In my high school, Latin wasn’t a language students were forced to (or could choose to) study. Yet, it’s a safe bet to say that most of my generation learned at least two words in Latin during the late eighties/early nineties due to the (now) classic film Dead Poets Society. If you get the reference, then I’m sure you already know which two words they are: carpe diem—seize the day. Yes, those two words were the underlying message throughout the film, and inspired a group of adolescent boys to drink deep from their lives and make the most of them. That same principle carries over to travel, and I’m pleased to now present another aspect of my “travel philosophy”, namely: suck the juice out of every experience.
It isn’t hard to take things for granted—even on vacation. Usually our minds are so cluttered from the life we leave behind that it takes awhile to clear out the distractions and pay attention to the here and now. Failure to do so can lead to regret further down the line, as no one wants to look back on a travel experience (& the costs involved) and wish they had done things differently or lament that they didn’t have the wherewithal to recognize the significance of what they were doing and thinking at the time.
So how does one avoid post-traveler’s regret? How does one not just scrape the surface of an experience with their teeth, but rather bite down hard and suck out the juice as rivulets of sticky nectar drip down your chin until you’re left with little more than dried out lump of pulp? Here’s a few words of advice from someone who metaphorically needs a bib.
Take A Mental Snapshot
Oftentimes, we don’t recognize our greatest experiences until they’re over. Developing a habit of pausing to examine various moments in time during your trip can do much to ramp up your awareness. When composing your mental snapshot be sure to include the following elements: Who you’re with; What you’re doing; & Where you are. Capturing these factors will not only bring delight as you fill in the blanks, but also prepare you for my next suggestion.
Don’t Just Swallow—Digest
Just as our bodies need time to assimilate what we put into them, so too our minds need a chance to reflect on the experiences had if we’re to get the most meaning out of them. At this point—perhaps on the long flight back home, or a monotonous car or train ride between destinations—there are a few secondary questions to ask yourself to go along with the who, what and where from the first step. For instance, compare those answers to your previous expectations. Did you ever think you would be in ______ with ______ doing _____? Chances are your answer will be no, leading you to better appreciate what you experienced, and setting the stage for future delight in the unscripted nature of life. Of course, our ability to digest is dependent upon how we eat, which leads me to the third factor…
Eat Well, But Slowly
Given the time constraints most people have, the temptation is there to cram as much in as possible and sort it out later. True, you can accomplish a lot that way, but just like with any enjoyable meal, it always tastes better if you slow down and savor the flavor. I know from personal experience that this is hard. Even when it comes to literal eating, I’m always the first one done with their plate. But over time I’ve learned to desist (or at least pull back) from cramming my metaphorical face when traveling and to take the time to absorb the subtle nuances that are lost in a whirlwind tour. So stare out at that sunset. Sit and talk with some locals in the piazza, plaza or praca. Float on your back and gaze up at the clouds. And by all means enjoy that gelato, samosa or kebab. Just do it slowly enough that you’re aware of the experience.
Armed with these basic tenets of travel philosophy, you can now not only suck the juice out of your vacation but your everyday life as well. Remember carpe diem. And while I’d recommend against standing up on your plane seat or cruise dinner table and shouting out “O Captain, my Captain!” you should be able to seize the day on the days you travel and also be able to hang onto them.