David Cogswell | May 20, 2015 12:03 PM ET
The Time Machine of Travel
Whoa, what happened?
If my calendar is correct, I’ve been back from Africa for almost a week. It’s hard to believe. The time just zipped by as if sucked into a giant vacuum cleaner that jumbles everything together with routines, habits, deadlines, commitments and appointments and turns it all into an undifferentiated mass of gray matter and dust.
If I’ve been back a week, that means I have been home for as long a time as I was on my adventure to Botswana. And yet the week I was back in my routines just disappeared as if it never happened. It went into a bin of days and weeks that all seem the same, devoured by routine and sameness.
The weeks that I spent in Africa still loom high on the landscape of memory. As those weeks recede into the past, they retain their high profile and vividness. The weeks lost in routine are forgotten.
We know time is relative, and the experience of time is subjective. Einstein said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That's relativity.”
But that minute! How it lives in you!
They say time flies when you’re having a good time, but the dull times can fly by too. They go by without impact, as if they never happened, one after another, as if you slept through them.
Good times stay with you. The intense, enriching new experiences may fade some, but they stay in your memory and can be returned to in your daydreams.
The time I spent in Africa flew by too, but it never went away altogether. It still feels very present and resonant. The memories are luminous. There are cavernous dimensions of memory I can return to and move around in. The week since I’ve been home immersed in tasks seems nonexistent, like a dream.
We structure our days and weeks according to our jobs, our work, our economic imperatives, as if the days are all the same, as if each morning starts the same day over again. It’s like reliving Groundhog Day over and over again infinitely.
But while we may think of all the days as the same, underneath we know that each day is a unique gift for us to do with as we choose. We may choose to behave as if it’s just the same day over again. But that’s our choice. It’s an illusion, an idea we impose upon reality. In truth, each moment is ours to make of what we will.
Bob Dylan lamented for those who “do what they do in order to be nothing more than something they invest in.”
So as the clock ticks and time thrusts me inexorably toward the end of the line, I feel at least the comfort of knowing I did something worthwhile with my precious time whenever I went on an adventure of discovery.
The way to create memorable moments in your life that retain some value even when they are passed is to be fully engaged, to pay close attention to the activities of the present moment. That is, ideally, what happens when you travel.
So even though my time on earth is finite, I feel that I can stretch it, in a sense, through travel. When I travel, or whenever I am fully engaged in something new and fascinating, I am creating moments that last, that don’t just vanish into nothingness.
Maybe I cannot lengthen my life as measured by clocks and calendars. But I can expand it in other dimensions. I can enrich it, thicken it. And though I may not be living longer, I am living larger and more fully. That is part of the joy of travel.
That is how travel is like a time machine. It moves us through space in ways that also transport us through time and deepen our experience of the time we have.
You don’t have to travel to be engaged fully and to make the most of each moment. You can do it anywhere. But travel helps you to realize the fact of each moment’s uniqueness and the opportunity presented by each one.
We are fortunate to be living at a time when it is possible to travel to the most remote places easily and comfortably. We may take it for granted, but only a few decades ago the mobility we have today was almost undreamed of. Now through international air travel networks and the world travel industry, practically the whole world is available to us. It’s as if we have become gods.
But it’s entirely up to us. Those who don’t take advantage of the opportunity to travel have no advantage over those in the past who could not.
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Airlines & Airports
Hotel & Resort
Destination & Tourism
Airlines & Airports
Airlines & Airports