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Be a Perpetual Tourist

September 27, 2014

A week ago, I was at a breakfast with my school principal, and the rest of the Student Prefect Body. We were being ‘thanked’ if you will, and it was a convivial breakfast.

The interesting part of the breakfast, however, was when my principal and the other teacher present began discussing their past experiences, and giving advice. Hearing how people have lived their lives is always a fascinating experience. You don’t have to agree with what they say, but the search for new perspectives is always worthwhile. New perspectives are the lifeblood to understanding, and they both refine, and solidify your existing views. Just like we can prefer to live in the present while savouring some delights of the past, we can prefer our ‘way of life’ while recognising a few points that other raise. To me, its simple – why not have the best of both worlds?

I’ll give you an example. My school principal was talking about some of his travels in his younger life through many US cities (he worked there for a few years) , and how while in a city he’d try to make sure he visited landmarks and tourist attractions. If you’re in Washington DC, for instance, make sure you visit the Smithsonian Institute.

More interesting, however, was that he found many of the people he worked with had never visited their home town attractions. If they’re in DC they hadn’t visited the Smithsonian Institute, White House etc. Never. Because they could always do it ‘some other day’, unlike a trip where you had to make sure you did it within a certain time frame. And, frankly, because it was easier to follow the path of least resistance.

Or, the other teacher, who talked about how while they once travelled lots internationally, they were now focused upon travel within Australia (my home country). Or, as he said ‘lots of people don’t know… the greatness in their own backyard’ .

So, today’s sermon from the mount?

Be a perpetual tourist.

Seek to find greatness wherever you tread. In your village, there may be a walking track of some merit. Explore it. I, just the other day, found a side trail in my village that proclaimed to lead to the ‘only natural, untouched’ place of the First Fleet’s arrival. I will explore it. Or, if in a bigger city like Sydney, then walk the Harbour Bridge, visit the Opera House, explore the Botannic Gardens… do what you would as a tourist.

And, often, that means planning like a tourist. You may well know your nearby city a little. But if the city holds millions of people and exists on a wide expanse then do you know all the best scenic walks, attractions, and such? Probably not! Millions of people and possibilities exist, and you don’t know them all. So, to find the optimal ‘trips’ to take, plan like a tourist. Search something like ’50 things to do in Sydney’ or ‘100 things to do in Washington DC for less than $50’ .

Now, I do want to be clear about 2 things. Firstly, being a perpetual tourist does not mean spending money like a tourist. You don’t take yourself to a hotel perpetually! Indeed, the whole point of being a perpetual tourist (aside from making life fascinating) is that it can help you find cheap or even free wonders close by to you.

That means finding a scenic walking track and walking it, but not necessarily buying lunch. Go for a picnic with friends instead. It means enjoying free summer movies at the Beresford Hotel on Monday (yes, this is real!) within paying for a three course meal.

Secondly, while I do advocate being a ‘perpetual tourist’, I’m not arguing that you can forgo responsibility and duties. You still have to cook, clean and iron. You still have to earn money etc. What I’m saying is that instead of simply doing the ‘same old thing’ each week, especially when its something passive like watching a TV show or playing games on a phone (why oh why people do this…) , do something bold. There are studies that show we derive greater happiness from experiences, even more so from new experiences, as well as studies that show experiences are remembered strongly (active vs. passive actitivies). The point is, you’ll forge happy memories and experiences, instead of ‘time passing by’.

Now, perhaps you’ll say “between those activities I don’t have time to ‘go out’”. Well, I’d first say that you should reconsider what ‘going out’ can mean, and see if there isn’t some experience, some walk close to home. Secondly, I’d argue that you could rearrange said tasks to free up blocks of time. Of course, it is possible that you simply don’t have time, and that’s fine. Duty and work comes first. But, given how many of the best and brightest somehow find time in their schedules for fascinating experiences, I’d humbly suggest that if you’re saying “I’m too busy”, you ought to reconsider your mindset and see if adjustments can be made.

Let me close by showing you some of my reflections I wrote up from a recent visit to Bicentennial Park:

“A sucker for early starts? Absolutely, so that I can get to Bicentennial Park early! [FYI, I woke up at 5:45 am and was 1 and a half hours early just so I had time to get in some extra walking at the park]

I read economics on the train, and make my way into the park, unsure of my destination. I come across a raised tower – the Treilage. See the grounds before your eyes, the fountains of water. Feel the wind rush at you – a king atop your monument, looking down upon your domain! Walk down the sides, pass that little courtyard of sorts. Walk along, as the hills roll out before your eyes. Stay in the dappled sunlight, betwixt with the shade. The trees roll out in front of you, two rows flanking either side of you. Like medieval knights, they are still, but without swords. You follow the road and the majestic trees with their power and pageantry singing to you. Come back to the path, and rest under that large covered, pavilion like structure. Look at the lake in front you, as the birds circle in the sky, and the wind blows upon your cheek. Rest awhile, traveller. Then, continue. Venture forth to the lake, watch the ducks skip across it, drops of water kicking up, Follow along the rim, and to the edge. And then, Behold! The Arc of Trees appears before you. Continue walking, and drop your bag at the rope pyramid. Go on another walk. Go see lookouts with no view. Walk along the solitary path, and note wherefore you could sit and camp and say to the lady ‘the fire burns bright, but not so bright as our love’ . Think of how you could drop flowers from the Treilage to your lady.

Return for the 10 o’clock start. Be present. Yet few are there. Go on another walk. Out past the saltmarshes that smell, yet with their yellow green covering the lake. Walk past shipwrecks. Go further, and get a better view of these shipwrecks. Peer through an arch over the waterfront, see the bay glisten in the sun, glimmering. Walk, and view the birds through binoculars. Go on, out of the park, to see that hill in the distance. Oh, but’s a gentle bike track, you say? Walk, run, go up it. Get to the top, look out afar. Feel that wind assail and buffet you. Savour it! Then, to save yourself time, jump down 2-3 metre drops down that hill. Run the wrong way by accident, find your way back! Take awhile, and appear back at the rope pyramid, and voila! Every friend is present.”

Be a perpetual tourist. Seize the day. Savour your surroundings.

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