On tourists and astronauts

On tourists and astronauts

“Have you ever tried not being a tourist when you travel?”, asked my friend. He meant not checking into a hotel, but living where the locals live, buying groceries where locals buy groceries, cooking food and doing your day to day business. We had an interesting conversation that evolved from a question I used to ask a lot in the past year, after the sadly violent events in Ukraine unfolded (Ukraine borders with the country I live in - Slovakia). The question is: “If your country started to turn into chaos, with tanks and bullets possibly flying around, how would you know it is the right time to leave and where would you go?”. My thoughts were about Asia, somewhere far from the chaos, other people say Great Britain or Canada. This friend was different. “You know, when I was younger, I thought I was a world citizen, a perpetual traveler. But have you ever tried not being a tourist when you travel? Imagine there is a dispute, you don’t know anyone, you don’t know local customs, laws, you are going to lose even if justice is on your side. I would go to the countryside in my country, as close to my current home as is safe, I want to be able to return at a moment’s notice. I want to be close to the people I know and speak the language, understand the customs and have something familiar.”

This line of thought shocked me because no one else answered like this. It was not about patriotism; it was about having your social network with you, understanding the customs, the language. Being at home meant not being a tourist. I hope that no country ever turns into chaos, although with Europe you never know, there are centuries of scars and disputes and I don’t even remember when there was complete peace here. We’ll get to something more uplifting in the next paragraph, but I wanted to share this - a lot of people say they are conscious and by that they often mean this beautiful hippie sentimentality of peace and love. Being conscious means being conscious of peace and love, bringing it to the forefront of attention, but it does not mean not looking the other way. There are dark places in this world too and being conscious means understanding what is going on - and if there is any way you can help, doing just that. No more dark thoughts from now on…

On not being a tourist

So what does it mean not being a tourist? Another friend said that he travels light, he can travel the world with a small backpack; he has only some clothes and a few other little things. His girlfriend gave him a caring smile and noted: “And then when you need a manicure, you ask me, and I give it to you from my bulky bag.” It’s the same with Janka and me - when I travel with Janka, I am most amazed that she brings our home with us. If I want to make tea or coffee, she has everything for it - and not some traveler version of crappy bagged tea, the real Gyokuro, which tastes the same as when we make it at home. When I hurt myself, she has the cure. When I need to wake up, she gives me a peppermint oil, caffeine or the strongest chili in the world. She has all of that with her. Always. We travel with our portable speakers, so we can watch a movie and play music. Our friends inspired us with their portable sensual travel kit - candles, oils, incense. We are not tourists because we bring parts of our home that produce our quality of life. Laos, Japan, Chicago, Amsterdam or Bratislava, which we currently call home, it does not matter where we are, as soon as we bring parts of the environment that we love with us anywhere. This environment will be different for everyone, but the thing is, we can easily fit this into our carryon baggage if we go on our monthly weekend vacation somewhere.

A lot of this is technology. All of our lives is stored somewhere in the cloud and accessible by us (Evernote anyone?), we can access our money through Internet banking (and Bitcoin!), I can have my whole library of books on one Kindle. And if I’m too lazy to bring a Kindle with me, I can access it on my phone. Isn’t it amazing? I remember when I used to travel with heavy travel guides and books I wanted to read. As one hacker from Vienna used to say: “Home is where the data plan is.”

Our friend Steffani has a superpower (actually she has more than one, but I’ll mention just this one) - she can do and lead an amazing workout anywhere in the world. If there’s no gym, all you need is ground. Talking about health and fitness - you absolutely can eat healthy while you travel. I know for sure that there are people that follow our style of diet (low-carb paleo) anywhere in the world. If they can do it - anywhere from Japan to Alaska - we can do it too! If nothing else, we order fish and vegetables. We don’t need to fix ourselves when we come back home; we can stay healthy while we travel and that experience is much more enjoyable. A good hack for this is to have a “default choice” that you can get anywhere. When we are hungry or tired, there’s decision fatigue. It is actually hard to make good decisions. When you have already decided in advance, you can only make the decision better - if you have the energy. If I don’t know, it’s fish and vegetable salad.

All of this are not strategies that you can directly adapt because everyone’s life and everyone’s environment is different. What I am trying to say is - think about “not being a tourist.” What kind of experiences and environments make “home” for you and how can you bring them anywhere?

On being a tourist

We were on two longer trips this year, met amazing people and had some life-changing experiences. When we came back to our villas or hotel rooms each evening, the room was made up, there was a fresh bottle of water, clean towels, new roll of toilet paper and new soap and shampoo (although we use our Paleo Life Organics shampoos anyway - don’t put on your skin anything you would not eat, that stuff is absorbed by the skin, so you “eat it” anyway!). In the morning, someone cooked breakfast for us. We had a massage in our hotel room. We never had to fix leaking pipes (sometimes I need to hack the hotel’s router and fix their Internet :). All we cared about were experiences and growing and helping others grow, sharing and enjoying life with amazing people. We were full-on tourists.

But we are like that at home too. We hire a cleaning lady. Someone helps us maintain and fix our home. We always explore our environment, find new restaurants. We go to concerts. We grow and help others grow. We share and enjoy life with amazing people.

Try this: Get a travel guide of your home city and see what the tourists see. The first experience would probably be: “Oh, that’s a crappy recommendation, that cafeteria is a tourist trap, I would never go there.” On the other hand, we just recently learned where the first Communist prefab panel home in Czechoslovakia was built. We had visitors, and we took them on a guided tour. There were freaking tourists from all around the world - tons of them - that knew more about our city than we did. Not anymore.

Becoming an astronaut

“And it makes me float free to feel how small my life must be” - Small by Lamb

We are tourists at home, we explore, learn and see how our environments change. We try to not be tourists when we travel, we consciously create our environment wherever we are. Sounds a little bit schizophrenic and I write these lines after a long stretch of travel, at our home in Bratislava, getting ready for another travel experience. I feel dislocated on this planet, at the same time grounded and untethered, at home and travelling. Yesterday we had dinner with friends in Vienna. Three couples. As we were leaving we hugged and said to one couple: “See you in Pasadena on Thursday” and then “See you in Chicago next week”. If this is not the most beautiful wonder of the world, I don’t know what is. (Well I know, love and sex, but the next one for sure is meeting people, seemingly randomly and making friends and being with them on this beautiful planet).

I always wanted to be an astronaut. Not as a kid actually, it was when I discovered the connection between spirituality and the stars. I won Cosmos by Carl Sagan at a programming competition when I was a kid. I have this book to this day and I know we are made of stars, but we are also a way of the universe to look back at itself. We are conscious, we are the nature’s missing feedback loop that slowly starts to understand what is going on. We are tamers of entropy, a small blink of consciousness in the infinite. “No, but you don’t understand. You are an astronaut. We are all astronauts of Spaceship Earth”, Buckminster Fuller famously said to his student. “Now there is one outstandingly important fact regarding Spaceship Earth, and that is that no instruction book came with it.” Fortunately, we are all writing our own instruction manuals for life, right?

If you know me, there are pictures of the Moon in my head and in my life. My favourite music is Moon Music (a weird subgenre of electronic drone music to be played in the dark). A lot of people are afraid of the dark, but that’s not my case. Dark means unknown and that fuels my curiosity and imagination. When I tell people that my spiritual strategy is going to the stars, they think I am crazy (which is true by the way and I am proud of this fact). Sometimes, sharing quotes of spiritual experiences of the Apollo astronauts helps them understand what I mean. Paul Rosenberg in his beautiful book The Breaking Dawn said that space travel is a natural entheogen and that spiritual experience is a given when you travel to space.

We are all astronauts right now. But we have all this space around us to explore. There, life is difficult, and I mean really difficult. We have to become tourists and at the same time know that this universe is our home. We are currently flying on our beautiful Spaceship Earth, but there is a whole universe out there and we are made of it. So where is home? Everywhere!

So we are not tourists. Morroco or Moon, this huge universe is our playground, our home. It is the fabric that we are made of and there is no place in it where we cannot feel at home.

On the other hand, we are all tourists, flying on Spaceship Earth which is just one of many spaceships that form our galaxy and we are on our way of meeting and merging with Andromeda.

And this is where our quality of life merges - environments, experiences, the known and familiar and the unknown and infinite are all the same thing.

I’ll end up with a short poem that has been guiding me for a while now (see the main blog image). It was shared by an astronaut Anoushe Ansari - a private person that wanted to fly to space and see the stars. She was not affiliated with any government, she just had a vision and wanted the experience hardly enough that she made it a reality. Happy flight!

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Written by Juraj Bednár //