby and exchange a few minor pleasantries. This notion was repeated when arriving back to the bus after any significant stop for a visit or lunch and maybe again in the evening if I saw anyone when I was out and about. It was nothing more than the sort of conversation you might have in the hallway at work. Add to this the occasional chat with the bus driver and guide. This was what it was like on the second tour I went on and it still felt enough. It gave a sense of togetherness and brought a sense of peace and calm that I struggle to put my finger on. I guess it’s because we’re social animals. This sort of connection, albeit small, makes a difference to our beingness.
On the first tour, I would share a little more with other passengers and genuinely made friends. I was happy to see them and we’d share the odd factoid about our life or show the occasional picture of our family. It made it not just enriching but beyond that. One particularly happy experience came on the space simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, Florida.
My friend and I had made friends with a particularly funny, exuberant Irish man and his wife. They were lovely, amusing and uplifting people to be around. I still laugh out loud when I remember some of the shared experiences. My friend suffers with vertigo and I am not the bravest. I wanted to go on the simulator but he didn’t. Our friendly enthusiastic Irish friend pushed John, my friend, into it. It was without doubt one of the most hilarious experiences of my life. It was bonding.
I would suggest that if you don’t do it already, make the effort to connect with people when you travel. As I mentioned before, it’s such a cliché, it’s almost nauseating. However, it’s true beyond what words can say.
Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together
Woodrow T Wilson
Make connections and revitalise your life
The truth is we travel because we are looking for something, trying to fulfil something or feel something enriching. Whether you buy it or not, the odds are stacked in favour of connection being able to provide this. I know many angry, sad, self-righteous people that all seem to share a disdain for other people. Sure, we all do this from time to time – look at difference and compare – but it is not good for your health, so stop it. Instead, consider trying the ‘cheesy’ alternative of reaching out to others. Maybe take people on face value and assume similarity rather than difference. It might sound like an after school special but, after I did this for three weeks, I felt like a new person.
If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere