I was walking home from the grocery store, here in Romania, and we came across a mom with her two kids. Cole immediately inserted himself into their business and before long we were all talking. Here I was on my great adventure, traveling in Romania, but really, I was just walking through a suburban neighborhood, the same one this mom walked everyday. My grand adventure was her tedious grocery run.
The joy I take from the simple things amazes even me: I spent a good hour just looking at the offerings in the supermarket. What spices do they have? What is cheap? What is expensive? What is unexpected (powdered Bolognese sauce has to be the grossest idea ever). I looked at the cut of meats. The price of fish. The types of cookies. Wine. Fruits and vegetables. What was on sale, and what was hidden on the bottom shelves? I could read about Romanian cooking all day and not learn as much as just looking.
I have two friends back home, who are living the standard, American dream life. Two kids. Great careers. Vacations on a nearby beach. They bike, they hike, they fly kites. They live this amazing and full life. I watch them from afar on Facebook and think: Christine, you could do this anywhere. The reason I travel is because it forces me to take stock. It makes me notice things. I am prone to inertness. I become settled and start getting into a rut. That’s me. So I fixed myself with travel and found a way to be aware. To really see the world around me — and most of the time that’s no more glamorous than noticing the price of Red Bull at the local gas station (it’s like 3X more than a beer, in most of Europe, weird right?). But the truth is simple: Adventure is a mind-set. It’s where ever you are. You can have the most boring or adventurous life all depending on how you feel about it.
I used to think a lot about how to be happy, but that has shifted over time. Now I think about how to be awake. Travel is the art of being present. It feels amazing because you do so much to prepare, you plan, you save, you day-dream for months. Then that golden moment is in front of you and you’re taking a bus in Costa Rica and watching the jungle intently from your window, trying to memorize everything, from the couple on honeymoon two seats ahead of you, to the vendors selling snacks at every stop. You put yourself in this perpetual state of complete awareness, and that is what makes travel so transformative. If you spend $5,000 for two weeks in Paris, it can’t help but feel magical. If you give up your career, your house, your entire life to travel long-term, absolutely you start to appreciate the small things. Soon you go from someone complaining about the service at Starbucks, to getting starry-eyed over a $1 plate of rice and beans. How the hell does that happen?
It’s how our brains work. The thing is, even though we might come to understand this, it still works. Paying a lot for a glass of wine, makes it taste better… studies have shown this. Going through the effort and hassle of travel makes everything seem more valuable.
But what if you just want an awesome life? How do you create adventure and fun everywhere you go? Well I have some theories. I think you have to commit to your fun like it’s a life project you’re going to complete. Some people train for marathons, other do yearly fasts. You are the person who decides: this year I am going to have the BEST TIME EVER. You track it. You watch it. You plan for it. You spend every weekend going somewhere new. It doesn’t have to cost anything. You’re an anthropologist. You’re a documentarian. You’re a journalist. Whatever mindset you have to adopt to feel the need to completely explore where you live, to do everything, to chronicle it all, if only in your mind, do that.
The next theory is that you have to work really hard. But only during work hours. Then you have to feel so great about the work you’ve done that you completely shut off the rest of the time. No work. No worrying. It’s all okay because you are a workhorse, and you can completely drop any thoughts of work on your off time because you couldn’t possibly do a better job than what you have done.
Finally, my last and most important theory is this: you have to chase your happiness. That means getting sunlight, exercise, yummy food, regular sex, and lots of meaningful human relationships. It’s the drug that makes all humans happy. Get out of your head, enjoy the world around you and become like every child I have ever met: a total hedonist. Or travel the world. The choice is up to you. I never figured out how to do all those things, so I gave up soft beds, regular showers, having more than one pair of shoes, I cut my salary in half, and I have no certainty for the future. I often have to carry everything I own for days at a time. I would love to have books, high-end kitchen tools, a flat screen TV and Netflix. Instead I get to see the world. Maybe you can have it all. It’s all in our heads, after all. The adventure of our lives is just around the corner.