Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hedonic Adaption and How It Helps Travelers

When we first started hiking and backpacking, our packs were filled to the brim with EVERYTHING but the kitchen sink.  And then, sometimes, even a kitchen sink (no really, we would take a camping shower and a bucket for dishes).  Inexperience led us try to plan for every possible problem scenario and in turn, pack an item to solve it.  At first, we didn't notice because our hikes were short 1 to 3 mile trips at a time.  The weight, it seemed, would never catch up to us.  However, as the distance of our hikes increased, it quickly became apparent that we would need to rethink our packing strategy.  With the aid of a few You Tube videos and some dedicated backpacker blogs, we drastically reduced the amount of "crap" we were stuffing into our backpacks. The reason this important stuff was now "crap" became clear. The real "weight" of it?  Every item could be broken down into a weight measure.  An ounce quickly becomes a pound.  It doesn't seem like a lot, ounces and pounds, but those pounds, over a few miles, can begin to feel like a ton. All that crap was keeping us back. It was quite literally holding us back from our goals. So we reduced. And continued to reduce. Finally reducing our packs from 40 to 50 pounds to a mere 20 to 25. This was great!

So much CRAP!

We could walk around the world.  Our packs felt like they were stuffed with feathers instead of river rocks.  We were happy and proud.  We learned to think of each item in terms multiple use.  Instead of those beautiful titanium spoon/fork/knife camping utensils, we packed plastic spoons with broken off handles.  Instead of heavy sleeping pads and comforters, we learned how to create soft beds from the forest floor.  And somewhere along the trail it hit us both...the realization!  "Everything I need is on my back. No matter what happens tomorrow, I can put on my pack and be just fine."  Suddenly one of the greatest weights in our lives had be lifted.  No matter what happens...We will be OKAY!

Which leads us to Hedonic Adaptation, or the hedonic treadmill. What is it? Well Wikipedia defines it as "the supposed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes".  Basically it means, that your long term happiness, your life, is not significantly affected by huge changes, whether positive or negative. You can be born and raised in a world of wealth, then one day wake up in a van down by the river and your level of comfort will adapt. As long as you allow it. Sure at first it's a shock, but the mind quickly snaps into its new environment. The opposite is equally true, a person who has lived in poverty their entire life, will first find it shocking and uncomfortable to be surrounded by luxury. But then, will soon adapt.

How does this apply to travel?
I'm all ears buddy..

Well for one, this is your so called "comfort zone" (which doesn't actually exist). Let's redefine that concept. A "comfort zone" is nothing more than a fear bubble. The real comfort zone is a gradient that adjusts according to any situation you are in. Every travel blogger will tell you the phrase, or excuse they hear most is "I would travel if only…" This is you not realizing that you will be fine. This is you being afraid of getting rid of all that crap and just going for it. You won't die. You won't starve. You won't be living on the street in the rain. If you are reading blogs on the internet, chances are you are a healthy, intelligent and somewhat educated person. Those things will take you ANYWHERE. And you will be fine. Let me repeat…YOU. WILL. BE. FINE.

Second, travel is constant change. Change in climate, culture and surroundings. The only thing that is stable while traveling, is uncertainty. However, like anything else, the more you exercise adaptation, the easier it becomes. Sometimes you will stay in luxurious hotel rooms, other times you will find yourself in a tent in the middle of a national forest, without a toilet. What's important are the people you are with, the people in your contact lists…and those few things in your backpack. As travel blogger Nomadic Matt puts it:

"You've dealt with missed flights, slow buses, wrong turns, delays, bad street food, and much, much more. After a while, you learn how to adapt your plans to changing situations. You don't get mad, you don't get angry, you just alter what you are doing and move on. Life throws you curve balls and you hit them out of the park. Why? Because you're awesome like that."

"Are we in Hawaii yet!?!?!?!?!"

Third, this fits well into Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  At the base we need the physiological, shelter, and clothing.  We build the rest of our lives on top of those things.  With that in mind, life becomes a hell of a lot less worrisome.  Food can be dehydrated meals on the trail, a greasy spoon with the best breakfast, a home cooked meal, or fine dining.  Shelter can be a hotel room, a tent, an RV, a cabin, or a yurt. When we decided to sell everything and travel, there was HUGE anxiety.  It lasted about 2 days. We had so much crap, we didn't even remember buying a lot of it. Most of it was just stuff, with little significant or sentimental value.  What we learned from hiking was the only stuff we truly needed could easily fall under 20 to 25 pounds.

You can be fine in a nice hotel ...

... in a pop up camper...


 ...or sleep like a baby in the back of your car.

And finally, here is why the "waiting for X to travel" thought is horrible and how hedonic adaptation can help you overcome it: 
Traveling is a lifestyle, not an end game. Just like owning a big house in a beautiful neighborhood, or a tiny house in the middle of nowhere.  It all costs money and time.  It is a choice to live your life in a way that suits you. Today, the internet connects the globe, making it easier to do things like work, collaborate and network from anywhere. There are plenty of ways to make money, even within your current field. There are many ways to live and still be comfortable. If traveling is what you want to do, burst your fear bubble and move into your real comfort zone.




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