A friend told me recently that he doesn’t take a camera when he goes on vacation. He doesn’t want to be distracted by finding the right angle for the shot, for documenting everything to show the folks back home. There are postcards for that, in his opinion. This is patently insane, but I understood the point behind it. There have been many times on trips when I’ve had to remind myself: Put the camera down and actually look at the thing you’re looking at, just put your eyeballs on the thing, without a lens in between.
There are all kinds of barriers that you can put between you and the place you’re visiting. Not just a camera, but a huge tour group, the guarded gates of a resort, or a book or a phone.
On my own in Morocco I felt more out of place than usual, more lonely; the trip itself felt like more work, more draining than travel usually does for me. It was partly where I was in the world and partly where I am in life. So I retreated more into a novel or a notebook or the omnipresent wi-fi than I normally would.
But even on the most ideal of trips there are at least a few moments like this. I sat on the balcony of a hotel in Montmartre eating breakfast and forced myself to put down the magazine I almost instinctively pulled out, remembering that I should be looking out at the streets rolling down below me. I stood on the deck of a ferry to Cozumel, looking out at the most brilliant turquoise water, and said to myself (like said the words in my head; I did not say them out loud, thus staying on the correct side of crazy), “You’re so lucky to be here right now,” to remind myself that I was, in fact, there, that I’d spent time and money to get there, and that I should be appreciating it.
The Internet makes it easier to pull yourself out of your physical location, into the world of bragging about your far-flung adventures on Facebook (the adventures you’d be having more of if you weren’t busy crafting the perfect status), posting photos of your breakfast on Instagram (the breakfast you should probably be enjoying instead of taking pictures of), and tweeting your friends back home about where you’re going later (instead of just, you know, going). But the Internet isn’t the cause here. It’s just a technique for dealing with the uncomfortable feelings inherent in being in a different place.
But that uncomfortable feeling? That’s sort of why you went to wherever you are. When you travel, the whole point is that where you are is different than where you’re from. You’re supposed to be out experiencing it, without buffers, without distractions. And it’s weird and it’s hard, but you should have expected that–should actually be craving that, eager to dive into that, because that’s what travel is. I’m more than a little angry at myself for getting scared and putting up so many barriers on my last trip and building a little haven of familiarity inside them. Because of that, I didn’t spend as much time out in the place I was visiting, and I missed a lot.
So even if it sounds more fruity and zen than I usually am, it’s a good reminder. It’s what makes travel worthwhile at all. To be where you are.