Why traveling makes you happy

Butterworth main station. The train ride starts.

It’s already late night and everybody around me seems to sleep. But the impressions from the last days keep my mind spinning. Faces from people I met follow me, a smile I almost fall in love with won’t disappear, it seems that even the intense and diverse smell from Little India is still in the air. Incense sticks, flowers, spices and a million different perfumes. Georgetown was the first place I’ve visited twice since I am traveling this year and the awesome food you can get there was only one of many reasons. With all the street art, with all the artists, photographers and interesting people I’ve met it was a really inspiring visit. The whole town is a World Heritage Site and it seems to attract not only tourists but also a lot of creative spirits. I open my laptop and light up my little sleeper cabin in the train to Thailand with the white glow of the screen.


My travel plan seem to exist only to make the conversation with other people easier. Where do I go next? Ask me next year where I’ve been the last twelve months, thats much easier to answer. After discarding the idea of flying directly to the Philippines I am sitting in a train that has already left Malaysia. The train I am riding will bring me to Bangkok. Bangkok, with all his lights, sounds, sins and new smells… It’s easy to get lost in Bangkok and it’s fun, but Bangkok is not where I want to stay for long.


I am heading way more north, to a place far away from the polluted cities, far away from the wonderful sparkling sea, far away from almost everything. I am heading to Pai. From Bangkok I will need to take another train, then a bus into the mountains. The whole ride will take around 45 hours and I realize that this journey takes much longer than to fly to wherever on this planet. Therefore it also takes much longer than to fly home. But for a good reason thats exactly how I feel in this moment: Going home.


The scenery is nice, we are passing large oil palm plantation and gum trees. Except from some small huts everything is green.

Whatever I do I try to have no expectations – but if you are going to a place where you have been before this seems almost impossible. And dear, I have been to Pai before. Even if I have left Pai already more than one year ago, Pai has never left me. I wanted to continue my journey this time at the place where I interrupted my last trip, thats what I am going to do now. I said a while ago that I am not really traveling at the moment, that this is just a holiday. And of course, this raised the question till when I will call it traveling again. Exactly from now on.


I already know that this time Pai will be very different. A lot of people I know are not there anymore, the season is different now, Thailand changed a bit and I guess also I changed a bit. Pai was the first place where I came in contact with meditation, sniffed a brise of Buddhism and discovered the value of the present moment. When I think back it feels like I’ve made my first steps of liberation in the time when I’ve been there. I was at the right time at the right place, met the right people, had the right conversations and I’ve read the right books. Actually we’ve all read the same books at this time. Books about being present, about Buddhism, about philosophy, about how to change the world. It seems that those changes start within us and carefully going the next small steps is what I mean with continuing the journey.


The train takes some curves, the vegetation gets more and more dense. It almost looks like a jungle.

Traveling will change you, for sure, if you are looking consciously for a change or not. It changes the way you think, the way you feel, the way you act. And hopefully you will carry a little bit of this new identity with you when you are back again in your old environment, back at your old job, back at the place you call home. Try to not give it up, even when you are surrounded by your old friends who didn’t changed at all and who expect from you to be the same person as before. Try to keep the sparkle in your eyes for a while, the demands of our success driven ever-changing world will wash them away soon anyway. Television will replace them with glitter and glamor and in exchange of money the advertisement industry will give your longing soul what it thinks it needs. There is hopefully a way to keep this change, this nomadic spirit, alive after traveling. And thats what I am looking for in Pai.


Whooho, sounds pretty freaky, ha? But what is this „sparkle“ in your eyes? What kind of change or spirit are we talking about? Don’t think too much about it, you will experience it like everybody else as soon as you are traveling long enough. How long is long enough? As soon as you are not thinking about your job anymore, as soon as you are not thinking about your every day problems anymore, as soon as you are not thinking about your future anymore. If you just go on holiday for a week, if you just go camping for a weekend, if you just sit for one night in your garden and watch the stars – even if you just meditate for one hour: You will get already a glimpse of it.


Can somebody please put it into words? Actually I already did: It’s all about being present. About being in the now. Not worrying about something that happened in the past, not regret anything you’ve done, not being afraid of the future, not trying to avoid or to reach anything in the future. It’s salvation, it’s liberation, it’s freedom. And it’s pretty easy to talk about but hard to master. It’s especially hard to reach in an everyday life situation. Traveling helps to experience and practice what you later maybe can integrate in your life, in your career, in your „old“ environment.


Why can’t we just be present within a finger snip? There is something in the way, call it ego. It tells you right now either that being present is impossible, unimportant or some other negative stuff. Your ego builds up an identity for you, connects you with all your possession, abilities and roles and it let you say funny things like: „We are the most successful company this year!“ So you are a company? Yes, that’s part of your identity, thats why you say „we are…“ or „I am…“.


You are more than just the collected roles, more than the letters in your name and more than everything you call you „identity“.


The train is running up a hill and slows down a little bit, the jungle is so dense you could not walk through. 

What should be the advantage of being more present? The reality around us is a bit more complex than we usually assume. Even the „boring“ things. Being present let you see the world around you (again) in a more profound way. Let me explain. While we grew up we began to name everything around us with words, we’ve put a label on literally everything. And while we did this we reduced the complex reality around us in an almost indescribable cruel act to some random letters we all agree on. We also received our own label. Our name.


This act of reduction is absolutely necessary to filter the endless inputs of your senses and to communicate with the people around you in a meaningful way. It would get a little bit confusing if we would describe every tree in his detail in a conversation instead of just naming it „tree“. Every tree is inimitable like a fingerprint so you would need to describe every tree differently. To make it even worse the stupid tree is also changing it’s appearance every minute. You would need a lifetime to explain just one tree with words and you still would miss out the essence. Too bad. In the same way – even easier to understand – is it impossible to describe every person around us in every detail when we mention here in a conversation instead of just calling her „David“ or „Anna“.


For how long is this train ride going to be? Cannot be so long anymore, the night sky is already getting a little brighter. I think we are almost there…

Here comes the issue. We forgot that behind every simplification, behind every word lies a complex reality which we are not able to see anymore after we reduced it to just one word. Behind everything we see, touch, smell and behind every person around us is a universe to discover. And the magic of this universe – that we all experienced when we were children – can only be seen again when we realize that with our „labeling“ we are describing less than the tip of an iceberg. That is part of of what we can learn through being present – seeing the miracle again behind everything we’ve put our simplification labels on.


If you don’t have the time to travel right now (means if you have found a better excuse than me to stay at home) you can still find a way to get a little bit more present and thereby enjoy your precious lifetime much more. Go for a hike next weekend, go fishing for a day, pack your tend and stay for a day outside. If the weather is nice sleep outside and watch the stars. And if you want to go full speed from the beginning: Try meditation, it’s the best way I know to get present.


We arrived back in the civilization. Pretty unusual: The sun is shining and there is no smog in the air 🙂

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One Comment

  1. AndreA
    September 20, 2014

    …so schöne…wunderschöne Bäume…

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