There exists a pharmacological term called ‘tachyphylaxis’ (pronounced ‘tacky-fil-laxis’). This is the process of de-sensitisation; developing a tolerance to a drug, over multiple exposures, so that the original dose no longer has the effect it first did.
Such de-sensitisation makes perfect sense; when our bodies ingest potentially harmful agents, our biology adapts to minimise damage they might cause.
But in life, de-sensitisation to external stimuli has a side effect. Things that once excited us, may lose their power. Even though the pleasures are still present, they eventually become mundane. We begin to whinge and moan about smaller and smaller annoyances. And whilst striving to improve our world is always a good thing, if we don’t zoom out once in a while, we become resentful; in our jobs, our relationships, our lives. We see only the bad and forget the overwhelming good. We moan about ‘Broken Britain’, complain about the weather, and seem to live only for the two-week holiday that provides temporary escape from our daily grind.
I realised this had happened to me on a recent trip, when I found myself feeling extremely indignant that I was having to wait for a security officer at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 to rifle through my bag. This was going to cost me an extra 10 minutes! How dare they take so long! I shall draft a letter of complaint to the Director of T5, post-haste and then they will feel my wrath!
Once I had calmed down from my horrific ten minute ‘ordeal’, I reminded myself, that in the grand scheme of things, the very fact that I was about to get on a plane at all, meant that life for me was pretty good. In a lifetime, those ten minutes of minor frustration were utterly insignificant.
The Cure: prescribe travel as therapy
We travel for many reasons; exploration, business, relaxation. The vast majority of British people travel for sun and sand. Whilst I have never been on a beach holiday and would go insane with boredom within 24 hours if subjected to a poolside hotel trip, I do travel for weather; I have a strong love of snow, and am drawn to the world’s high places in search of it. So for most people, travel as a therapy currently works as a temporary dose of escapism.
Travel for Pain: one dose of holiday hell
But what if we inverted the whole idea of travel for pleasure, into travel for pain? What if , for those suffering from a general dissatisfaction of life in their own country, the doctor prescribed a two week trip to holiday hell? A place where the weather was awful, thieves a-plenty, the traffic a nightmare, civil unrest common, the food awful, there was no greenery, nothing to do, the locals were rude and everything was a rip off?
Perhaps then, rather than complaining about our own country for 50 weeks a year, and wishing life away so that those two weeks of precious holiday would come quicker, we might conclude that, actually, for those 50 weeks, maybe we haven’t got it so bad?
And remember there is no signle destination that is holiday hell. One man's heaven is another man's hell.
Storm over Beijing
On my last night of a recent trip to Beijing, I watched from my hotel window a huge electrical storm descend upon the city. Thick, warm rain thundered down whilst the sky was lit by strobe lightning, and the occasional fork, which must have struck one of Beijing’s thousands of skyscrapers. The thunder cracked so loudly, it felt like a bomb going off. Drenched Chinamen pedalled down roads that had become rivers.
I reflected on my trip. It had started badly, (see: Scams and the City) but ended well, and though I am very much looking forward to my next visit, my experiences had also recalibrated my appreciation for the land I call home.
Arriving back in Edinburgh, using my jetlag to my advantage, I was up on Arthur’s Seat, at first light. I had only been two weeks away, but the city definitely felt different. My appreciation for the cool, crisp, autumn day and the smell of the air was heightened. For the first time in two weeks, I could see the horizon and not hear traffic.
I love exploring and am lucky to have done a reasonable amount. This year alone I’ve been to France, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Thailand and Taiwan, but it occurred to me how desensitised I’d become to the pleasures of my own home. It’s oft said that you never appreciate the true value of something, somewhere, or someone, until you lose them. So if you never know anywhere else, how can you know the value of the place you already have?
Alternative travel therapy: leave home
An alternative therapy to general dissatisfaction with life would be to try a stint of working abroad, and perhaps you will find somewhere else that genuinely does offer you a better lifestyle. At the very least, a prolonged period of living in a foreign land will allow you to see both the good and bad in your own country, as well as your host nation. No country or society is entirely free of problems. Certainly in the developed world, we have relatively little to really complain about.
If you can afford to travel abroad, you are almost certainly in the upper strata on the global wealth scale. So, whilst I will continue to write articles about first world problems (see: 10 most annoying things an airport), I will also appreciate my situation.
If you’re feeling bored, unsatisfied with life, then try a dose of leaving home, even if for just a few days. The world is wide; zooming out, looking on life through a wide angle lens can help. There are two outcomes: either you’ll come back realising that things aren’t so bad after all, or you’ll find somewhere better to live out your life.
Either way, travel is a win-win situation. And that’s why travel therapy is the cure for discontent with modern life.
Listen (or download) our podcast below, '11 ways to work abroad', for ideas on how you could spend time working in a foreign country: