“The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there.”

― Robert M. Pirsig

Travel naturally lends itself to being romanticized. We think of distant places, and the people that inhabit them, the adventures we will have, and the people we will meet, and in our minds we become protagonist of some fantastic adventure novel. Expectations can be dangerous things, however. Yes, these fantasies are a part of what drives us to travel in the first place, and in this way they serve a valuable purpose, but the danger lies in built up expectation. Outlined below are a few reasons why this can become a harmful practice.

Fantasies and Realities

Think of a time that you were anticipating a trip, or an event. I can say with a certain confidence that the way you perceived this event before hand, was nothing like the way you experienced it, when you were actually living it. This is fundamental discord between our fantasies and our perceived realities. We create these ideas of what will be, of what’s to come, driven by our desires and based on preconceived notions, research, and past experience. Further, these fantasies we create are so grand in scope, that they have little bearing to the way we actually perceive reality, which focuses on what’s in front of us, reacting to and dealing with things that arise in each present moment. Our fantasies deal in this larger scope of perception, of grand ideas and hypothetical scenarios, while our perception, our reality, deals with what is real, what is true at any given moment. It is impossible for us to know what a situation will really be like, how we will feel and how we will perceive, until we are actually living it.

How does this factor into travel? Why does it matter? It is because our fantasies affect our expectations.

Expectations and Letting them go

Expectations based on hypothetical realities are dangerous things, when we hinge our happiness on them. When things don’t go according to plan (and they seldom do), we are disappointed, our sense of joy is lessened. It is for this reason that we must let expectations go. We must expect nothing, or, at the least, we may have expectation, but we must not cling to them. It is crucial to realize that things change, reality bends, and the situations that you will be presented with will seldom align with your desires . In this way, then, you can bend and flow with the situation as it arises, and enjoy it, indeed appreciate it, for precisely what it is, rather than what you expected it to be.  You will grow from this, you will learn, and reality will often surprise you by exceeding whatever expectations you may have had in the first place.

Finding yourself

The idea of finding yourself is one that often gets attached to travel as well. We leave for the road, hoping to find clarity and meaning. Travel, this way, becomes a journey of self discovery. It is true that the challenges you will face, and the new situations will cause you to step outside of your typical routine, and will challenge your preconceived notions of how life should be lived. As with expectations, however, you must be wary of looking for yourself “out there”, because the realizations you will come to, and the truths you will learn will still come from within, and they are not dependent on location. Jon Kabat-Zinn said it best, “Wherever you go, there you are”. Whether in an Asian Jungle or a European metropolis, you are you, and you must look within for the answers. Just as you cannot find yourself “out there”, nor can you not escape yourself. Search within, and you will find the answers.

The point is the experience

The point is always the experience. Arrive with no expectation, and be open, and each experience will weigh just as heavily on your mind, each moment will offer you something. There is beauty and growth in all things, and the only way to tap into it is to be aware, be flexible, and be open to it. In this way, you will find tremendous personal benefit, regardless of where in the world you find yourself.