Away Games

TAoN No. 87: Are you a different person when you travel? Should you be? Plus: A new Missing Word, a Missing Word bonus question, and more

I flew to another city on a work trip last week. Not exactly thrilling news, perhaps — but it’s the first time I had done such a thing since February of 2020. I’m still on the cautious side about pandemic risks, so I definitely wasn’t ambitious about my free time: No sight-seeing or seeking out the latest restaurant, etc., basically restricting extracurricular activities to a few walks.

But still, there was something weirdly exciting about those modest excursions. An unfamiliar place! New sights! Novel sounds and smells! I felt like a back-country rube: Golly, look at these tall buildings! It was an adventure, despite the constraints.

So naturally a recent Washington Post headline caught my eye: “You’re a different person when you travel. Here’s why, and how to transform yourself at home.”

The piece, by Jen Rose Smith, explores what makes being in unfamiliar places so stimulating, and puts a special emphasis on traveling alone. She draws on the thinking of several experts, including sociologist Karen Stein, author of Getting Away from It All: Vacations and Identity:

“[Stein] argues that travel is a chance to try out alternate identities — a temporary respite from ourselves. …

“‘Travel is a time that is sort of set aside from our everyday lives,’ said Stein … . ‘It can create a flexibility, both mental flexibility and flexibility of social structures, that allows us to see things in a different way, have different experiences or do things a little bit differently.’

The purpose of my work trip involved an in-person TAoN workshop, and that included prodding participants to venture out in groups to explore the immediate neighborhood around their company’s central office. This exercise entails a set of instructions that add up to a “noticing safari” — specifically designed to offer a different framework for viewing a familiar area.

I’ve never thought of it quite this way before, but after reading that Post piece I suppose I was asking participants to slip on a different identity: an adventurer devoted to exploring a neighborhood they’d normally take for granted. And that seems like an idea anyone can use.

The Prompt: Experience familiar territory as though you are a traveler.

After the participants regrouped and shared their safari findings, we talked about what they made of the experience in general. Someone made the observation that once you get the mindset of looking out for everyday surprises, unusual people, notable sights and sounds, you see them everywhere. Others agreed.

And I think that’s right: Noticing quickly becomes a habit. (That’s certainly a major goal of the workshop … and this newsletter!) But I also now think it’s connected to this idea of different identities.

When you go to a new place, it’s natural to default to explorer/discovery mode. The trick is to learn to do the same thing in places that are more familiar — or at least that seem more familiar. Here’s another passage from that Post story:

“Even small changes matter. Try shaking up your routine by taking a different route to work, [psychologist Jaime Kurtz, a professor at James Madison University and the author of The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations.] said, or choosing a new-to-you cafe. … [T]he most important thing is to sidestep a tendency to navigate through life on autopilot.

“‘When we go to a new place, our habits are interrupted,’ Kurtz said. ‘That lesson from travel can enhance our lives.’”

Agreed. But it’s not just about interrupting old habits. It’s about forming new ones — habits that tune you into wherever you are, at home or away.

Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, concepts, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.

This week’s missing word is from reader Justin Foster, from the comments:

A sense of longing to be a part of someone's past before you met them.

This is very good. Thank you, Justin!

What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.

Leave a comment

Next Monday: a new icebreaker. (The Dictionary of Missing Words series now alternates with Icebreaker of the Week, and, more sporadically, the Something to Notice series.)

Missing Word Bonus Question!

I kind of think there might be a word for this, but I don’t know it? Architecture experts, or people with architecture expert friends, take note!

This is a sort of convenience/liquor store that I ride and drive past from time to time. It has never been a welcoming place. At some point they added these representations of windows. Which I guess makes it look a little friendlier? Or maybe has exactly the opposite effect?

Anyway, I am curious if these phony window structures have a name, but I have been unable to find an answer. Do you know?

Leave a comment

Programming Notes

  • This Thursday’s post for paid subscribers: A post about Laurie Anderson — and heroes.

  • Plus a fresh installment of The Heard, the new series sharing music that’s caught my attention (in a good way) lately.

  • As always, if being a paid subscriber is not in your budget but you’d really like access to those posts, drop me a line, I’m reasonable. If it is in your budget, then subscribe — that’s what makes TAoN possible :)

    Subscribe now

In Other News

Okay that’s it!

  • As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: Or use the comments!

Leave a comment

Enjoy this? Consider supporting TAoN by subscribing.

  • Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.

    And thanks for reading …

    Twitter | NB: I use (some) Amazon Affiliate links

All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032 

To unsubscribe see the grey box at the bottom of the email.