By Erick Widman
Something powerful happens when you step off an airplane in a foreign country. Your senses are bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells quite different from your hometown. As you take it all in, your moment-by-moment experiences become more vivid; your brain is suddenly recording in high definition video.
In this new environment, time itself seems to slow down. Though not quite as slow as the Matrix’s bullet-time, traveling abroad causes us to focus more intensely on the stimuli around us. The things we record in our minds at these times become detailed memories that last for decades—I can still recall nearly every day of a three-week trip to France I took with my family in high school. We did a home exchange with a French family, and I remember remarkable details of their 300-year-old home, the village we stayed at, and the side trips we took into Paris.
I wish more of my life could be lived this richly. In contrast to vivid travel memories, the years I spent commuting to and toiling in my cubicle in Silicon Valley is a hazy blur. It’s true we can’t expect life to be one constant vacation—but there are specific things we can do to bring the magic of travel to the everyday moments of our “regular” lives.
We must cultivate a mindset of exploration and curiosity right here and right now. Yes, this will take some effort, but the payoff is supremely worth it!
The first simple and powerful way to become a traveler in your own community is to redeem your commute with an audiobook.
Just like watching television, listening to the radio is initially pleasant enough—but ultimately it’s not satisfying. The only way to find lasting satisfaction with nearly anything is to make progress toward a goal. So instead of zoning out to the car radio or your own wandering thoughts on the subway, start using your commute to finish audiobooks.
Sure, the daily news has its place and provides great benefits, but there’s no completion to it. A beautiful story or worthwhile nonfiction book, on the other hand, has a beginning and an end; you can be changed through what you experience and what you learn.
Indeed, there are many parallels to reading a book and completing a trip abroad. The closest comparison to visiting China in person, for example, may be to travel along with that author through her writing. I’ve also found that listening to books about places I’ve already truly visited gives me an even deeper connection: I can see what the author is describing and add in my own details.
Let’s Get Started!
Start with your local library and get free access to books on CD or that can be downloaded as free MP3s from the library’s website.
Also check out websites like librivox.org, where volunteers read books that are no longer copyright protected and are in the public domain.
After trying a variety of options, I decided that it was worth signing up for a service with professional recordings and files that automatically get uploaded onto my iPod. So for a monthly fee of about $14, I listen to about one book a month via audible.com.
Once you get a taste for filling up the minutes of your commute with memorable prose or actionable, inspiring advice, you’ll start looking forward to this ritual of daily life. Whether you’re on a train, car, or bus, you’ll be captivated as you learn or experience something new.
Although your eyes won’t be filled with remarkable new sights, your ears will be passing on fascinating information and ideas that can be just as stimulating. During these times your brain will sense you’re traveling again—and the experience is pretty close to the real thing.