Travel is a State of Mind not a Destination
We planned to go to Argentina this summer. In 2017, a travel agent told me Buenos Aires was his favourite city in the world and everyone should visit once. I recalled this in January and bagged a British Airways bargain, but Covid’s complex traffic light system and the possibility of quarantine meant, like many others, we holidayed in the UK instead. We ended up in Buxton, not Buenos Aires in a flint cottage backed by a wild meadow. Derbyshire’s land of rolling dales, butterfly-filled hedgerows and sparkling springs made me want to break into Jerusalem. It was joyful to take ambling walks, explore local history and tuck into a full English at the local biker’s cafe, beneath a canopy of pines.
Although the pandemic dissuaded many from taking holidays abroad, it’s been a boon for the UK travel industry and reminded many, how rich, diverse and extraordinary the British Isles are. Something tourists worked out long ago. A niece who’d previously taken a year to travel the world before starting a family, had her inaugural trip to Devon, three decades earlier than intended. She’d been saving England for when she was “old” and was taken aback by its sheer beauty. Travel writer Paul Theroux (and Louis’ dad) made this point, ‘Travel is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with existence or the exotic. It is almost always an inner experience.’ Ergo, how we holiday is more important than where.
A holiday mindset, that of an open mind, curiosity, sense of adventure and awareness of our surroundings, will enhance any journey, even to a neighbouring town or unexplored street. It’s not where we go, it’s how we perceive, experience and process it. The familiarity of everyday environments and responsibilities of daily life means we often stop registering our surroundings. Repetition dulls our responses and flattens our energy levels. By contrast, being somewhere different jolts our senses and attunes us to differences, both large and small. We may become conscious of a different birdsong, spot unusual plants, see something unexpected, taste or try something new, spark up a conversation with a stranger. Even the potentially stressful elements of being in a new place, getting on the wrong bus, finding ourselves lost or having to deal with any number of unplanned situations, have mental advantages.
Neuroscientists support the idea that a change is as good as a rest. They believe travelling increases neuroplasticity and offers an opportunity to activate our cognitive networks. Our neural pathways are influenced by changes in our environment and will spark the synapses in our brain allowing us to become more creative and even prevent cognitive decline. Being exposed to the new and unfamiliar can freshen the brain as effectively as learning a new language or several rounds of Sudoku. So, wherever you venture this year, be it locally, nationally or internationally, just remember how lucky you are – and don’t forget to pack your holiday brain.