Living an examined life


With Thailand on my right, and Laos on my left, I type these words while seated on-board a slow boat drifting gently down the Mekong River.

We are nearly an hour into our approximately 14 hour journey from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Despite my usual fears, our vessel is actually very comfortable. All nine of us on board have our own table as well as a double seat which looks to have been removed from a van or small bus. The gentle breeze, the rumbling engine, the subtle side-to-side  rocking of the boat, and the spectacular views of riverside villages have completely silenced all passengers. Some (including Marina seated in front of me) are absorbed in their book, others listen to music, while some write in their journals.

No one dares to break the silence.

There’s something quite amazing about traveling slowly, knowing that you have no hurry to get to your destination. There are few distractions. You quickly forget the urgency of life back home and settle into a more meditative state. Your mind – usually flexed with tension of looming deadlines, responsibilities, expectations, incoming emails, etc. – finally stretches out.

Thoughts of weekend plans, that erroneous cell-phone bill you need to call about, or the repairs needed on your car fizzle away to obscurity as you ponder your path in life, reassess your values, carefully recount the errors you’ve made, and focus on what you really require to be happy and content in your life.

An unexamined life is not worth living.

– Socrates

This is the gift of prolonged travel – whether by bus, boat, train, or plane. Many people embark on longer journeys with the purpose of “finding themselves”; the notion being that somewhere on the treadmill of modern life they’ve managed to become lost.

But all most of us require is some time and solitude, and the opportunity to examine our life from an aerial rather than the usual street view.

I can’t pretend that travel is the panacea for all of one’s problems; the problems you leave behind when you strap on your backpack are waiting to greet you upon return. However, if you’re feeling lost, lacking purpose, or uninspired, a sabbatical of some sort might be just the cure. You needn’t go far – maybe a staycation is all that is necessary. Just some time to break away from the monotony of everyday life.

Beware the bareness of a busy life.

– Socrates


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Travel vs. Vacation: which is better?

What a surprise! Another flat tire!

Since the first time I vacationed sans parents (Daytona Beach, Florida back in my final year of high-school) I have come to realize that travel and a vacation are two vastly different experiences.

One-week getaways to sunny and often all-inclusive destinations are a wonderful way to get away from the monotony and stress of the daily grind.

I’ve had many great vacations over the last decade that allowed me to recharge my batteries and thus return to the daily grind with renewed vigor (Cuba is a personal favorite for this purpose, though Mexico and southern California come VERY close).

During these short breaks, the last thing I want is more stress induced by any potential hiccups in the itinerary.

I want everything to be arranged for me; for my hand to be held from the airport directly to the buffet at my all-inclusive beach-side hotel.

I want my daily schedule to be comprised solely of swimming, lying on the beach, and generally relaxing. (I must admit that both Marina and I are only capable of doing this for about 2-3 days before we become stir crazy and begin doing excursions to explore beyond the boundaries of our resort).

Unfortunately, on such vacations, while I spend my days relaxing and sipping fruity drinks out of a coconut, the only personal insight I tend to glean is that I really enjoy lying on a beach sipping fruity drinks.

Not the most earth-shattering of revelations.

On the other hand, when roughing it through under-developed countries, challenges are essentially guaranteed.

I’ve personally found that during these challenges – broken down buses, countless hours on painfully uncomfortable transport, extremes in climate and altitude, and the all too common illness one develops in these trying situations – I gain a tremendous amount of perspective.

The more arduous the circumstance; the greater the personal insight gained.

Although I am generally one to complain when things go awry, sometime in Bolivia (by far the toughest country I have travelled through) I began looking forward to travel hurdles because I knew how much I could gain once that hurdle is surmounted.

In fact, now that we are staying in an ocean-view condo in Rio, enjoying the beautiful weather, the great food and fresh fruit juices, getting around the city seamlessly using the network of public transport, etc. I almost miss the hassles and difficulties of our prior destinations.

As you can tell by the relative dearth of posts on this blog as of recent, I have little to say beyond the fact that I absolutely love jogging by the ocean each morning and following these runs with a delicious acai na tigela.

Thankfully, over the past 3 months of often trying travel I have already come much closer to answering many of the questions that loomed back when I finished my PhD.

While I’ll write more on these insights in the near future, for the time being, I think I’ll enjoy my vacation.


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