Existential Travel: How Travelling Ended My Perpetual Existential Crisis
As far as I can recall, I have always felt like something of a foreigner. Whilst I have always tended to naturally present myself to the world in a humble and amicable way, inside there has always been a screaming anarchist telling me that I don’t belong in this place or with these people. And I have always been hypersensitive to the simple things and common scenarios and environments which trigger this response: classrooms, offices, and even just busy roads or shops. The everyday world.
Generally, it is a feeling of contempt towards the unimaginable banality of these places that overcomes me. It is a feeling that they are shallow and unnatural places for shallow and unnatural minds. It is particularly powerful when there is an element of authority involved in the situation: ‘official’ things like news broadcasts, legal or political orations and job advertisements tend to provoke an argumentative – and sometimes spiteful – side of my character that occasionally surprises even me.
While recently researching something entirely unrelated, I discovered the concept of ‘Existential Migration’. It was a term I’d never heard of before, but some of the key elements of the theory immediately spoke to me very directly. As far as I am aware, I have only ever experienced the aforementioned frustration when I have been at home, where I supposedly belong; when travelling, I don’t feel so personally involved with the world around me – I’m an observer rather than a direct participant. I am consequently not so easily offended by the everyday things that offend me at home: they’re not my things, I’m just a foreigner.
During a recent trip to Australia I encountered many of the same everyday scenarios that I encounter when in my hometown in England, but I was somehow able to let them go by without feeling the same existential ache that I get at home. When travelling, I am suddenly no longer frustrated by idle conversations or irritated by busy supermarkets. I don’t feel oppressed by the monotony around me, or angry towards cultureless corporate slogans and advertisements.
Becoming 'The Foreigner'
When at home, I feel subject to the assumption that this culture is my culture, these people are my people, this lifestyle is my lifestyle. And the anarchist screams, overwhelmed by a need to declare war on the world and everybody in it, to express his disaffiliation with everything around him. On the road, it feels that this disaffiliation is sufficiently evident as it is. There doesn’t seem to be any urgent need to demonstrate that I’m a foreigner, or that I don’t necessarily belong here – the foreign accent serves as sufficient evidence.
I never claim that my psychological bedrock is entirely stable, or that my impulsive reaction to the world around me is particularly healthy. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to cultivate in themselves the pathological rejection of authority that I appear to have myself. But I have it nonetheless, and I appear at last to have made some kind of peace with it. A nomadic existence is the greatest antidote I have found. I do not particularly travel to see new places, learn new things or have highly stimulating experiences. I travel because it’s the only way I have found to bring my external reality into line with my internal sense of self. I travel because it feels honest. It feels like home.