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Enjoying the Moment

Alix from the Netherlands writes in with a great question:

While goals are good to work towards, do you not feel like constantly pursuing things makes you run all the time and not ‘enjoy the moment’? What if, for example, while you’re standing in one country, and think ‘Hmm, I would really like to stay here longer..’ — I mean a real feeling, not a whim?

I don’t mean this as criticism, I am genuinely wondering. I have many goals and current things I am doing to work towards them, though I think of them more as directions which I can fork from (or back to) if I find worthwhile side streets – trying to listen to the surprises that come up, and to enjoy every day without always thinking ‘three are already past in this year’.

As I said, great question. The short answer in my case is that, yes, from time to time I would like to stay somewhere longer. I felt that way in Laos and Syria, for example. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Syria, so I didn’t plan to stay long—but then it turned out to be one of my favorite spots in the Middle East. All too soon, I had to turn around and head back to Amman and then onwards.

Before going to Laos, I felt like I already seen so much of Southeast Asia that another place wouldn’t be that different. (It’s not always popular to say so, but in several regions of the world, many of the places are quite similar.) Laos, however, was so fun that I wished I had more time.

Overall, though, I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing—my feeling is that I can always go back to places like Laos and Syria at some point later, and the reality is that I never would have been to either country in the first place if I hadn’t been traveling the way I do. It’s also true that when I leave somewhere, I’m often looking forward to what’s coming up next instead of wishing I had more time where I was.

I also like the actual experience of travel itself, as Robert Louis Stevenson put it:

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”

Like Stevenson, I travel for travel’s sake. I like the process of going from one place to another. I like airports, buses, shuttles, hotel rooms, trains, waiting rooms… and I like putting the puzzle pieces together: how can I reroute three different tickets that were volcanoed last month? How can I apply for visas for Burundi and Cameroon simultaneously? Will I have enough time for a side trip to Morocco before heading home through Asia?

Lately, there are a lot of pieces—but an easy puzzle wouldn’t be as much fun. Of course there are tradeoffs, and what works for me won’t work for everyone. But yes, I try to enjoy the moment wherever I am.

And by the way, whether any of us successful at enjoying the moment isn’t necessarily correlated to geography. Appreciating life is generally more of an internal decision instead of a response to external circumstances. If you’ve ever been happy during a stressful time at work or unhappy on a vacation, you understand how that works.

So in that regard, it’s better to find a way to enjoy whatever you can at any given time, even if your bus is leaving for Amman and you’ve only been in Damascus for a couple of days.

How about you—are you enjoying the moment today?