Wanderlust and the Promise of Impermanence

Wanderlust: an inherent desire that beckons us to explore and seek out the elusive sense of euphoria that’s amplified in a foreign destination. It’s a concept that resonates so strongly because travel provides one of the most effective outlets to pursue the true source of happiness that is a new experience. In these moments we feel completely engaged in our surroundings and forge intense connections with people, places, and feelings. It’s here where we feel alive. But what captivates us most about these experiences is the same thing that can leave us clinging to the remnants and cast us into a maelstrom of nostalgia once they have come to pass. Impermanence. 

Passenger Train

The reality is that everything in its current state is impermanent. It’s just greatly accelerated during travel. This can either be disheartening or inspiring, depending on how you choose to see the world.

People change, places change, we change. Even our universe (or potential multiverse if you get into string theory in a big way) is in a state of constant flux, expanding at an increasing speed. At a certain point every star that appears to be a fixture in the night sky will exhaust itself and its energy reallocated. But there’s a certain beauty in impermanence.

Impermanence is what allows us to appreciate the fleeting moments during travel that exist only because a certain group of people happened to be in a specific place at a single moment in time. And not only that, but everyone was in a particular mindset, pursuing a shared experience. We crave these moments because they are uncommon by nature. But try as you might, these experiences are impossible to recreate.

You could spend your whole life attempting to relive a past experience and never quite get it right. There are too many factors beyond your immediate control. Instead it’s important to appreciate these experiences as they take place and carry that perspective moving forward.

As evidence, the most profound moment during my recent trip to Vietnam came at a coffee shop in Hoi An, Vietnam. The early morning sun poured in and a light breeze danced through the folded wooden doors, spilling the aroma of fresh roasted Arabica beans into the streets. I sat back with my Vietnamese iced coffee and allowed myself a moment of complete bliss. There was no place I would have rather been. I was in the perfect place and mindset, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with my time. And that is why it was such a beautiful moment. I could go back every day for the next year and never have an experience quite like that.

Cocobox Cafe and Coffee Shop, Hoi An, Vietnam

Cocobox Cafe and Coffee Shop, Hoi An, Vietnam

Only when you come to this realization are you able to better appreciate these moments. If you go back to the source and consider what triggered your travel high and forged such a strong connection in the first place, it’s always the fact that you allowed yourself to become completely immersed in that experience.

It all starts with embracing the impermanence…in travel, experiences, identity, and life. By leveraging this mindset, you are then able to maximize the moments in life where you feel completely alive.  

People say that what we are seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.
— Joseph Campbell

Although, such breathtaking experiences are not without potential pitfalls. After the moment has passed, this same element of impermanence can also catch you in its undertow and draw you into attempts to live through the past rather than creating something new. Allowing yourself to be consumed by nostalgia and the past is a slippery slope. Happiness and progress are found in the present.

Nostalgia isn’t inherently bad, it should just be approached with caution. As with many things, much of it depends on the degree. From time to time it’s nice to revisit certain memories and reminisce. I believe nostalgia can be leveraged for considerable good under the right circumstances, but it’s a delicate line. The vast majority of our energy should always be focused on creating and pursuing new experiences. The one thing that you will always be able to carry forward after traveling is the perspective you’ve gained.

For me, traveling possesses the greatest capacity for these ‘alive moments.’ It affords me an opportunity to venture far beyond my comfort zone, reassess my mindset, and soak up every last detail. I find this in new environments, cultures, experiences, and adventures shared alongside locals and fellow travelers who all offer a unique view on life.

Impermanence is the guiding force behind every one of these ‘alive moments.’ Without it we would lack perspective and appreciation for our unique experiences – travel or otherwise. It’s fascinating to consider that we are each seeing and experiencing the world unlike any being before or after us ever will. With this in mind, we're forced to consider the lens through which we perceive the world. 

We can spend our lives fighting back and refusing to acknowledge the one guarantee that is impermanence, or we can embrace it and use it as inspiration to see the places, meet the people, and live the lives of our wildest dreams.

Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.
— Jack Kerouac