You can always tell if a person has traveled. Call it the Indiana Jones effect, but there is something different about the way travelers carry themselves: how they dress, how they walk and the way they interact with the world around them. Even if they never mentioned the places they’ve been to, you could still probably pick them out in a crowd.
Why is this? What happens when we travel from one place to another? Do we become different people, or merely more complete version of ourselves?
When I was backpacking around the UK, I remember walking past a mirror one morning, about a week into my trip, and thinking, “Who is that?” The person I saw was standing straighter and taller than I normally did. She wasn’t wearing any kind of makeup or jewelry, but she was glowing.
At that point in my trip, I thought I would have felt haggard from the varying effects of jet-lag, daily strapping a pack to my back and hopping around from place to place. But I was the complete opposite – I felt alive. I felt transcendental. I felt vivid, like a coloring page that had finally been colored in.
This morning I watched “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” for the first time and thought about what happens to us when we go beyond our borders (physical or mental) to travel the world.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. One of my favorite scenes is when the main character, Walter, is stopped by flight security and then “bailed” out by his eHarmony friend, Todd. At the beginning of the movie Walter has trouble writing anything for his online dating profile because he’s never “done anything.” But after getting back from traveling, something is different. When Todd sees him he says, “I pictured you as this little gray piece of paper, but now I see you and it’s like Indiana Jones decided to become the lead singer of The Strokes or something.” *
There is a physical difference in Walter, and Todd sees it. He’s not wearing a sign that says “TRAVELER”, just the essence of someone who has explored. Throughout the movie we see someone go from a man who daydreams about escaping his life, to someone present; someone who gains understanding, confidence and perspective.
There a few things I took away from watching this movie.
1. I truly believe we’ve all been Walter Mitty – whether it’s in our past, or in our present.
2. Just because that’s true, doesn’t mean we can’t change it.
3. “Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.”
4. The time is now. You didn’t miss it, and you shouldn’t be waiting for it.
5. How is Sean Penn still attractive at 53?
Watching this movie, there were so many points when I related. Years ago, I used to be Walter Mitty. I used to be scared of living life, or of taking any risks. I used to zone out a lot, daydreaming of adventures my life could have been, about traveling and finding ways to explore the world.
But something happened when I hit rock bottom – I started remembering how to climb. I stopped listening to people who told me I couldn’t do things. I started writing down dreams and then actually doing them. I started to risk. And I’ve never turned back.
Something happens when you travel. I don’t know that there’s a word for it, but the world leaves its mark on you. You’ll never be the same after you experience other people, cultures and environments. And you’ll never want to be.
While living under the illusion of safety can feel like we’re in control, the reality is that life is meant to be an adventure. For everyone that doesn’t mean the same thing, obviously, but if dreams of traveling are embedded in your heart, run after them.
Let’s live with eyes open a little wider, and purposes that reach a little higher. Adventures don’t always find us. Sometimes we have to go out and find them.
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
– The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty