5 Mental & Emotional Lessons To Own Your Travels
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Welcome to the final blog post of the 'advice to young travellers' series, where I'll pass on some mental/emotional advice and lessons that may help you to own negative situations and transform them into a positive travelling experience.
As cliché as some of these sound, I can promise you that they're the most valuable lessons that I learnt during my travelling experiences. Not only are they relevant to travels, but they can also be applied to your day-to-day life to glean many positive benefits.
Let's get to it.
1. Expectation is toxic.
Plan ahead by all means, but do your utmost not to attach any expectations as to how you wish events to turn out. Expectation is our defence mechanism against the fear of the unknown, an example of how our mind tries to create an illusion of ‘control’ and ‘understanding’ of a future, indefinite event. Let's keep it realistic – expectation is damn near impossible to eradicate completely. But just by simply recognising when it seeps into your thought patterns (‘ah, I’ve definitely created a projection of how awesome I’m going to feel when I look down from the peak of Huashan/ Lushan/ Salkantay…’) is enough to reduce the impact of disappointment when things don’t happen as expected!
I experienced this during both my China and South America trips, where plans to climb awesome mountains were left in tatters as a result of illness (not necessarily my own!). It was only my understanding of expectation that helped to lessen what felt like very painful blows at the time.
2. No ‘what if’s’, only ‘what is’.
The past-tense version of expectation - ‘what if’ is a lazy statement implying regret and dissatisfaction in the present, and the mistaken belief that altering the past could have avoided it. Yes, it sucks that you’re bed-ridden when you feel you should be out exploring! If only you hadn’t pushed yourself so hard on that trek…right?
Wrong. F**k that. It’s irrelevant. You’re here. Right now. Here. Direct your thoughts back to this moment. What’s making you uncomfortable? Where are the roots of this discomfort? Chase it down. Confront it. Then accept it. Try to learn from it. You don’t need to deceive yourself into thinking that this moment is the best in your life, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t positivity to glean from this moment! Seek it, or find out what’s stopping positive lessons emerging, or just recognise that this just sucks right now…but also that it’s going to get better! And then actively work towards making it better. (Hint: it all starts in the present…)
3. Turning 'sickly ill' into '90's-slang ill'. (You might have to Google that...)
Transforming the negativity that comes with illness into positivity involves a shift of mindset, a recognition that this illness is teaching you valuable lessons about your body, and how your body is simply responding to being pushed beyond its capabilities. You have to be honest with yourself – you’ve been negligent in looking after yourself.
In my case, I pushed extremely hard during the Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu whilst suffering from a stomach illness – obviously, I’d overestimated my physical capabilities. What next? Feel the ego-driven disappointment at this display of weakness, and acknowledge it for what it is. Shift your awareness into the present moment; even if this is nothing like what you envisioned your travels as being, there’s still plenty to gain from this moment, whether you’re confronting deep thoughts between bouts of sleep or simply taking a much needed rest.
It does take time and patience to move from the anger and resentment at falling ill towards acceptance and understanding – let it run its course. Simply being aware of your states allows you to progress faster through them, after which it’s just up to the physical healing to catch up with the mental side.
4. Be grateful.
No matter what is happening on your trip, find a way to generate genuine positivity from it. Gratitude is one of the easiest ways to do so. A simple perspective check is all it takes to feel grateful, whether it’s for blessed adventures, stunning scenery, delicious food…
...or the recognition that you’re fortunate to have been so healthy that you haven’t been so painfully ill in the past, that practical life lessons are being learnt in orchestrating cancelled credit cards, phone contracts and other real-life problem solving exercises.
You’re not deceiving yourself. Feel the lows, by all means – don’t suppress them! Wallow in them and probe at them, until the time comes to accept and understand them. And when the time comes that you feel it’s time to move forward again, transform that past negativity into present positivity. And don’t forget to be grateful each time you do!
5. Be present.
Don’t let thought distract you when you’re standing atop the peak after an intense climb, whether you're watching Machu Picchu come to life as the sunrise illuminates it inch-by-inch, or absorbing the beauty of the vast kingdom of Emeishan under blue skies and radiant sunlight .
There’s no past. There’s no future. There’s only now. Live it. Breathe it. Let joy arise from it. Be grateful for it. Maybe even shed a few tears if your tear ducts feel the need to express their awe.
Congratulations. You’re alive.
That brings us to the end of the 'Own Your Travels' blog series - thanks for reading! I hope the tips outlined above have been helpful (or at least amusing) - if you've enjoyed them, check out the practical travel tips from the first post of the series, as well as the second post on travelling with friends/groups.
As always, feel free to share, comment or ask any questions. I'll end by wishing you safe travels, amazing experiences and plenty of personal growth!
Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep shining!
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.