TRANS+FORM Travel

Landscapes of being: Finding the type of destination that suits you perfectly

What do you need from a place?

I lived in Thailand for more than a decade, and I’ve never been to a Full Moon Party.

Thailand for me is a second home, because it’s where I learned about compassion. A third culture kid (TCK), I’ve been to a lot of places in the world.

The places that I’d like to return to are the ones that give me a sense of peace.

Rock on clouds. The stillness of this pool of water is a metaphor for the type of travel I like.

That’s why Bhutan remains a happy place; why Luang Prabang is a draw, why Ubud in Bali is where my soul feels it’s home, and why I love Bled in Slovenia.

I fully support travelers who want the Full Moon Party experience, the party atmosphere of Dinagyang and other massive tribal gatherings.

If I had a choice, I’d choose a place that gave the soul a quiet, restful time. A place where a traveler can experience local life, witness beautiful spaces, and appreciate the rebalance that comes from taking time for self-care. I also like places where I can spend time doing what I love, reading, writing, playing and reflecting on how lucky I am to be in this big, beautiful world.

It’s useful to understand what kind of travel you seek, so you can maximize the delight you feel and plan for it during your break.

Know what you need

We live a life full of external voices. There’s some kind of news feed on the phone. Updates on social media. Text messages, notifications that cut into your consciousness constantly. It’s great that we can keep up with all the news, what people we know are doing, eating, where they are, what they’re thinking. Each moment, all the time, every day, 24/7.

Sometimes, it’s nice to get away, to pause and clear the head.

It’s also a phenomenon that’s crept up on us this century that we’re busier than before, sleeping much less, and under so much more pressure. The pace of the world we’ve created demands that we keep up with a lot of change in order to keep up.

Sometimes, it’s wonderful to be able to wake up naturally, without an alarm clock, and greet a day that has no urgent demands.

We might get away so we can recharge from the hectic life of cramming tasks into a finite day, to reclaim our relationship with time not as master but as friend.

Planning for the destination that will satisfy the craving for renewal and rest as well as enjoyment might ask us to consider a few ideas.

Bubble of thought at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand.
Bubble of thought at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand.

The human landscape

Human brains have these nifty brain cells called mirror neurons. They were discovered by a scientist named Marco Iacoboni who is a neuroscientist at the University of California at Los Angeles. Iacoboni found how these special brain cells work.

The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to “simulate” the intentions and emotions associated with those actions. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile.

Marco Iacoboni quoted in this Scientific American article
Smiles and synchronicity at a party in Mysore, India.
Smiles and synchronicity at a party in Mysore, India.

Mirror neurons help babies learn emotional behaviors and social behaviors by mirroring the gestures and facial expressions of their caregiver(s).

When you and I are in rapport with friends and family members, even people we have recently met, we show our attunement by mirroring each other’s gestures and facial expressions. That’s the mirror neurons at work.

This suggests that we might mirror the human landscape that we enter when we linger in a new place. Sometimes, when we feel that a place doesn’t ‘click’ with us, we might grope for attribution of why we feel discomfort or unease. Perhaps the reason might rest in how our anticipated social interactions are met with a different set of gestures and facial expressions.

The sensory landscape

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet; The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking mentions that there is an optimal level of stimulation for individuals. Some of us are more likely to thrive when we are surrounded by a lot of activity, sound, and social interaction. These folks might like being at Burning Man.

The author also explains that others might thrive best in situations where there is silence and time to be alone.  These people might prefer wide open spaces with very few people, like the hills of Batanes.

Knowing the level of sensory stimulation that a person needs to flourish and feel themselves is key to maintaining a balance while staying in a new place.

The distinction between different levels of optimal stimulation that help people thrive is not the same as being able or not being able to enjoy sensory experiences like eating good food or enjoying a dance performance, for examples. It is in the amount, frequency and duration of sensory stimulation.

Dancers at a show, Yangon Myanmar.
Dancers at a show, Yangon Myanmar.

I’m an introvert, and yet I enjoy cooking and eating with friends for the conversations; and I love dance and theater. But not all the time.

To rebalance, I go away for some time alone, to be still and hear my thoughts where and when these are not superseded by the attention I want to pay to another’s spoken thoughts (especially when they process by talking rather than by thinking quietly).

The creative landscape

Knowing the optimal level of stimulation leads to people’s tendencies to be attracted by a range of ways to be creative and play. Ways we play are key to a personal sense of freedom. When we go on holiday, this sense of being able to express ourselves in the activities available to us in the destination is key to our feelings of being free in that place.

We play in different ways – parties, cooking, surfing, sailing, golf, photography…the ways we play and express ourselves are individual preferences.

It’s probably important to know what kinds of play and creative activities are available to us in our destination so that we can experience the freedom we crave when we travel.

Ampawa floating market resident giving food to a monk before sunrise.
Ampawa floating market resident giving food to a monk before sunrise.

Outsourcing decisions

Another thing that people might appreciate when they go on holiday is the ability to outsource decision making.

We experience this to the extreme on airplanes. There is a schedule for meals, lights out, and the cabin attendants will sometimes say, “Please avoid standing in the aisles during the flight.” On a flight, we are guests, but for safety reasons, we can’t do whatever we want any time we feel like it.

On holiday, barring some extreme things, we pretty much get away from the day to day decision making we do when we are in our default lives. In our lives, we run errands, we schedule and make meals and clean our houses and bathe the dog, do laundry, go to the grocery store…and lots and lots of things to manage a life.

As a guest in a hotel or resort, we don’t have to cook or wash dishes. Someone else does the shopping for the day. We leave the hotel room and later when we return, it’s clean, there are fresh linens and drinking water has been replenished.

There’s extra brain space for other thoughts because we do not have to think about these decisions that we normally do at home.

We are free to think about other things, like the creative, interpersonal and sensory experiences of our travel.

Knowing the type of travel you seek is key to maximizing the freedom and delight you will feel during your travels. Planning for that experience with self-awareness helps you to design a time away that’s remarkable and rejuvenating, exciting and enjoyable. Travel that will stay in your memory as delight you had found.

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